There’s nothing better than a bowl of creamy mac and cheese for dinner. This recipe is great for both kids and adults alike.
This dairy-free mac and cheese recipe is made with pantry-friendly ingredients including cashews, nutritional yeast, spices, fresh lemon juice, and dijon mustard. No fake or mock cheese here – we’re working these flavors with real ingredients.
Why You’ll Love This Dairy-Free Mac & Cheese
- No mock cheeses are used here! That means we’ll save the grocery ingredient hunt for another time. Plenty of the ingredients used here are easy-to-find and pantry-friendly.
- We’re using CASHEWS! This will be our creamy base.
- Ready in just 20 minutes – making this recipe the perfect busy weekday recipe.
For more comfort food recipes, check out our Creamy Rigatoni, Tofu “Butter Chicken,” Creamy Chickpea Pasta with Spinach, and Vegan Chicken Noodle Soup.
Ingredients & Substitutions
All of the ingredients listed in the recipe all work together to bring a creamy, umami, flavor-packed mac and cheese. Even though this mac and cheese recipe is made without milk, butter, or cheese – it’s still creamy and incredibly delicious.
- Cashews: This is a must! Cashews will serve as our “cheese” or creamy base. It’s also important to grab RAW, unsalted cashews. Roasted cashews will bring bitterness to the dish and the texture will be off.
- Nutritional Yeast: If you’re vegan or veg, you’re probably familiar with nutritional yeast. This ingredient will help bring a bit of umami and “cheesiness” to this dish.
- Smoked Paprika: Since we’re going for a smoky-type dish, we’re going to need smoked paprika.
- Tomato Paste: To add color and a depth of flavor, we’re going with tomato paste. It will also bring a dash of tang and sharpness.
- Garlic Powder: If you’re not into garlic powder or garlic in general, you could leave this ingredient out. Alternatively, you can add more garlic powder if you’re really into it.
- Lemon Juice: For a pinch of sourness, lemon juice will be the perfect addition!
- Dijon Mustard: Dijon mustard will also add another layer of bold flavor to our dairy-free mac and cheese.
- Vegan Butter: Go for any vegan butter of choice! I like to go with something creamy and soft, like Melt Organic or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
- Macaroni Pasta: You’ll want to use elbow, ziti, penne, rigatoni, or any other tube-shaped pasta.
What To Eat With Mac & Cheese
This vegan mac and cheese recipe is heavy on the carbs and the fat, so adding protein might be a great idea.
I like to serve mac and cheese with vegan “meatloaf” with onion gravy, air fryer tofu, or roasted vegetables, like broccoli.
But if you want to pile on the carbs – because why not? Go for homemade applesauce, cornbread, and toasted garlic bread.
What Kind Of Pasta Should Be Used
Elbow pasta is known for its appearance in mac and cheese recipes – and for good reason. Elbow pasta or any tube-type pasta is great for thick-sauced dishes like macaroni and cheese. Other pasta types you can consider for mac and cheese include bowtie, shells, rotini, and cavatappi. Choose what you have or prefer. I love using elbow pasta, but I’ll switch that out depending on what I currently have in my pantry.
What Can Be Added to Mac & Cheese
This recipe is great on its own, but you can definitely enhance this dish with some addition! My favorite is with mushroom bacon. It’s incredibly delicious and brings just the right amount of umami and texture to the dish. Mushroom bacon does take some effort to make, so if you want to keep things easy, you can go with tempeh bacon, instead.
Other mac and cheese additions to consider:
- Roasted broccoli
- Green onions
- Vegan parmesan
- Bread crumbs
How To Store
This recipe is best served right away. Like traditional mac and cheese, this recipe can dry up quickly.
However, it may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days in an airtight, sealed container.
To reheat, transfer the mac and cheese to a pot. Warm over low heat and stir in a little bit of water or non-dairy milk to loosen up the sauce. Heat until warm all the way through.
- If you want your cheese sauce thinner, just add more water and adjust the salt for taste.
- If you want it extra creamy and less healthy, add vegan butter. My vegan butter of choice is Melt.
- If the sauce is too thin, give it a couple of minutes. It should thicken out.
- To make this recipe gluten-free, go for gluten-free pasta.
Into cashew-based recipes? Check out our Chickpea Salad Sandwich, Cashew Cream, and Creamy Red Potato Salad.
Tried out this Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese recipe?
Please leave a comment below, share it, rate it, or tag a picture @plantbasedandbroke on Instagram and hashtag it #plantbasedandbroke. Show off that creation with us.
10-Ingredient Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese
- 4 cups water for boiling
- 1 cup cashews raw, unsalted
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1.5 cups reserved cashew water
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter (optional)
- 2 cups elbow pasta
- Set a pot of water and over high heat. Once at a boil, add cashews and salt and boil for 10 minutes. Next, drain cashews from the water and keep leftover cashew water.
- In a blender, add cashews, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, tomato paste, garlic powder, fresh lemon juice, salt, dijon mustard, and 1.5 cups of the leftover cashew water. If you want the sauce to be creamier and buttery, add vegan butter (optional). Blend until smooth.
- Prepare the pasta according to the package’s instructions. Stir together cheese sauce to the pasta. Add additional salt to taste.
Did you try out this Smoky Mac and Cheese Recipe?
Please leave a comment below, share it, rate it or tag a picture @plantbasedandbroke on Instagram and hashtag it #plantbasedandbroke. Show off that creation with us
Now that’s a creamy Vegan Mac + Cheese! This looks so good!
And it tastes even better than it looks! 🙂
Alright now! This looks delicious! Thank you for all of the helpful notes
It’s one of my favorite vegan things to make! It’s soooo good!
OMG how creamy is this!!!!!!! I never tried vegan Mac+Cheese but this looks so amazing – I need to try it!
I can’t get over how creamy the sauce looks!
This looks like some game-changing vegan Mac n’cheese! I can’t wait to make this!!! Mmmmm!!
I’ve made this three times now. I’ve tweaked the sauce recipe to be cashews and water, nooch, garlic powder, ¼ tsp veggie bouillon, 1½ tsp smoked paprika, ½ tsp ancho chili powder, 1 tbsp ketchup, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, and a generous shredding of cheeze. So so good!
Niiiiice!!! Sounds delicious. I will have to try out ancho chili powder for my next batch of vegan mac and cheese.
I am concerned that almost all the comments are about how the dish looks. Most say they are going to try it. One person who did try it radically changed the recipe. I want to switch to a plant based diet. This was not helpful or encouraging.
I am glad you’re interested in eating more green! That’s awesome. I’d say it’s definitely worth giving this recipe a go. I make this dish often and it’s one of my favorites. I am sure you’ll love it.
Not worth it. I made it. Everyone in my family took one bite, and we threw it away 😬
Hi Beth, thank you for trying out my recipe. Sorry to hear you and your family didn’t enjoy the vegan mac and cheese. This one of our family favorites – but we understand not everyone will be stoked about it. I’m happy to help you troubleshoot this recipe and get more specific feedback. Please don’t hesitate to send me an email! -Aly
Just to take away some negativity from the comments – we made this dish a few nights ago, I added more garlic but that’s my personal preference and it was SO good. If you’re wanting a typical mac n cheese like you’d make with dairy this isn’t the taste you’d be expecting, but I’ve been vegan for 5 years now and it was exactly what I was hoping for 😍. I’m making it again tonight and adding some vegan ‘lardons’ and some toasted broccoli 🤞🏻
Hey Lauren! Thank you for trying out this recipe! Adding more garlic is definitely a great idea – I am also a HUGE garlic fan! I am happy you loved the recipe. But yes, it’s important for folks to understand that this does not contain real cheese, so it will have a different taste to it.
I have made this twice now and both times neither of the non-vegans (my husband and son) realized this was a plant based meal. In fact, my son is picky as hell and will often refuse dinners that are different than his usual choices. He scarfs this DOWN!! I made it to the letter of the recipe the first time, then the next time I did 1.5x the sauce amount (but left the paprika the same, didn’t want it too smoky) and added broccoli and seitan to make it a full meal. This is now a staple in the family meal rotation and one of the few that I can safely say the whole family will gladly eat without a fuss. Leftovers are great for lunch! Thanks so much for this recipe, it’s fabulous ♥️
Hi Amy! Thank you so much for trying out the dairy-free mac & cheese recipe! Super stoked it’s a hit with your family! Love it!