Easy Vegan Mac and Cheese
Simple and quick to make, this Easy Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters! It’s made with just 8 whole ingredients – no processed vegan cheeses here. This recipe comes together quickly for an easy dinner and is easily made gluten-free.
I’ll say it – after years of testing vegan mac and cheese recipes, this is my favorite and best vegan mac and cheese recipe. Creamy and smooth, with a crispy top and a luscious sauce enveloping all the glorious noodles (gluten-free, if you’re like me)! It is a little bit of heaven on Earth.
Since going dairy-free, I’ve tried a lot of vegan mac and cheese recipes over the years. They’ve been good, but usually they tasted like noodles in some sort of veggie sauce – not the mac and cheese I was craving. I know lots of people love their butternut squash or sweet potato-based mac and cheeses. For me, those flavors just pull me too far away from that classic mac and cheese taste that I’m after. They’re good, but to me, they’re not mac and cheese.
I found my favorite vegan mac and cheese at Donna Jean in Banker’s Hill, San Diego. In my first solo apartment, I lived within walking distance of this spot. I went there far too often for their vegan pizzas, delicious seasonal appetizers, and of course – their cast-iron vegan mac and cheese. It is luscious, and I could never figure out how they did it.
After a number of tries, I sent them a message asking for the recipe (gotta try, right??). While they couldn’t share it with me, they did share the ingredients list. From there, I got to work, creating my own version of their epic recipe. And it is the best homemade vegan mac and cheese recipe that I have ever had.
So, credit to the amazing team of chef’s at Donna Jean for inspiring this recipe!! (Though I’m not going to lie – their’s is STILL better than mine because they cook it in a pizza oven where the bottom gets delightfully crispy, so if you have the chance…go try their version!)
Let’s make Vegan Mac and Cheese!
Okay, first let’s talk about the 8 ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe:
- Raw Cashews: These are your “cheese” in this sauce! For this recipe, we’ll soak the cashews until soft, and then drain and rinse them. If you think ahead, you can soak in room temperature water (I like to use filtered) for four to eight hours. If you’re pulling things together last minute, you can soak in very hot water (I boil in my kettle and then pour over) for 30 or so minutes.
- Onion: I typically use yellow or white onion here. The onion, and the garlic below, are flavor-builders. I sauté the diced onions until soft and translucent before blending them with the sauce.
- Garlic: The garlic gets tossed in with the onions while they’re sautéing to bring out their flavor and mellow the raw taste.
- Tapioca Starch: The tapioca starch helps thicken up the sauce once it hits the oven. You can substitute this with arrowroot starch or cornstarch.
- Lemon Juice: I add just a touch of fresh squeezed lemon juice – the bit of tang really amps up the taste.
- Nutritional Yeast: This is where the cheesy flavor comes from! You can add more or less based on your taste preferences.
- Paprika: Just a pinch! The paprika adds a little bit of depth and “something-something” to the flavor. A little smoked paprika is great here, too!
- Pasta: Since I’m a gluten-free gal, I of course use a gluten-free pasta. For the photos, I used Jovial Brown Rice Elbows. The shape works great here (lots of nooks and crannies for sauce) snd the brown rice pasta holds up better than some other gluten-free noodles. If you’re not GF, whatever pasta floats your boat will work here.
- Salt & Water: These aren’t listed in the ingredient count because I’m guessing you don’t need to go out of your way to acquire these! But both necessary :D
The process for making this vegan mac and cheese is pretty simple too! In my own quick notes I take for recipes (before flushing them out with lots of details to share here), I wrote a total of four sentences. Let’s go through them (flushed out a bit with details) real quick for an easy how-to:
- Sauté the diced onion until translucent. Then, add garlic until fragrant. Let cool.
- Put the sautéed onions into your blender, along with all of the other ingredients, including water, and excluding the pasta.
- Blend, blend, blend until smooth!
- Mix with your cooked noodles and pour into a cast-iron skillet or a casserole pan.
- Bake until golden and bubbly! Serve hot.
It’s really that easy. I promise! And to add a little extra something something, you can add in some of your favorite mac and cheese mix-ins. I love adding broccoli or other veggies – they all get more delicious wrapped up in that luscious cheesy sauce. I hope you love this one as much as I do!
Want more delicious dinner ideas? Here are some of my favorites:
- Arugula Pesto Pasta
- Vegetable Miso Noodle Soup
- Best Vegan Nachos
- Gluten-Free Vegan Vegetable Pot Pie
Watch me make Easy Vegan Mac & Cheese!
Easy and quick to make, this Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters! It’s made with just 8 whole ingredients – no processed vegan cheeses here. This recipe comes together quickly for an easy dinner and is easily made gluten-free.
- 1½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water to soften for 4–8 hours
- 1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1½ tablespoons tapioca starch, or arrowroot powder or cornstarch
- 1¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- Pinch of paprika
- 1½–1¾ cups filtered water
- 12 oz. cooked elbow or macaroni noodles, gluten-free if needed, see Notes
- Heat a pan to medium heat. Add a little bit of oil or water to the pan and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the minced garlic cloves and cook for another minute, until fragrant. Take off the heat and let cool slightly.
- Drain and rinse the cashews. Add to the blender, along with the onions, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, tapioca, paprika, sea salt, and water. Blend until completely smooth, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- Pour over cooked noodles of choice and stir, reserving about ¼ of the cheese sauce to pour on top. Spread the noodles in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or similarly-sized casserole dish, and then pour the rest of the cheese sauce over the top.
- Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, and then broil for a few minutes to brown the top. Keep a close eye on it to finish it to your liking.
- Serve immediately. We love it as a main dish with a side salad.
For the pasta, I used Jovial’s Brown Rice Elbows and find they hold up really well here. Chickpea and bean-based pastas also work really well, but be a bit gentler while you’re stirring, since they tend to break more easily than brown-rice based pasta.
Keywords: dinner, vegan dinner, mac and cheese, vegan mac and cheese, gluten-free