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The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

This gooey, 'cheesy' southern-style vegan mac and cheese has the right amount of flavor and creaminess for the ultimate comfort food dinner.

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

When it comes to this Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese recipe, it is by far more than a fork full of goodness! Super creamy, 'cheesy', and loaded with flavor, this 'Mac + Cheese" is made from organic shells, savory seasonings, nutritional yeast, and cashews soaked overnight (which makes the cream cheese base). A beautiful twist on a classic dish that it sure to be a staple in your household. Completely vegan. Gluten-Free + Nut-Free options.

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

Now, if you've been an avid follower of Orchids + Sweet Tea, then you'll know that I'm a Southern girl at heart who LOVES flavor! So, of course Mac + Cheese is on my top favorites list.

Growing up, I use to love this stuff. I mean, eating an entire bowl of Mac + Cheese was nothing for me. Plus, in the South, this stuff is almost always prepared during every cookout, gathering, or occasion, so how could I not be obsessed, right?

Healthy Vegan Mac and Cheese

Whelp, I must say that making a vegan version was by far AMAZING! Now, the twist is that I chose to use cashews as my 'sauce' versus vegan cheese, which is rather interesting by the way.

When using vegan cheese (which is ever so often), I enjoy using So Delicious Dairy-Free or Violife's non-dairy shreds. The great thing is that the shreds come in a variety of flavors--cheddar, mozzarella, pepper jack, and classic.

Personally, although I use the shreds in certain dishes, I'm just not a huge fan of the way they often melt.

The texture is just weird for me, or of course I just need to get use to it. However, when I'm able to use an alternative, I'm generally happy! Haha.

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

How to Make Vegan Mac and Cheese

If you’re used to making mac and cheese from solely melted cheese, this recipe may be a bit different from what you’re used to. It’s base comes from a cream vegan cream cheese sauce that is made from blended cashews and then the remaining ingredients are stirred together for a nice creaminess.

INGREDIENT NOTES

The ingredients for this vegan mac and cheese are pretty standard, and you may have most of them at home right now!

  • Shells or Elbow pasta. You can use a different short noodle if you like also. 
  • Almond milk. Of course you can always use your favorite plant-based milk.
  • Cashews . I like to do a quick soak for 30 minutes with boiling water, but you can also soak them overnight.
  • Seasonings + spices. It’s important to use several different varieties of seasonings for the best flavor.
  • Vegetable stock. This adds a nice amount of creaminess to the dish. 
  • Ground mustard. This is also mostly for its bright yellow color. You can omit the mustard powder if you don’t have it or substitute with regular dijon mustard. 

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

The Secret to Creamy Vegan Mac + Cheese

This silky sauce is spectacular when paired with macaroni. The sauce is thick and rich thanks to homemade vegan cream cheese made with soaked raw cashews. It is seasoned with apple cider vinegar, lemon, and rosemary. The next step to the perfect vegan cheese sauce is to make a roux. I made a roux using vegan butter and flour before adding almond milk and the homemade vegan cream cheese.

These two sauce methods combine to make the perfect silky sauce. Cheesy flavor is added with a homemade Cajun spice mix and nutritional yeast. You can’t make a vegan cheese sauce without nutritional yeast! For extra cheesy flavor, you can always add in dairy-free shreds.

Can I Use This Vegan Sauce for Other Recipes?

YES! Feel free to use this creamy sauce for other vegan dishes that require a cheese sauce. You can also keep the vegan cream cheese in the fridge for gluten-free bagels.

Some vegan dishes you can use this sauce with are:

  • Nachos
  • Dip/crudite
  • Broccoli side dish
  • Baked potatoes
  • Charcuterie

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

Making Homemade Breadcrumbs

If you'd like to add additional crunch to the top of your mac and cheese, then I recommend adding breadcrumbs. Store-bought breadcrumbs will work just fine on your baked mac and cheese. But it’s also very easy to make your own!

Here’s how I make breadcrumbs at home:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Grind 1-2 cups of cubed bread into a food processor until finely chopped.
  • Place crumbs onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread out evenly. Bake for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once brown + crisp, remove from oven and let cool.

You can store leftover breadcrumbs in a tightly sealed container at room temperature. 

CAJUN SEASONING BLEND

To make your seasoning, combine:

  • Garlic powder
  • Italian seasoning
  • Smoked paprika
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne
  • Dried thyme
  • Onion powder

Together, these herbs and spices strike the perfect balance of savory and fresh with a bit of smoky heat. 

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

Gluten-Free + Vegan Mac and Cheese

To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free shells or elbow pasta, flour, and gluten-free breadcrumbs. Or make your own with gluten-free bread. Everything in this dish is already dairy-free and vegan.

What to Serve with Vegan Mac and Cheese

You can serve this vegan mac and cheese as an entree all on its own (with a tall glass of Southern Strawberry Iced Sweet Tea or Traditional Southern Iced Sweet Tea) or treat it like a side dish. It’s great with Baked Sticky Orange Cauliflower + Quinoa, Vegan Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich, or Butternut Squash Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie.

Vegan Mac and Cheese without Nuts

If you're allergic to nuts or just don't want to add them to your mac and cheese, that's totally fine. Simple omit the "vegan cream cheese" ingredients and substitute with 4-5 cups of a high-quality dairy-free cheese shreds. Continue with the steps for cooking the sauce over the stovetop and add in the cheese shreds, whisking until everything becomes nice and creamy.

Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese Option

Mac and cheese that is both vegan and gluten-free?! Yes, please! Baked Vegan Buffalo Mac + Cheese is a spicy side dish perfect for any occasion. A creamy buffalo and cashew cream sauce coats gluten-free macaroni before topping with a crispy GF breadcrumb topping. This will be a new family favorite!

Just omit the buffalo sauce to keep things traditional.

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

My Fave Vegan Side Recipes

MADE OUR RECIPE(S)?

If you make this The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese, be sure to tag me on Instagram @orchidsandsweettea!

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese

5 from 10 votes
This gooey, 'cheesy' southern-style vegan mac and cheese has the right amount of flavor and creaminess for the ultimate comfort food dinner.
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 35 mins
Serves: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (16 oz.) pacakge organic shells or elbow pasta
  • 1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil

VEGAN CREAM CHEESE:

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked + drained (See Notes!)
  • ¾ cup filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon Grapeseed oil (You can also use Olive oil)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

MAC + CHEESE SAUCE:

  • 1 ¾ cups Almond milk (You can use your favorite plant-based milk)
  • 2 Tbsps vegan butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 ½ Tbsps arrowroot starch
  • 1 teaspoon juice of a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch of cajun seasoning, store-bought or homemade

Instructions

TO MAKE THE VEGAN CREAM CHEESE:

  • Add all ingredients into a high-powdered blender (cashews first) and blend until sauce becomes creamy. NOTE: If needed, add a bit more water (1 tablespoon at a time), until desired consistency is met. Set aside.

BOIL THE PASTA:

  • Cook pasta according to packaging. NOTE: shells or elbow pasta doesn’t take a long time to cook, usually 10-12 minutes. NOTE: I always add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the boiling water to prevent pasta from sticking together.

COOK THE MAC + CHEESE SAUCE:

  • In a medium deep saucepan, heat butter on medium-high heat and add garlic and sauté for a minute or so. Next, add arrowroot, nutritional yeast, ground mustard, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and cajun seasoning, and whisk until combined and looks like little "bits".
  • Slowly add Almond milk, whisking frequently. Once mixture becomes thick, add the vegan cream cheese, whisking frequently again. Add the lemon juice and continue to whisk sauce until combined, smooth, and creamy.
  • Add in the drained pasta and toss in sauce until well coated. Serve immediately and enjoy! NOTE: For added crunch, you can top with breadcrumbs if desired.
  • Bon Appetit!

Tips & Tricks

  • STORAGE: Any leftovers can be kept in a tightly sealed container and refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.
  • CAJUN SEASONINGS: Any leftover cajun seasoning mix can be stored in an airtight jar for later use or used as garnish.
  • SOAKED CASHEWS: To best soak cashews, add 1 cup of cashews to a bowl or measuring cup and cover with cold water, sealing the top with plastic wrap and leaving it out (at room temp.) overnight. When ready to use, drain and rinse. If not able to soak overnight, simply cover cashews with boiling water and let sit for 30 minutes, drain, + rinse.
  • OIL: Instead of grapeseed oil, you can substitute with extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
  • NUT-FREE OPTION: If you're allergic to nuts or just don't want to add them to your mac and cheese, that's totally fine. Simple omit the "vegan cream cheese" ingredients and substitute with 4-5 cups of a high-quality dairy-free cheese shreds. Continue with the steps for cooking the sauce over the stovetop and add in the cheese shreds, whisking until everything becomes nice and creamy.
  • GLUTEN-FREE OPTION: To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free shells or elbow pasta, flour (arrowroot if GF-friendly), and gluten-free breadcrumbs (if using). Or make your own with gluten-free bread. Everything in this dish is already dairy-free and vegan.

DID YOU MAKE THIS recipe?

Tag @orchidsnsweettea_ on Instagram and hashtag it #orchidsandsweettea

The Ultimate Vegan Mac + Cheese.

Shanika

2020 JUNETEENTH COOKOUT TAKEOVER RECIPES:

VEGETARIAN/VEGAN RECIPES:

Beautiful Eats & Things | Spiced Grilled Peaches

Brownbelle | Watermelon Hibiscus Whiskey Smash

Chenée Today | Lemon Icebox Pie

Dash of Jazz | Golden Pineapple Pound Cake

DMR Fine Foods | Blackberry Ginger Soda

Erique Berry Co | Three Green Summer Salad

Ethically Living | Vegan Jackfruit Jamaican Patties

FoodLoveTog | Braised Cabbage & Johnny cakes

Gristle & Gossip | Sweet Potato Honey Cornbread Cake

Maple Points | Peas & Rice – Guyanese Style

Marisa Moore Nutrition | Fresh Peach Iced Tea

Meiko and the Dish | Strawberry Cornbread Skillet Cobbler

Murielle Banackissa | Vegan Saka Saka (Congolese Cassava Leaf & Spinach Stew)

Open Invitation Entertainment | Coconut Collard Greens

Our Perfect Palette | Jollof Rice

Pink Owl Kitchen | Strawberry Buttermilk Biscuits

Savor and Sage | Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Sweet Savant | Black Eyed Peas and Sweet Potato Salad

That Green Lyfe | Vegan Red Red Stew (Spicy Ghanaian Black-Eyed Peas) and Plantain

The Dana Renee Way | Sweet Potato Cornbread

The Vgn Way | Juneteenth Hibiscus Strawberry Vegan Ice Cream

Vegan With Curves | Slow Cooker Black Eyed Pea Sweet Potato Soup

Whisk it Real Gud | Southern Sweet Potato Pie

 

VEGAN RECIPES:

Beautiful Eats & Things | Spiced Grilled Peaches

Ethically Living | Vegan Jackfruit Jamaican Patties

FoodLoveTog | Braised Cabbage & Johnny cakes

Gristle & Gossip | Sweet Potato Honey Cornbread Cake

Maple Points | Peas & Rice – Guyanese Style

Marisa Moore Nutrition | Fresh Peach Iced Tea

Murielle Banackissa | Vegan Saka Saka (Congolese Cassava Leaf & Spinach Stew)

Open Invitation Entertainment | Coconut Collard Greens

Savor and Sage | Black-Eyed Pea Salad

That Green Lyfe | Vegan Red Red Stew (Spicy Ghanaian Black-Eyed Peas) and Plantain

The Vgn Way | Juneteenth Hibiscus Strawberry Vegan Ice Cream

Vegan With Curves | Slow Cooker Black Eyed Pea Sweet Potato Soup


GLUTEN-FREE, KETO, PALEO, WHOLE 30 RECIPES:

A Girl Called Adri | Blackened Catfish

Chef and Steward | Watermelon and Feta Salad

Collards Are The Old Kale | Guaymas Shrimp

Confessions of a clean foodie | Mint Peach Spritzer

Heal Me Delicious | Trinidadian Callaloo

Sweet & Sorrel | Baked Jerk Chicken

The Hangry Woman | Jamaican Jerk Wings

This African Cooks | Ghanaian kebabs Whole30 style

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  1. This looks delicious. I've been looking for a vegan mac and cheese recipe that didn't call for vegan cheese. Thanks for this one!

    • You're super welcome! I'm not a HUGE fan of the vegan cheese either, so when I can--I use cashews as a great alternative. I hope that you enjoy this one!

    • Thanks so much, Katrina! You'll definitely enjoy this one, even if you aren't a vegan. I do hope that you get a chance to try it!

  2. THIS is my kind of recipe. I love everything about it, I haven't used my nutritional yeast in over 6 months, stuck for recipes but will try this for sure.

    • Yes, this recipe is definitely amazing, especially because of the nutritional yeast! I haven't fully utilized mine as well, but I'm starting to incorporate it more.

    • I'm sure your friends will love you! Haha! Be sure to let me know how it turns out and how they love it, Valentina! 🙂

  3. I would SO love to dig into a big bowl of this right now-yum! It's my daughter's 17th b-day this weekend, and she has requested my homemade mac and cheese which has loads of butter and cheese-she might not want this version for her bday, but for sure I will try making it ASAP. Yum!!!

    • Yes, this vegan Mac + Cheese is really really good! I'm sure that you'll enjoy it for sure! Be sure to let me know how it turns out! And Happy Birthday to your daughter when it comes! 🙂

  4. This sounds like the perfect dish for my family! I make a cashew alfredo that they all love so I bet this recipe with the cashews for the cream cheese as well as the nutritional yeast will be perfectly "cheesy" and creamy. Thanks for sharing this great alternative! I love your other healthier option recipes as well so just signed up for emails and will definitely be following you on Instagram. 🙂

    • Wow, thanks so much Sally! I definitely love using cashews and now that I've experimented with nutritional yeast, it's my new favorite as well. I do hope that you continue to enjoy my recipes and I'm sure that your family will love this one! My family sure did! 🙂

  5. Hey there, Ms. Shanika! I just love your blog!!! Your Vegan recipes for Southern food are amazing. You are my favorite place to look for Vegan recipes anymore!!

    • Hi Heidy! Wow! That means so much! I'm so happy that you find my vegan recipes to be so helpful and tasteful! I do hope that you get a chance to try out some of them! 🙂

  6. I’m always amazed by how fabulous cashews can be as cheese! So much more delicious than vegan cheese. This dish looks absolutely delicious (and that’s coming from a non-vegan!).

    • Thanks so much, Sues! I really love using cashews instead also! I'm not a huge fan of vegan cheese yet, although I use it rarely, but using cashews has definitely been my new favorite!