This vegan mac and cheese recipe from scratch is the absolute best rendition of the classic comfort food but also good for you. It’s so creamy, cheesy and flavorful served with a crispy golden brown panko bread crumb topping for the perfect bite everyone is sure to love.
Best Vegan Mac and Cheese Recipe
Made with the creamiest dairy free cheese sauce from cashews, nutritional yeast, lots of aromatics and spices. It’s easy to whip up on a weekday but it tastes so good that you’ll want to also serve this at all the holiday dinners; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s and any chance you get! You simply can’t get this goodness out of a box.
Using easy to find whole food ingredients, this vegan mac and cheese recipe is irresistibly creamy, cheesy and super delicious! Outstanding when topped with your choice of golden panko bread crumbs, smoky tempeh bits or crispy fried onions. This is definitely that one recipe that is sure to become an instant favorite and a family tradition.
About the Ingredients
- Macaroni – A traditional elbow shaped pasta will work just fine here; I opted for cavatappi or corkscrews for their beautiful ridges that hold way more sauce than elbows ever could. Ultimately the pasta you choose is your choice, you can use a comforting durum wheat semolina, go for healthy whole grains or choose a gluten free pasta you love.
- The Cheese Sauce – It’s the silkiest cashew based sauce from scratch, no store bought processed cheese needed. The first layer of flavor comes from deeply sauteed onions and garlic that are then blended together with raw cashews, dry spices (onion, garlic, smoked paprika), cheesy nutritional yeast balanced out by a squeeze of lemon and a kiss of dijon mustard. It’s exquisite!
- Crispy Topping – This is totally optional but recommended. I toasted panko bread crumbs in some olive oil on the stove top until golden brown. It’s really nice to start with some fennel seeds if you fancy them, otherwise the bread crumbs and a pinch of sea salt flakes is just lovely.
- Garnish – Any fresh herbs like Italian parsley, dill, onion chives or thinly sliced scallions will compliment the macaroni. Pan seared smoked tempeh bits are a favorite of ours and boosts the protein content of the dish.
Recipe Tips + FAQ
- Make Ahead – The cheese sauce can be prepared a couple of days in advance and brought to a bubble while your pasta is cooking. It’s best to boil the macaroni right before serving.
- Storage – Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge up to 5 days or freeze in freezer proof containers for up to 3 months.
- Can I make it without nutritional yeast? – technically you can make a cheesy sauce without it but it is an important ingredient in this recipe. It adds tons of cheesy flavor and vitamins but if you must omit it I suggest adding 1 tablespoon of white miso paste instead to make up for that umami flavor.
- Make it Smoky – The recipe calls for a symbolic amount of smoked paprika, just enough to add a little depth of flavor. If a smokier flavor is desired you can double and even triple the paprika, or better yet add in about a teaspoon or two of liquid smoke.
- The Topping – I prefer to make my crispy topping in a skillet on the stove top but you could choose to place everything in a 9×13 inch casserole, top with the breadcrumbs and bake for 20 minutes or so until golden brown and crispy. Alternatively pop the skillet under the broiler for a few minutes until golden brown.
- vegan chicken cutlets or crispy nuggets
- roasted broccoli
- tofu nuggets
- meatless ribs
- sesame tofu
- vegan steaks
- roasted carrots
- vegan gyros
- + these fried oyster mushrooms.
Best Vegan Mac and Cheese
- 3/4 lb macaroni (elbow, cavatappi, rigatoni)
The Cheese Sauce
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 Tbsp olive oil or as needed
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds optional
- onion chives, scallions, smoky tempeh bits, chili flakes, crispy fried onions etc
- If not using a Vitamix or other powerful blender, make sure to soak the cashews in hot water for a couple of hours.2.5 cups raw cashew pieces
- Preheat a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat with a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the chopped onion, a pinch of salt and saute until softened and you start seeing some color. Stir in the garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds or so, just until the garlic is fragrant taking care not to burn it.1 medium onion, 4 garlic cloves
- Transfer the cooked onion and garlic to the blender together with the cashews (drain if you soaked them), water, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, onion and garlic powders, paprika, mustard and salt. Process on the smoothie setting until completely smooth and creamy. Transfer to a large skillet and bring to a bubble. Simmer for a couple of minutes constantly sitting until the sauce starts to thicken.1 medium onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2.5 cups raw cashew pieces, 2.75 cups water, 1/2 cup nutritional yeast, 1/2 lemon, 1 Tbsp onion powder, 3/4 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 3/4 tsp smoked paprika, 1.5 tsp sea salt
- Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a heavy sprinkling of salt and cook the macaroni until al dente, following the instructions on the package. Drain well then add the cooked macaroni to the skillet with the cheese sauce and toss until combined.3/4 lb macaroni
Crispy Bread Crumb Topping
- Preheat a skillet over medium high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and stir in the fennel seeds. Toast until fragrant then add the panko bread crumbs. Toss to coat well and allow to toast for a few minutes until golden brown to your liking but stirring often. Season with a pinch of sea salt flakes and spoon over the macaroni and cheese before serving. Garish with thinly sliced scallions, onion chives. chili flakes or black pepper.1 cup panko bread crumbs, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp fennel seeds
WFPB + Plantricious
- To make the recipe Plantricious compliant make sure to saute in water or veggie stock instead of oil, omit the panko bread crumb topping and use whole grain macaroni of your choosing.
- Make Ahead - The cheese sauce can be prepared a couple of days in advance and brought to a bubble while your pasta is cooking. It's best to boil the macaroni
- Storage - Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge up to 5 days or freeze in freezer proof containers for up to 3 months.
- Can I make it without nutritional yeast? - technically you can make a cheesy sauce without it but it is an important ingredient in this recipe. It adds tons of flavor and vitamins but if you must omit it I suggest adding 1 tablespoon of white miso instead and a cooked carrot or boiled potato.
- Make it Smoky - The recipe calls for a symbolic amount of smoked paprika, just enough to add a little depth of flavor. If a smokier flavor is desired you can double and even triple the paprika or better yet add in about a teaspoon of liquid smoke.
- The Topping - I prefer to make my crispy topping in a skillet on the stove top but you could choose to place everything in a 9x13 inch casserole, top with the breadcrumbs and bake for 20 minutes or so until golden brown and crispy.
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