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.
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.
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.
The ingredients for this vegan mac and cheese are pretty standard, and you may have most of them at home right now!
Shells or Elbowpasta. 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 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:
Broccoli side dish
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:
Together, these herbs and spices strike the perfect balance of savory and fresh with a bit of smoky heat.
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.
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.
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.
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.