This truly is the BEST Vegan Mac and Cheese and it’s easy to make! The stovetop version is ready in less than 20 minutes, or bake it for a few minutes with a buttery breadcrumb topping. Irresistibly cheesy and creamy without a hint of dairy!

spatula grabbing a hunk of vegan mac and cheese baked in a pan

My favorite thing about this recipe is how easy and quick it is to throw together. It’s ready in the same time it would take for you to make a box of regular mac and cheese!

When I’m craving comfort food, I turn to a big bowl of noodles, and this plant based mac and cheese hits the spot. The luscious sauce is oh-so-creamy, cheesy and mild with just a little tang. It’s sure to become a staple meal in your home!

I highly recommend pairing it with some sort of vegetable or salad. My favorite add-ins are: thawed frozen green peas, roasted brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower or broccoli, roasted asparagus or cooked kale.

Stovetop or baked macaroni and cheese

I’ve included both a simple stovetop version (ready in less than 20 minutes) and a baked version. If you have a few extra minutes, the baked version is out of this world amazing!

looking down on a pan of noodle casserole, golden brown on top

Ingredients needed (with substitutions)

  • Raw cashews – This is what makes the sauce so delightfully creamy and cheesy at the same time. There isn’t a good substitute for this recipe, but if you need a nut free cheese sauce, try this Nut Free Vegan Cheese Sauce instead and pair it with noodles. I also created Dairy Free Mac and Cheese, which is nut free.
  • Water
  • Fresh lemon juice – From about 1 large lemon. Use fresh squeezed for the best flavor. I love my lemon juicer and use it daily.
  • Nutritional yeast – If you really dislike it or don’t have it, you could leave it out. But it adds a lot of cheesy flavor.
  • Turmeric – Mostly for color!
  • Garlic powder – For flavor. A little bit of onion powder also works well here.
  • Salt
  • Vegan cheese – I added a bag of Follow Your Heart cheddar shreds. This is optional, but I loved the extra cheesiness and creaminess it added.
  • Elbow noodles – Or your favorite pasta. Use gluten free if needed. But for classic mac and cheese, use white elbow noodles.
  • Panko bread crumbs – Make sure they are vegan friendly. Optional for the baked version.
  • Vegan butter – Also for the buttery crumb topping.
  • Smoked paprika

How to make vegan mac and cheese

It’s so easy to prepare, you won’t believe it!

  1. Pour boiling hot water over the cashews in a bowl or measuring dish. I usually heat water in my tea kettle or a small pot, then pour it over the nuts. Get your pasta cooking as well.
  2. Let the nuts soak for about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a Vitamix, you may want to let them soak for an hour or even overnight so they will get smooth when you blend them. Drain the cashews and add them to a blender, along with the fresh water, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, turmeric, garlic powder, salt and vegan cheese if using.
  3. Blend until very, very smooth! This will take a few minutes, perhaps a little longer if you are using a regular blender.
  4. If making the baked version, mix the breadcrumbs, butter and paprika in a small bowl until crumbly.
collage of how to make cheese sauce with cashews

If making the stovetop version, simply drain the pasta, add it back to the pot and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir until it thickens somewhat, then serve immediately.

For the baked version, add the drained noodles to a casserole dish and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir so the noodles are coated.

casserole with cooked noodles and vegan cheese sauce

Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping over the top and bake for about 15 minutes. Do NOT over bake or it will dry out. I also broiled it just for a few minutes until the breadcrumbs turned a golden brown.

breadcrumbs covering mac and cheese in dish for baking

How to thin the sauce if it’s too thick

Serve the mac and cheese right away for the best texture and flavor. The sauce will thicken as it sits, even after 20 minutes. But I have a solution! Simply add some additional warm water (a few tablespoons at a time) and stir it in well. The sauce will thin perfectly – problem solved!

Do the same thing with leftovers. When reheating, add some more water and stir until you reach the desired consistency. This won’t work well with the baked version, but I found these leftovers saved better anyhow.

spoonful of pasta, orange sauce and breadcrumbs

Tips for the best vegan mac and cheese

  • Classic elbow noodles – While other pasta is totally fine to use, classic elbow noodles will give the dish that certain mac and cheese feel.
  • High powered blender – This is probably the most important thing. It might work okay with a regular blender or food processor, but to really create a cheesy, perfectly smooth sauce out of cashews, you need a Vitamix or other high powered blender.
  • Fresh lemon juice – The flavor will be much better with fresh squeezed lemon juice than if you use bottled.
  • Add in some vegetables! I think this makes mac and cheese amazing. My favorite is stirring in some roasted vegetables, yum.
  • Sprinkle some vegan bacon for extra flavor and protein – Try my tempeh bacon or tofu bacon.

Frequently asked questions

  • Does it freeze well? The sauce itself freezes wonderfully, and is great for freezing, then taking out small portions for single meals or kids lunches. You could even freeze the sauce in an ice cube tray, then transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. I don’t recommend freezing the pasta + sauce, as it gets very thick and mushy.
  • How to store and reheat leftovers – The dish will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator. And like I said above, add more water to the leftover pasta so it’s not too thick. The baked version won’t need any additional water. Reheat in the microwave until warm and enjoy.
  • Can you make vegan mac and cheese without nutritional yeast? You can, yes. If you leave it out, make sure to add the bag of vegan cheese. Nutritional yeast gives vegan cheese sauces a wonderful cheesiness, but some people don’t care for it.
bowl of mac and cheese with blue striped towel

More drool-worthy pasta recipes

square image of vegan mac and cheese bake
4.96 stars (221 ratings)

The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese

This truly is the BEST Vegan Mac and Cheese and it's easy to make! The stovetop version is ready in less than 20 minutes, or bake it for a few minutes with a buttery breadcrumb topping.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients 
 

Mac and cheese

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews
  • 2 cups water or less if not using vegan cheese, see Notes
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (7-oz) bag shredded vegan cheddar cheese, optional
  • 12 ounces elbow pasta

Optional breadcrumb topping

  • 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven and prep – If planning on baking it with the breadcrumb topping, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a casserole dish (I used a 9×13 inch dish). Skip this step for stovetop mac and cheese.
  • Soak the cashews – Soften your cashews by covering them in boiling water for 5 minutes. I do this by heating up water in my tea kettle, and then pouring the boiling water over the cashews in a large glass measuring cup. 
  • Cook pasta – Cook the pasta according to package instructions, but do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
  • Blend cheese sauce – Drain the soaked cashews and discard the soaking water. Add the cashews, fresh water, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, turmeric, garlic powder, salt and bag of shredded cheese (if using) to a high powered blender and blend until very smooth.

Stovetop version

  • Simply return the pasta to the pot and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir until the sauce thickens and serve immediately.

Baked version (the best!)

  • Make the breadcrumb topping by mixing the breadcrumbs, melted vegan butter and smoked paprika in a small bowl until crumbly and moist.
  • Add the drained pasta to the prepared casserole dish, and pour in the cheese sauce. Stir to coat the noodles. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on the pasta and bake, uncovered for 15 minutes. I also broiled it for a few minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Video

Notes

  1. The bag of vegan cheddar cheese is optional. If you don’t want to use vegan cheese, reduce the water to 1 cup, especially if not baking it. This way, the sauce will be thicker and creamier.
  2. The cheese sauce freezes well, so feel free to make extra sauce and freeze some for a super quick meal or kid’s lunch option.
  3. Leftovers will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator. The sauce does thicken when it cools or sits out for awhile, but there is an easy fix. Simply add a little warm water and stir, noodles and all, while you reheat it. The sauce will thin and it will be perfect again.
  4. Gluten free – Use gluten free pasta, any variety you like.
  5. Nut free – Go make my Dairy Free Mac and Cheese, which is nut free.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 304kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 443mg | Potassium: 309mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 18mg | Iron: 2mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Author: Nora Taylor
Did you make this recipe?Mention @nora_cooks_vegan_ or tag #noracooks!

*This recipe was originally posted in August 2018 and has been updated November 2021 with new photos and better instructions. I also added an optional bag of vegan cheese and an optional topping for baking.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.

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Comments

  1. this is perfect. i left out lemon juice and subbed most of the water with soy milk. it reheats nicely – i put about 1-2 tbsp of water on the bottom of the bowl and put the entire square of mac and cheese on top – no need to mix it up (also it doesn’t make sense to if using breadcrumbs). my husband said this was the best mac and cheese EVER, vegan or not.

  2. Whoa – hello! I just tossed all my vegan mac ‘n’ cheeses, this one’s IT! Thank you so much.

    I added chopped broccoli and seitan for more protein, to the noodles, and a couple of heaping tablespoons of hemp seeds to the cheese mix since I’d made it too thin (I’ve been adding ground flax and hemp seeds to my homemade salad dressings to thicken them up, no taste change I can detect). I might add some cooked sweet potatoes to the cheese for color and even more creaminess, though it’s perfectly creamy enough.

    1. Hi Wendy. I’m thrilled you love the Mac and cheese recipe and are making it your go to! Thanks for your awesome review and feedback! Wishing you lots of happy cooking!

  3. Delicious! I did the baked version with Good Planet vegan cheddar. Next time I would use much less lemon juice or just omit it all together! I could taste the lemon throughout and for me mac and cheese shouldn’t taste lemony. I added extra nutritional yeast to try to override the lemon but without success. Still overall great! Will def make again sans lemon!

  4. I didn’t want to get my hopes up but OMG this was soo good! My fiance didn’t seem to love it as much as I did, but that’s okay- more for me! I don’t think I used the correct amount of water (crying baby in the background while also trying to cook other things at the same time) and I also cheated and used regular shredded cheese as I didn’t want to ruin this dish with daiya shredded cheese (which I should really just throw away). Long story short- I loved it. I will definitely be making this again. Thank you!

    1. You are welcome, Gina! Sounds like life is busy for you, and I’m glad the recipe turnout wonderful for you in the midst of it all! Thanks for taking your time to share your wonderful review! Wishing you happy cooking!

  5. If using the baked option, can it be frozen after baking? If so what would be the reheating instructions? Or is it best just to freeze the cheese sauce as mentioned? Thank you.

    1. It can, yes. Mac and cheese is not my favorite meal to freeze, because the noodles will soak up the sauce, getting mushy, and it will actually end up being kinda dry by the time you reheat it. That said, it will technically work. Better to just freeze the cheese sauce, then thaw and use.

  6. Hi there! I’m having trouble finding raw cashews in nearby grocery stores. Would unsalted roasted cashews work? Thank you so much, looking forward to trying this!!

    1. They will work okay, the sauce will just taste a bit nutty. Raw cashews don’t really have a nutty taste, but roasted do. Should work though! I hope you enjoy it!

    1. You are welcome, Sue! I’m so glad you loved the recipe! Thanks for your fantastic review!

  7. My partner isnt vegan and went back for thirds. Soooo yum! This massively exceeded my expectations. Thank you Nora!

    1. You are welcome! I’m thrilled the Mac and cheese was a hit! Thanks for sharing your fabulous review!

  8. Question!! If I pre make this say a day or 2 before I need it, at how many degrees and time should I bake at to reheat?

    1. It would be best to keep the sauce and noodles separate if you make it ahead of time, otherwise the noodles will soak up the sauce and make the whole dish rather dry. When ready to serve, combine the sauce and cooked noodles and bake at the same temperature until warm. Perhaps 20-25 minutes.

  9. I have made this recipe many times and it is always great! This time I added two chopped jalapenos, a chopped onion, sauteed in olive oil, and about a TBS of berbere and it was super good (if you like spicier foods). I also added berbere into the bread crumb topped along with the smoked paprika. Thanks Nora 🙂

    1. Your Mac and cheese sounds delicious, Jen! Thanks for sharing your ideas, and your wonderful review! Happy cooking to you!

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