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!
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Blend until very, very smooth! This will take a few minutes, perhaps a little longer if you are using a regular blender.
- If making the baked version, mix the breadcrumbs, butter and paprika in a small bowl until crumbly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More drool-worthy pasta recipes
- Vegan Baked Ziti
- The Best Vegan Lasagna
- Vegan Alfredo Sauce
- Creamy Vegan Carbonara
- Vegan Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese
The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese
Optional breadcrumb topping
- 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 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, 2 cups 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.
- 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!
- The bag of vegan cheddar cheese is optional, but takes it to the next level of creamy and cheesy deliciousness!
- 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.
- 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.
- Gluten free – Use gluten free pasta, any variety you like.
- Nut free – Go make my Dairy Free Mac and Cheese, which is nut free.
*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.