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
4.98 stars (141 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 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients 
 

Mac and cheese

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews
  • 2 cups water
  • 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 I used Follow Your Heart
  • 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, 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.

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, but takes it to the next level of creamy and cheesy deliciousness!
  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. Oh my goodness, Nora!! This recipe is the bomb. com!! This is the first time I’m making a vegan Mac n Cheese (which I normally avoid because of all the dairy cheese required for “a good one.”)
    I wanted to give it a 5 as I was putting it in the oven. I should have left some of the stove top for comparison. It was soooo good and creamy!!
    Next time, I will bake for only 10 min and broil for 1 min. max!! (I almost destroyed my beautiful dish!! at 2-3 min.)
    But, I think I over cooked it because it was nice and firm but a bit dry. i think 10 min will keep it a bit more creamy. And, I also needed to add salt as I was eating it.
    But, I wouldn’t change the ingredients. The measurements you have are perfect… It’s always better to season to taste on one’s own plate.
    I’ll definitely make this again. It was as easy as it is delicious! Thank you!! ??♥️?

    1. I’m so excited you loved the Mac and cheese, Judi! Thank you for sharing your wonderful feedback! Wishing you lots of happy cooking!

  2. Nora, I love your cheese sauce recipe so much that I always keep some stocked in the freezer.  So far I have only made the stovetop version of this but I plan to try the baked version soon.  Thank you for another delicious recipe.  You make it easy to stick to a vegan diet!

    1. You are very welcome! I’m so glad you are enjoying all my different recipes! Thanks for your great feedback and review! Wishing you happy cooking!

  3. I was pleasantly surprised how delicious it was. My 10 year old son had 2 servings!!! I followed the recipe to the “T” and it was just perfect. Shame on me for not going vegan years ago!

    1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful review and feedback! May you enjoy my other recipes, and wishing you lots of happy cooking!

  4. This turned out PERFECTLY. I blended in the vitamix for 3 minutes and it was ready to add to the elbow mac, thickened quickly then served. I halved this recipe to make it stovetop for 2 people (yielding ~4 cups cooked mac, for reference)

    I’ll throw some dill in next time I figure! Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Hi Caitlin. You are welcome! I’m thrilled the recipe is perfect for you! Thank you for sharing your fantastic feedback! Happy cooking!

  5. This recipe is amazing!! Tastes exactly like mac and cheese made with dairy products. It’s rich in flavor and super creamy, and very filling! I added some chopped kale and broccoli to it and it was really phenomenal, even without breadcrumbs. My bf (non vegan) absolutely loved it! This is definitely going to be another one of my go to recipes. Another excellent recipe Nora! Thanks so much!

    1. You are very welcome! I’m thrilled the recipe is a hit with all! Thank you for using my recipes, and for sharing your great feedback and review!

  6. Hello,

    I have a NutriBullet and a Food Processor. Which would you recommend to use for this recipe? Thank you. 🙂

    1. I forgot to mention that I add a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the panko topping – perfection!

  7. Seriously the best mac and cheese I have ever made vegan or non. My husband said not only did it taste like cheese but it tasted gourmet. This is definitely going to be made for guest. Thanks for all your work in developing these wonderful recipes.

    1. Thank you, Sherri, for your wonderful feedback! I love creating recipes and am happy you are enjoying them! Thank you for using my recipes, and happy cooking!

  8. Delicious. I followed the recipe exactly and served it with a side of asparagus. Yummmmm. I have enjoyed every recipe I’ve tried on this site!! I’ve never baked Mac and cheese and I loved it. The sauce does seem a little thin when you put it in the pan but once it bakes it was perfect texture. 

    Thanks for another fabulous recipe!!

    1. Hi Kayla. I am so glad you are enjoying my site! Thank you for sharing your wonderful feedback about the Mac and Cheese! Enjoy your journey though my recipes!

  9. I never believe the titles ‘best ever’ but this really is the best ever!!! My non vegan family LOVE it too!!!!! 

  10. Baked this tonight and loved it! This is one of the best vegan mac n cheese recipes I’ve ever made. Now I’m full and happy 🙂

  11. Tried this Mac and Cheese with my boyfriend for valentines day but with a different noodle was DELICIOUS and very filling!

  12. Apologies if this has been asked before, but would it work to make the sauce the night before and then reheat it and add to the pasta the next day?  Thanks!

    1. You can absolutely prepare the sauce a day ahead of time. You don’t need to reheat the sauce, just mix it with the warm noodles in the pot they cook in (once drained) and cook on low until warm. Hope that helps!

    1. The cheese sauce on its own is freezer-friendly but I don’t recommend freezing the pasta and sauce together as it can become thick and mushy.

  13. NORRAAAAAAAA! This is the best vegan Mac and cheese I’ve ever made and my kids all love it more than non-vegan Mac and cheese! (Joke’s on my pickiest eater, HA!) I’ve made it twice now, so good!

    1. Hi Sonja. I’m so thrilled the Mac and cheese is a hit with your family! Thank you for sharing your absolutely fun and wonderful review and feedback! Wishing you lots of happy cooking!

  14. Both my SO and I thought this was the best Mac and cheese we’ve had in a long while. He has requested me make the sauce, at some peppers and bottle it for him to take to work for his burrito obsession. I usually use banza chickpea pasta, yet I always forget it’s half the amount of pasta than regular pasta. Initially I thought the sauce to pasta ratio was gonna throw it off, but it was totally opposite. I deviated from the instructions and used 2c of unsweetened soy milk, and I used mykios extra sharp cheddar. The sauce was so thick I had trouble getting it out of my blende, also my vita mix blender was straining. But it was so so so so good. I added some smoked paprika into the cheese sauce. I did add the whole 3T of lemon juice, but it was not even noticeable. I did not bake it. It was already perfect. Next time I will probably add a cup of water also and just cook it off. 

    1. Hi Celeste. I’m so glad that you guys loved the Mac and cheese recipe! Thank you for taking time to share your review and feedback!

  15. This is my current go-to vegan mac and cheese recipe! Love it! I’ve made it several times. I just wanted to note though that before you made changes  to include the oven baked version, the recipe for the cheese sauce only had 1 cup of water.  I recently tried it with 2 cups of water (like the updated recipe calls for) and for the first time the cheese came out watery and runny and did not thicken overnight. I’ll just stick to the original recipe that called for 1 cup of water and it should be fine though. Never had any issues before! Excellent recipe that my family enjoyed!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoy the mac and cheese recipe, Shannon. I did update the recipe with 2 cups of water because I found it thickens up so much once mixed with warm pasta, that I always end up adding an extra cup once I mix it with pasta, to thin it out some. But less is fine too of course, if you like it thick. Thank you!

  16. Made this last night with leftover pasta – SO DELICIOUS! Definitely our new go to mac n cheese recipe. Perfect as written!

    1. I’m so thrilled you love the Mac and cheese and that my recipe is your new go to! Thank you for sharing your great review and feedback! Happy cooking!

  17. This was excellent!  Baked version is worth the extra step.  This will be my go to Mac & Cheese recipe.  Thank you!

  18. This recipe is really good. I have made it 2 different times. The first time, the lemon was overpowering and I had to “fix” it buying more seasoning and nutritional yeast. The 2nd time, I only used 1/3 of the lemon the recipe calls for and it was perfect!! I will definitely be using this recipe again! 

  19. This mac ‘n cheese got that boom, boom, pow!? Love it, love it! I made this yesterday for dinner and it is truly THE BEST vegan mac and cheese. I will certainly not miss the non-vegan version. Thanks, Nora. ?

    1. Love your fun review! Thank you! So glad you love the Mac and cheese! I appreciate you sharing your great review and feedback!

  20. Absolutely delicious! I aways leave the garlic out since I can’t eat it. My son added onion powder which he said made it even better, if that’s possible, lol. Thanks for this great recipe!! I just love all of your recipes! They always turn out so well!!

    1. Hi Sydney. You are welcome! Thank you for using my recipes, and I’m so glad you are loving them! I appreciate you taking your time to share you wonderful review and comments! Happy cooking!

  21. I made this tonight for dinner it was awesome. Only thing I changed is to put 1 cup water, 1 cup almond milk in the cheese sauce. I put it in the oven then under broiler for about 2 min. YUMMY!!!

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