Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese

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This Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese dish is one of my favorite comfort foods, and my version happens to be gluten-free too! The cheese sauce can also be used in lots of other recipes and dishes as well.

cast iron skillet filled with dairy-free mac and cheese with a white bowl full of it in the background.

Mac and cheese is a dish that pairs well with so many meals like vegan meatloaf, lentil shepherd’s pie, and even vegan black bean burgers. This is one delicious food that the whole family can agree on!

We love this vegan mac and cheese because it’s…

  • Made with wholesome ingredients
  • Creamy
  • Cheesy
  • Comforting
  • Packed with flavor
  • Delicious
vegan mac and cheese in white bowls

Vegan cheese sauce

When I first switched over to a healthy plant-based lifestyle back in 2013, one thing that I really missed was CHEESE.

Cheese for pizza, tacos, baked potatoes, veggie lasagna, and so much more. That’s why I came up with this amazing Creamy Vegan Cheese’ Sauce!

Incredibly some of the ingredients used to make this amazing cheese sauce are…

The recipe card at the bottom of the page has the full list of ingredients with measurements and instructions.

How to make mac and cheese without dairy

To make this delicious cashew mac and cheese, you’ll need to start by making the homemade vegan cheese sauce which is surprisingly easy.

Dice up potatoes, carrots, and onion.

russett potatoes on wooden board being diced

I am often asked which knives I use personally, and I have to say that it is Victorinox. They are the same company that makes Swiss Army Knives and the quality is excellent.

In a medium pot, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Place potatoes, carrots, and onion in a pot and allow to cook until veggies are tender approximately 15 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on how small the veggies are diced.

potato slices in large stock pot boiling

When veggies are tender, drain them and place them in a blender. NOTE: reserve 1 cup of the broth, and add to blender. Add all the remaining ingredients, and blend until smooth.

I have a Vitamix blender and so don’t take the time to soak my cashews. That thing is powerful and everything that goes into it comes out creamy. However, if your blender isn’t jet engine speed, soaking the cashews in warm water for at least 30 minutes before adding them to this recipe will help this recipe come out more creamy. 

vegan cheese sauce in blender

Use cashews or white beans

Originally, I made it with 1/2 cup of raw cashews. Now, I sometimes sub out white beans–like navy beans or cannellini–to lower the fat content even more.

Nowadays, I mostly make it with a combination of 1/4 cup of cashews + 1/4 cup of white beans. It has a warm creamy texture with less fat.

cashews soaking in water and bowl of beans with labels

Pasta options

Other than the cheese sauce, the only other ingredient needed to make this plant-based mac and cheese recipe is pasta. There are lots of different pasta options.

Though I am not gluten-intolerant, I like the taste and texture of brown rice pasta, which just happens to be gluten-free.

Normally, I like to use brown rice elbow pasta with this dish. Another great option is whole wheat elbow macaroni.

stainless pot with cooked elbow pasta

Whichever pasta you choose, cook it according to the package directions. Once it’s done, drain the water from it and run cool water over the pasta. The cool water helps to stop the cooking process and rinses off the starchy covering.

Add the cooked pasta to a large mixing bowl and pour the cheese sauce over it. I like to add a little turmeric powder to enhance the orangy color. Stir together well.

Serve immediately with any of your family’s favorite meals.

clear bowl with elbow pasta and vegan cheese sauce

*Originally published February 2015.

Your dairy-free mac and cheese questions answered:

  • Q: What is vegan mac and cheese made of? This healthy mac and cheese sauce is made from potatoes, onions, carrots, nutritional yeast, cashews (or white beans), and a few spices.
  • Q: Can you make the cheese sauce without nutritional yeast? To me, nutritional yeast is a pretty important ingredient because it is what gives this sauce its cheesy flavor. It can be made without it, but the flavor of the recipe will change somewhat.
  • Q: Is this recipe gluten-free? If you decide to use rice pasta or other gluten-free pasta, this recipe can be made completely gluten-free.
  • Q: Can this be made into a macaroni pie? Sure! I would just add some bread crumbs to the top and brown it in the oven at 350°F for about 15 minutes.
vegan mac and cheese with green peas in white bowl

What to serve this dairy-free dish with

More vegan pasta recipes

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vegan mac and cheese in white bowls
4.68 from 25 votes

Creamy Vegan Mac and Cheese

This gluten-free vegan mac and cheese dish is one of my favorite dairy-free comfort foods! The cheese sauce can also be used in lots of other recipes and dishes as well.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients 

Cheese Sauce

  • 1 cup potatoes peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup carrots diced
  • 1/4 cup onion diced
  • 1 cup broth from veggies
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews unsoaked, (or 1/2 c. white beans)
  • 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 pinch paprika
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper optional

Pasta

  • 8 ounces pasta brown rice, if gluten-free
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder

Instructions

Pasta

  • In a large pot, bring water to boil. Add pasta, and cook according to package directions. Don't overcook it! 
  • Once pasta is tender, but not overcooked, pour into a drainer and rinse with cool water. Set to the side.

Cheese Sauce

  • To make this delicious cashew mac and cheese, you’ll need to start by making the cheese sauce which is surprisingly easy. Dice up potatoes, carrots, and onion.
  • In a medium pot, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Place potatoes, carrots, and onion in a pot and allow to cook until veggies are tender approximately 15 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on how small the veggies are diced.
  • When veggies are tender, drain and place them in a blender. NOTE: reserve 1 cup of the broth, and add to blender. Add all the remaining ingredients, and blend until smooth.
  • Originally, I made it with 1/2 cup raw cashews. Now, I sometimes sub out white beans–like navy beans or cannellini–to lower the fat content even more. Nowadays, I mostly make with a combination of the two–1/4 cup cashews + 1/4 cup white beans. It has a warm creamy texture with less fat.

Video

Notes

Detailed instructions, in-process photos, and my personal helpful tips can be found in the article above.
Your dairy-free mac and cheese questions answered:
  • Q: What is vegan mac and cheese made of? This healthy mac and cheese sauce is made from potatoes, onions, carrots, nutritional yeast, cashews (or white beans), and a few spices.
  • Q: Can you make the cheese sauce without nutritional yeast? To me, nutritional yeast is a pretty important ingredient because it is what gives this sauce its cheesy flavor. It can be made without it, but the flavor of the recipe will change somewhat.
  • Q: Is this recipe gluten-free? If you decide to use rice pasta or other gluten-free pasta, this recipe can be made completely gluten-free.
  • Q: Can this be made into a macaroni pie? Sure! I would just add some bread crumbs to the top and brown it in the oven at 350°F for about 15 minutes.

Nutrition

Calories: 212kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 6g | Fiber: 4g

Disclaimer

To obtain the most accurate representation of the nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.

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About Terri Edwards

Hi guys! I am the content creator behind EatPlant-Based and a licensed Food for Life instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. I am passionate about sharing healthy recipes and tips to empower others to get healthy.  I’m so glad you’re here! Read More…

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21 Comments

  1. I really love your cheese sauce, it’s so creamy and great tasting. You have the ingredients and quantities absolutely spot on. I am going to try the cashew/white beans next time. Thanks for another delicious recipe.

  2. Terri,We use a lot of your recipes, but here’s avariation we found a few years ago for the sauce.
    shy 1/4 C flour, 1/2 C nutritional yeast, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp blk pepper, onion powder and garlic powder and1 1/4 C almond milk. I par boil broccolli and cauliflower in same water I will use for macaroni, scoup out the veggies after about 5 min and add macaroni. Drain veggies and macaroni together and hold while b r inking milk to low boil and add dry ingredients and whisk until well mixed and smooth. Add veggies and macaroni back in and mix well.
    Depending on how much macaroni you have used, you may want to add a little more milk for a lighter and smoother sauce. We love it. I do not use any vegan butter and we try to keep oils of most varieties out of our diet usually. Thanks

  3. I’ve made this recipe quite a few times. It’s my go to recipe for mac and cheese now, thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Hi Terri,

    Just watched your interview with Chef AJ which was great! I came right to your site to try your ‘cheese’ sauce recipe. One question, is there any ‘room’ in the recipe to add white miso or does the lemon juice take care of that flavor?
    Thank you. I am anxious to try many of your recipes!

    1. Hi Cyd- I’m glad you saw the interview with Chef AJ! I was so excited that she asked me to be on her show. No need to add miso to the cheese recipe. I would suggest making it as is the first time to see what you think. Hope you will love it as much as we do!

  5. I’ve put off trying this recipe for a very long time. It just didn’t seem possible to make the ingredients taste like cheese. Well, was I pleasantly surprised! This is soooo good!!! I made Mac n cheese topped with bread crumbs which I did bake for 15 mins at 350. Oh my goodness, my mind exploded with ideas for how I could use the “cheese”. Thanks for a great recipe, I will never doubt your recipes again!!!

  6. I just made this for dinner after getting the recipe by email from you. It is delicious, but I will add a bit of mustard powder next time to give it an extra kick. Great recipe though and I love your website. It’s one of the first places I check if looking for a recipe.

  7. When you mention using beans instead of nuts, are you talking about canned beans or dry beans? Thank you!
    Looking forward to making the cheese sauce and using it in many different dishes!

    1. Definitely use cooked beans. They can be from a can or cooked from dry. Either will work well. Hope you enjoy the cheese sauce!

    1. I haven’t added bread crumbs to the recipe before but, if you would like to, maybe use 1/2 cup to a full cup, depending on your preference.

    1. Jenna, I haven’t tried butter beans, but I think they would work just fine. I normally use either Northern or cannellini beans.

  8. Dear Terri – I am so grateful for your blog and your recipes! You are making my transition to no oil/plant based eating possible. This cheese sauce recipe is wonderful and the man I am dragging through this diet change, likes it. In fact, he said it was great! consider that high praise! I have used this sauce a number of ways and they all work! Cannot thank you enough! Olwyn

    1. Thanks so much, Olwyn! It’s terrific to hear your health journey is going well and that you have company, even if you’re having to ‘drag’ him, lol! This cheese sauce is one our our favorites too because it can be used for so many different things. We use it to drizzle over pizza, top a baked potato or steamed broccoli, to make Cheddar Broccoli Soup, and much more. Thank you again for your kind words, and keep up the good work! 🙂

  9. Hi, I want to make this delightful looking Mac and cheese dish. Can you use cashew meal in place of whole cashews? I have a lot of the ground cashews. I’d like to use them up..

    1. I grind my cashews first before adding to the blender. Have had no issues at all. This is so delicious! I’m still working on just how much a “pinch” of cayenne is, had a friend mention that it was a bit hot! Lol! I love it!!!

4.68 from 25 votes (23 ratings without comment)

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