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vegan mac and cheese recipe

October 05, 2013

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vegan mac and cheese | pamela salzman

If someone tried to coax me a year ago with a “vegan mac and cheese” recipe, I would have politely said, “no, thank you.”  First of all, I actually don’t really like mac and cheese.  Not the boxed kind and not even the homemade kind.  Weird, I know.  And sad for my husband who looooooves it.  I used to have to make him the famous “Ronald Reagan’s favorite mac and cheese” recipe all the time when we first got married.  Tons of butter, cheddar cheese, milk, stomach ache for me.  Just not my thing.  It’s now the 21st century, and we’re both eating differently and I am open minded to alternative recipes.

potatoes, carrots, shallot, onion cook the veggies in water,  but cover them L1140379"cheese sauce"

Although open minded or not, I’ve always felt if I’m not going to like the real deal, why would I like something pretending to be the real deal?  And most vegan mac and cheese recipes call for fake processed cheese or nutritional yeast and they’re just not that tasty, in my opinion.  Are you with me?  Well, according to myself and according to Mr. Picky who still doesn’t like cheese except Pecorino Romano in some soups and on pizza crust, this mac and cheese is the bomb.  I think it’s better than mac and cheese and he likes it because he has watched me make it and is confident there is not a morsel of cheese, real or fake, anywhere in this dish.

bread crumbs

You may have seen on my Instagram a month ago a picture I posted of “vegan nachos” I made for the kids.  Here it is below.  That’s the same sauce for this!  You may have also seen a strange looking bowl of yellow stuff on my baked potato bar.  Same vegan cheese sauce!  Do you see the potential here?  What about as a dip for steamed veggies?  I might even make a soup out of this.  We are not just talking about a mac and cheese recipe.  We are talking about a life-changing delicious not-cheese sauce.   This sauce is a miracle.  It is made from potatoes, cashews, carrots, onions and a bunch of other completely natural foods blended into creamy, cheesy deliciousness.  Completely digestible (unless you are nut-free, in which case I am so sorry.  Buggers.)  I know I sound crazy.  I wouldn’t believe me either.

vegan nachos | pamela salzman


vegan mac and cheese | pamela salzman

The only trick with this recipe is that you have to follow it exactly!  No eyeballing measurements.  No leaving things out.  Anytime I have guesstimated an amount with this recipe, it hasn’t worked quite as well, especially with ingredients like cayenne, lemon juice (you can leave this out, but just don’t add more than indicated) and garlic.  Some of the images on this post were taken of light spelt macaroni and some of whole spelt macaroni.  My family much prefers the light spelt pasta with this sauce, but you should use whatever suits you.  I have also tried this with brown rice pasta and a corn-quinoa pasta — both super!   Once I threw some small cauliflower florets into the pasta pot two minutes before the pasta was done and made a cauliflower mac and cheese.  (See above.)  I’m sure broccoli and kale would be great, too!  Can you see how much fun we are going to have with this??!!

vegan mac and cheese | pamela salzman

vegan mac and cheese with whole spelt macaroni

vegan mac and cheese

I actually don’t make the vegan version for us because we can eat butter.   But I have made this with Earth Balance (which is vegan) many times and it has always turned out great.  I have never made this without the bread crumbs, though.  I think they provide a nice contrast in texture to the soft and creamy macaroni, but if not everyone will eat the bread crumbs, I am sure you can leave a square of the baking dish free of them.

adapted from VegNews

serves 6 as a side dish


8 ounce package elbow macaroni pasta (I like spelt.)

2 slices bread, torn into large pieces (whole grain works!)

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (not vegan) or organic Earth Balance (vegan), divided

1/4 teaspoon paprika

2 Tablespoons chopped shallots

1 cup (about 7 ounces) chopped Yukon gold potatoes (you can leave the peel on)

¼ cup chopped carrots (about 1 small carrot)

1/3 cup chopped onion

1 cup water

¼ cup raw cashews (soaked for 1-5 hours and drained if you your blender is weak)

2 teaspoons sea salt (use 1 ¾ teaspoons if using Earth Balance)

¼ teaspoon garlic, minced (about 1 medium clove)

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

¼ teaspoon black pepper

pinch of cayenne pepper


  1. In a medium saucepan, add the shallots, 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.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain and put back into the pot.
  3. Put the bread pieces, 1 Tablespoon of butter and paprika in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until combined to a medium-fine texture, set aside.
  4. Place the cashews, salt, garlic, 5 Tablespoons butter, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, 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.
  5. Pour the “cheese” sauce over the cooked pasta and combine until completely coated. Spread the mixture into an un-greased 11 x 8 casserole dish, sprinkle with prepared breadcrumb mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden brown.   If you add veggies (such as 1 or 2 cups of blanched cauliflower or broccoli) to the macaroni, cook in a 13 x 9 dish.


72 Responses to “vegan mac and cheese recipe”

  1. Ilene says:

    I am not vegan but this looked interesting. Just made it and it was delicious!

  2. Krystal says:

    This recipe was AMAZING, however I have a question can this be made without the cashews?

    • Pamela says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t tried it without the cashews. But if I were going to try, I would maybe add more potato since both are there to add creaminess and thicken it.

  3. Kate says:

    OMG! Just made this and literally licking the blender clean. This is amazing! I will never suffer through another mac and cheese craving again

  4. Ani says:

    I’m newly vegan so I don’t eat butter, but I don’t like the idea of using processed fake butter either. Do you think thers a way to make this or no? Thanks!

    • Pamela says:

      Hi Ani! I would try olive oil, avocado oil or maybe silken tofu. I haven’t tried any of these, but I have a feeling they’d work fine. Please report back if you do!

      • Melissa says:

        I just made this with only a tablespoon of oil and only a teaspoon of salt and it was still the single best vegan cheese sauce ever.

  5. […] figured it would be perfect to share before the Super Bowl.  This recipe is actually a twist on my vegan mac and cheese recipe, jazzed up with jalapeño, black or pinto beans, and my new favorite product, Whole Foods organic […]

  6. Sarah says:

    I just wanted to say that I tried making this with an earth balance and flour roux. Here’s how it turned out! I used about two or so tablespoons of earth balance and about three tablespoons of flour. I followed all the directions except leaving out the cashews. Once I blended it, I added it to the pan with the roux, pouring slowly and whisking. It did thicken it quite a bit, but it was more of a gummy texture and not the smooth cheesy texture I wanted. So I returned it to the blender and blended it on high for a few more seconds. This helped considerably! It still seemed a little thick, though, so I might use less flour next time. Hope that helps anyone who was wondering if it could be made without cashews!

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks so much for your helpful comment! A lot of people have asked me how to make this without cashews and I had never tested it. Good info to know!

    • Jessica says:

      the standard rule of thumb is equal parts fat to flour for a roux. I’m sure if you did 2 tbsp oil to 2 tbsp four it wouldn’t turn out too thick and be a good replacement for the cashews. But cashews also add flavor, so you might need to up the flavor component with more garlic/ nutritional yeast/ etc.

  7. Karen says:

    Just made this. It is outstanding! Family loved it. By far the best vegan (or regular) mac ‘n cheese and we’ve tried a lot! Can’t wait to make the sauce just for nachos or potato skins or ….

    • Pamela says:

      Yay!!!! If you use it for something else (like nachos or on baked potatoes), after blending, put the sauce back in the pot and cook for a couple of minutes. Taste better that way! :)

  8. amanda says:

    This is great!! Can you make a bunch of sauce and freeze it in portions?

    • Pamela says:

      I love this, too! Sadly, it doesn’t freeze well. I tried it and it gets grainy and separates. Not the same! :( You can make extra and reheat it 2 days later, though…

  9. Lauryn says:

    This recipe is AMAZING! I am not a fan of nutritional yeast so I was excited to see this. My husband however was skeptical. Well he loves it more than your run of the mill real cheese mac and cheese. Thank you for posting this taste-a-licous recipe!

  10. Marianne says:

    Hi Pamela -
    Tried this tonight in light of the superb reviews – and I am in LOVE with this recipe! The taste is fantastic and got rave reviews from the adults at the table – but I was unable to fool the kids. :/ Their unsophisticated palate makes them crave/prefer the chemical stuff, it appears. One quicxk question – despite churning in the Vitamix for a good two minutes, my “cheez sauce” still didn’t appear quite as velvety as yours does in the photos. Any tips/tricks you can send my way on how to achieve that velvety consistency?

    • Pamela says:

      Hmmmm….assuming you used raw cashews and not toasted. If the bits that weren’t smooth were cashews, trying soaking them for a few hours in water and drain them before using. The only other thing I can think of is making sure your veggies are cooked well. I haven’t had any issues with the sauce not being really smooth. Let me know if there’s anything else you can think of that you might have done differently. :)

  11. […] vegan mac and cheese recipe | Pamela Salzman & Recipes – If someone tried to coax me a year ago with a “vegan mac and cheese” recipe, I would have politely said, “no, thank you.” First of all, I actually don’t …… […]

  12. Chelsey says:

    I never thought I would, but I will never look for another vegan cheese sauce recipe again! I have tried so many, and some are good but there is always something I don’t quite like about them. All the ingredients are healthy, whole, and plant based which I love! I could drink the sauce, but instead I put it over raw zucchini noodles with roasted butternut squash. I’m so exited to try this on nachos and other things thanks!

  13. Alison says:

    Wow, delicious. I made it to take to a friend’s party and it was devoured very quickly by the house full of non-vegans. I had one woman say in disbelief, “What?! I thought that was real cheese!” My non-vegan brother told me he liked it more than the traditional cheese version of the dish, which I have to agree with. It’s a pretty easy recipe, too, with common ingredients. Thank you for sharing, I’ll be pinning it as a new favorite comfort food!

  14. Dina says:

    I had my reservations about how this would taste, but it was awesome! I will use it again and again! Thanks.

    • Pamela says:

      I totally understand where you are coming from — I was so skeptical myself. Now, it’s the only mac and cheese I’ll eat!

  15. […] squash and knowing I had some cheesy sauce frozen. I also had garden tomatoes and green onion. Here is the sauce I had stockpiled because it’s awesome, and freezes well. Try this one on nachos guys, om nom […]

  16. Qiana says:

    I am trying the Vegan Before 6 lifestyle and found this recipe on Pinterest. I added a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast, bu kept everything else the same. This recipe is so uber amazing! My 9-year old son ate half of the pan, so it is kid tested and mother approved! Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Pamela says:

      How cool! This is the only mac and cheese my son will eat. I made it last night because I saw your comment and I was craving it!

  17. Jenna says:

    Hi! I’m going to try out this recipe tomorrow, considering I have to let the cashews soak. Quick question, though —

    If I didn’t use ALL the cheese I made, what’s the best way to store it and use again? Refrigerate obviously, but for nachos, is heating the cheese up in the microwave a big no-no? Let me know. :)

    • Pamela says:

      Just refrigerate it in a covered container and reheat gently in a small saucepan. I supposed you can reheat in a microwave, but I haven’t tried it so I can’t guess what power and for how long. :)

  18. Jamie says:

    We’ve been vegan for a little over one year now, sorely missing mac ‘n cheese. We’ve been getting by with the nutritional yeast flakes/flour type sauce (which is good, but not GREAT); however, this sauce is the bomb and will now be our go-to. I found this recipe on Pinterest this past weekend and have since made mac ‘n cheese twice, and nachos today. :-P

    I used russet potatoes and no shallots, but everything else exactly as the recipe called for. It is so delicious! I think the next time we try this sauce on nachos, I might put some salsa into the mixture, to make it more of a “fiesta cheese”. I will say that I prefer eating the mac ‘n cheese without baking it/breadcrumbs. Mine got a little dry when I baked it.

    Thank you, Pamela!!! You have made me SO happy!!

  19. angelica says:

    hi there. i just found this recipe on pinterest and was wondering what you think if i replace olive oil for the earth balance, as we are not fans of it. can’t wait to try this because the last vegan mac n’ cheese i tried didn’t turn out so well. thanks!

    • Pamela says:

      this recipe is the best mac and cheese recipe I have ever had, but I have a feeling the Earth Balance (or butter if you’re not vegan) is a much better option than olive oil in making this taste creamy and “cheesy.” But that’s just my guess. I know olive oil would be fine for the breadcrumb topping, just not sure about the sauce. If you decide to try it, I would use a little less olive oil and make sure it isn’t a very strongly flavored one. Please report back if you give this a go! Thanks~

      • angelica says:

        Oh my gosh, I had to quickly write back because this was sooo good! I made it minus the shallots, used a little more onion, used a peeled russet potato instead of the yukon gold and instead of earth balance used olive oil. I also added peas and broccoli. It didn’t look as velvety as the photo above but was creamy enough and made a generous amount. We ate it all up – my omni and skeptical hubby and bro-in-law and a picky preeschooler had more than one serving! I can’t wait to try this on nachos… Thanks!

        • Pamela says:

          Oh MY gosh! I am so excited to know that you can use olive oil. So awesome! If you use the sauce for nachos, after you blend it, put the sauce back in the pot you used to cook the veggies and cook the sauce for a couple minutes. Tastes better that way! Thank yoU!!

  20. Cyndi says:

    Yes… this sauce is the bomb! I’ve also modified for broccoli “cheddar” soup. Diluting with veggie stock and simmering broccoli until semi soft.

  21. Becca says:

    Also, I made it gluten free by using gf pasta and bread since my kids have a gluten sensitivity and still thought it was amazing!

    • Pamela says:

      I’m so glad you tried this out! I think it’s amazing, too! And yes, GF works beautifully. Thanks for the comment :)

  22. Becca says:

    OMG! Made this tonight and am in love! What a perfect way to sneak some veggies in my kiddos, and as a self confessed cheese addict, this is a perfect substitute. I have a feeling I’ll be making this on a regular basis. Can’t wait to try the sauce on nachos and for other recipes. Thank you!

  23. Mamie says:

    Hello Pamela,

    My 23 year old daughter is new to the vegetarian/vegan family. Mac & cheese is one of her favorite dishes. This recipe looks very good but my daughter is allergic to tree nuts. Are cashews an absolute must in this recipe or is there something else that I can use to replace the nuts? Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Pamela says:

      Hi Mamie, I’ve never tried to make this without the cashews, which are often used in vegan cooking to sub for heavy cream, sour cream and to help thicken. I suppose you can try making a roux by combining flour and softened Earth Balance and adding that instead of the cashews, but I haven’t tested that out yet. Sorry!

  24. Gail says:

    Could this be made without butter or Earth Balance?

  25. […] Vegan Mac & Cheese from Pamela Salzman […]

  26. Bernice says:

    I don’t see how much paprika to add – did I miss it?

    • Pamela says:

      I forgot it in the ingredients! Darn. Thanks for catching that. It’s actually just to add some color to the breadcrumbs, so you could leave it out if necessary. Just a 1/4 teaspoon.

  27. I tried this recipe and it was so delicious. It tastes just like box mac and cheese, which I love. I will be using this for nachos too!!!

  28. Rosey says:

    This recipe is amazing and well worth the effort. Next experiment: can it be frozen in smaller portions?

    • Pamela says:

      I’m so glad you liked it! I have not frozen the casserole, but I did try freezing the cheese sauce and it did NOT freeze well.

  29. Lynette says:

    I know you said to follow the recipe exactly but I am hoping to avoid a trip to the store and I really want to make this. What do you think about subbing onion for the shallot? What about using russet potatoes or red? Or should I just go to the store?

    • Pamela says:

      I haven’t tried that, but I imagine it would still turn out well. When I said “exactly,” the ingredients you need to be careful about measuring are lemon juice, cayenne, mustard and garlic. Red potatoes are fine, just make sure to peel them. Let me know how it turns out!

  30. Rebecca says:

    This is the same as Allison Rivers Sampson’s recipe http://www.allisonsgourmet.com/skin/frontend/default/blank/images/recipes/VegNewsMagFeb08.gif that I have been making for years, and it truly IS amazing! The potatoes give it that oozy, gooey texture of melted cheese. My dairy-loving sister-in-law actually told me she PREFERS it to “the real thing”!

    • Pamela says:

      It must be the same! The link I provided above is from a VegNews recipe roundup list. I’m sorry the actual author’s name wasn’t provided in that. But, I completely agree with your sister-in-law — I actually prefer this to “real” mac and cheese!

  31. laura says:

    This is one of the first vegan mac n cheese recipies I ever made and still remains a favorite. I have even experimented with cutting down on the earth balance to reduce calories. Better than any non vegan mac and cheese ive ever had!

  32. Thanks so much for such a great recipe. I am dairy-free, don’t like “fake” cheese, but miss mac & cheese. Can’t wait to try this.

  33. Kristin says:

    Can’t wait to try it! I love all of your other recipes. Where do you buy spelt pasta- can you find it at the grocery or do you order it online?

  34. Pamela says:

    For some reason, my “print recipe” function isn’t working. I apologize for the inconvenience, but until I figure this out, I suggest copying and pasting the recipe into a word doc. Thank you for your patience!

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