vegan mac and cheese recipe

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Vegan Mac & 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 themeverything into the blender"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 salzmanvegan mac & cheese|pamela salzmanvegan 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 salzmanVegan Mac & Cheese|Pamela Salzman

Vegan Mac and Cheese
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
  • ¼ 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)
  • ⅓ 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.
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.

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  1. Ann Bartholomew says

    Also, for those of us who can’t have potatoes (nightshades) I bet Japanese white sweet potatoes would work as a sub.

  2. Adero says

    Amazing! I have been missing cheese and couldn’t wait to try this! I will have to make a batch without cashews for my son and see how that turns out as he can’t eat cheese anymore either. Can’t wait to share THIS one.

  3. Donna Peters says

    I am so excited to try this. I am not vegan, nor have allergies, but my family and friends all have different sensitivities and I like to collect recipes to have on hand for them. My question is… do you think I can make this casserole and freeze it. has anyone tried to freeze it before baking, or even after baking it. Can’t wait to make it

    • Pamela says

      I have tried freezing just the sauce, and it was not a success. I have not tried freezing the whole casserole though, although I’d like to know if it works.

    • Christy says

      I freeze my potato/carrot vegan cheese sauce all the time. The trick to getting it to turn out right is to do one to 2 things: completely reheat on stovetop, stirring frequently (if you don’t let it boil for a little bit, there will still be textured crystal particles in it) OR let thaw partially then reblend with a little extra water. Every time I make this, I make up a double recipe of my version (without cashews, +some nutritional yeast) and freeze half in a plastic container. It’s super nice to be able to pull it out of the freezer and have it ready to go for casseroles, lasagna, nachos, baked potatoes, enchiladas, pizza, burritos, you name it!

      • Pamela says

        Super helpful tip, Christy! I need to try that because I only tried freezing it once and it was not great! Thank you!

  4. A says

    I never leave comments on blogs, but this was AMAZING!!! My cheese-loving children went nuts for it and asked for seconds (and thirds, but I had to cut them off…lol)!

  5. Jennifer says

    I don’t normally leave comments on recipes, but wow! This cheese sauce is amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Pamela says

      Hey, you’re welcome! Now you have to try the vegan queso dip, which is a twist on the mac and cheese sauce. Insane!

      • Jennifer says

        Thank you for telling me about that one! I had no idea you had that on your website. This cheese sauce is out of this world. I’ve made it so many times. I even used it on a loaded baked potato as you suggested – YUM!

  6. Heather says

    Oh my god. This is literally life changing. Tried another cheese recipie yesterday and it was truly terrible so I didn’t hold out much hope for this but I was so SO WRONG

    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing dish!!!!

  7. Kate says

    This tastes frighteningly similar to cheese!!! I mean that in the best way possible.
    My poor boyfriend, who due to a health issue can eat pretty much nothing (no red meat, nightshades, alcohol, refined sugar, almonds, soy, dairy, egg and most grains), thought I was being vengeful by cooking myself a giant pot of mac and cheese to eat all to myself.
    I used sweet potato rather than yukon golds (a nightshade) and only 1 TBS of olive oil rather than butter/roux/vegan butter subsitute and added 1 TBS of nutritional yeast. It was delish! It even went well as leftovers which usually doesn’t work with rice pasta- it gets too dry.
    The sweet potato gave it even more of a “cheddar” appearance.
    Definitely on our “make again” list! Thank you!!!

    • Pamela says

      Super excited by your comments!! I cannot wait to try this with sweet potato! Why didn’t I think to try that?! Love all your substitutions and they are so helpful for people who also can’t have this or that. Thank you so much!

  8. katie says

    this was the greatest thing i’ve ever tasted. my 6 year old had no idea it wasn’t real cheese. INSANE.

    • Pamela says

      I have to say, I think this is the best mac and cheese, even though it’s not real cheese. SO glad you loved it! :)

  9. Katerina says

    For those with nut allergies what could be a substitute for the cashews? Can’t wait to try this!! Cheddar cheese and many others are amongst a long list of allergies and Mac and cheese has been on the cravings list for awhile now!

    • Pamela says

      I need to try this without cashews for nut-free people. I have no idea how to do it, but I’ll probably try adding more potato or some white beans.

        • Pamela says

          I just tried this recently with more potato to sub for the cashews and it worked, but the potato flavor was pretty prominent. I need to see if I can fidget with the other flavors to make up for that.

    • Jen says

      Hey! We used sunflower seeds instead of cashews, and also butter beans instead of potatoes (we were out of both potatoes and cashews, night before a shopping day lol!), and it worked great! I used a little extra beans. Probably would have been creamier with cashews, and I intend to make it as written at some point too, but it was still great and I’m sure it would be fine just leaving out the nuts if you can’t do seeds either, and adding some extra potato or beans, like she said:) Anyway, my six year old sister loved it.. she isn’t usually a dinner girl but she ate the whole thing, so I think it went well

      • Pamela says

        I am so excited to hear about these substitutions! And they’re so helpful for people who are nut-free (and out of potatoes!) I am certain that cashews would make the sauce creamier, but if sunflower seeds get the job done — awesome!

    • 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

        • Pamela says

          No way! Next time I make it, I’ll try reducing the fat and see if I still love it. Thank you so much for writing in! :)

  12. 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.

  13. 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! :)

    • 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…

  14. 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!

  15. 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. :)

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

  20. 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. :)

  21. 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. 😛

    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!!

  22. 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!!

          • Patty says

            I’m eating this as we speak- couldn’t wait to thank you for this awesome recipe!

            When I tasted the sauce I thought it was too salty but it came out of the oven PERFECT not too salty- not too anything. Just wonderful.

            My boyfriend is already on seconds hah!

            Will definitely be making again- you’re awesome.


            • Pamela says

              Great comment — totally true about the sauce. I think it tastes salty on its own, but after it’s baked with the pasta, I think the salt is just right. So glad you enjoyed it!

  23. 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.

    • 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 :)

  24. 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!

  25. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

  26. 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!

    • 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!

  27. 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!

  28. 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?

  29. 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!


  1. […] I wanted to share a GREAT recipe for a Vegan Macaroni and Cheese! I was inspired by one that I found floating around Pinterest. It had such fantastic reviews that I had to try it. And it was extremely delicious- even Dave […]

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