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This Vegan Mac and Cheese is as simple as it gets! Al dente pasta tossed with a homemade vegan cheese sauce made from healthy, whole food ingredients. Have it ready in just over 30 minutes to pair with your favorite sides and vegan BBQ recipes!
Table of contents
Budget-Friendly Vegan Mac and Cheese
Add this Vegan Mac and Cheese to the Top 20 Easy Vegan Pasta Recipes You Need to Try! It’s a stovetop plant-based mac and cheese that is quick, easy, and so much healthier than the real thing. If you have cheese lovers in your family, they will love this recipe. Make sure to check out this Baked Potato Mac-n-Cheese, Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese, and Pumpkin Pasta Bake next!
- Pasta: Use your favorite pasta. Classic mac and cheese is often made with shortcut pastas like shells and elbow macaroni, but long spaghetti and linguine is fine, too!
- Aromatics: Shallots, onion, and garlic are all used to infuse this mac and cheese sauce with a savory depth of flavor.
- Potatoes: Both sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are used to create a thick, creamy texture. Sweet potatoes also add color and a subtle sweetness that balances the savory flavors. If using yukon gold potatoes, peeling is not needed. If using russet potatoes, peeling is recommended (to avoid altering the color of the sauce).
- Carrots: Similar to sweet potatoes, carrots add a subtle sweetness and an orange color to the creamy sauce.
- Cashews: Raw cashews are best. Avoid using roasted cashews or cashews with any added ingredients as these will alter the flavor.
- Oil: Olive oil, avocado oil, or any other neutral oil of choice adds creaminess and gives this luscious sauce a velvet-y mouthfeel. If you are oil-free, you can easily omit the oil. The sauce will be thicker and less smooth, but it will still have great flavor.
- Dijon mustard: Adds tanginess, umami flavor, and helps balance the richer flavors.
- Lemon juice: Adds acidity and brightness that balances the heavier, creamy ingredients. For the best flavor, use freshly squeezed.
- Spices: Use a simple blend of salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, and a pinch of cayenne pepper for a kick of heat.
Add-ins and Substitutions
- Add veggies: Since this recipe is not a baked recipe, it is easy to toss in your favorite veggies and combine until evenly distributed with the vegan macaroni. Try Vegan Brussels Sprouts, roasted broccoli florets, green peas, Roasted Mushrooms, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, or Sautéed Asparagus.
- Add nutritional yeast: If you want your vegan mac and cheese to have an extra ‘cheesy’ flavor, add up to 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast.
- Sprinkle with crispy breadcrumbs: If you love your mac and cheese topped with breadcrumbs, add a cup of breadcrumbs to a hot pan with oil and toast until golden brown. Sprinkle your vegan mac and cheese with the crispy, regular or panko breadcrumbs, as desired.
- Add protein: Enjoy your dairy-free mac with vegan proteins like Crispy Breaded Tofu Sticks, Sweet and Salty Tofu Bites, or even fold in some creamy chickpeas!
How to Make Vegan Mac and Cheese
- 1) Before preparing the vegan cheese sauce, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the pasta according to package directions, or until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- 2) In a medium saucepan, add the shallots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onion, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then once boiling, lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft and the potatoes are fork tender.
- 3) Drain the simmered vegetables and add them to a high-speed blender along with the remaining vegan cheese sauce ingredients. Blend until perfectly smooth.
- 4) Pour the vegan cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and toss to combine until the pasta is well coated and creamy.
- 5) Serve immediately while hot with vegan parmesan, red pepper flakes, and/or additional fresh herbs to taste.
This vegan mac and cheese is made without plant-based milk and is instead made with raw cashews and water. If you would like to replace the water with plant milk to make this vegan cheese sauce even richer and creamier, use milks like coconut milk or unsweetened cashew milk, soy milk, rice milk, or oat milk.
As is, this vegan cheese sauce is naturally gluten-free. If you’re gluten intolerant or serving this mac and cheese to friends who are gluten-free, use a gluten-free pasta. From experience, brown rice pasta and corn-based pasta tend to hold up better than legume-based pastas.
To make nut-free, replace the raw cashews with raw sunflower seeds. The flavor will not be the exact same, but it is the best nut-free option.
In addition to breadcrumbs, this simple vegan mac can also be topped with vegan parmesan, croutons, fried onions, toasted nuts or seeds, or crispy vegan bacon!
Top Recipe Tips
- Experiment with spices. I’ve included the measurements for the spices I used in the complete recipe card down below, but don’t be afraid to experiment! Try adding mustard powder, turmeric, additional cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, or chili powder for extra flavor.
- Use a good blender. When making creamy, homemade sauces, it is incredibly important to use a good, high-speed blender to blend everything completely smooth. A food processor may work in a pinch, but it will likely not be able to blend the cashews completely smooth.
- Soak the cashews. High-speed blenders like Vitamix or Blendtec are capable of blending raw cashews into a smooth sauce. If you are working with a high-speed blender that isn’t quite as strong, soak the cashews overnight or in boiling hot water for 30 minutes. This will help them blend easier.
This creamy mac and cheese can be enjoyed alone as a delicious main, but is most popularly served as a side alongside BBQ Seitan, Vegan Pulled Pork Sandwiches with BBQ Jackfruit, or BBQ Cauliflower Wings. It also pairs well with additional side dish recipes like Vegan Coleslaw, Homemade Vegan Baked Beans, and Crispy Green Bean Fries.
Leftover mac and cheese will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator when stored in an airtight container. If making this recipe for meal prep, store the cheesy sauce and al dente pasta separately and combine just before reheating.
Additionally, the vegan cheesy sauce can be frozen separately from the pasta. If frozen, allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
More Vegan Pasta Recipes
- Amazing Avocado Pesto Pasta
- Red Pepper and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta
- Creamy Curry Pasta (Vegan)
- Sweet Potato Pasta Sauce with Spaghetti
- Spicy Tomato Basil Pasta
Photos by Alfonso Revilla
Cheesy Vegan Mac and Cheese
- 4 tablespoons of chopped shallots
- 2 cups of chopped potatoes (you can leave peels on)
- 1 small sweet potato
- ½ cup of chopped carrots
- ⅔ cup of chopped onion
- 2 cups of water
- ½ cup of raw cashews (soaked for 1-5 hours and drained)
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- ½ teaspoon of garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- In a medium saucepan, add the shallots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onion, and water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.
- Place the cashews, salt, garlic, oil, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, paprika, and cayenne in a blender or food processor. Add the softened vegetables and cooking water to the blender or food processor and process until perfectly smooth.
- Pour the vegan cheese sauce over the cooked pasta or whatever.
- Experiment with spices. Try adding mustard powder, turmeric, additional cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, or chili powder for extra flavor.
- Use a good blender. A food processor may work in a pinch, but it will likely not be able to blend the cashews completely smooth.
- Soak the cashews. High-speed blenders like Vitamix or Blendtec are capable of blending raw cashews into a smooth sauce. If you are working with a high-speed blender that isn’t quite as strong, soak the cashews overnight or in boiling hot water for 30 minutes.
Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.