By Team Dirty
Apr 28, 2023,
Macaroni and cheese is the great equalizer. Picky kids, busy parents, foodies, home cooks, chefs, vegans, omnivores, intellectuals, or blue-collar workers, it makes no difference—we all love mac and cheese. Comforting pasta smothered with liquid gold is what daydreams are made of. And there are as many ways to make it as there are people who love it: dressed up, dressed down, topped, baked, creamy, firm, full of high-end gourmet cheese, or dairy-free.
Since you’re here, we’ll assume you like yours plant based. There are a lot of vegan recipes out there, but we believe ours is the Best Plant Based Mac & Cheese. Not only is it creamy and delicious, it’s kid-friendly, full of whole ingredients (no highly-processed vegan cheese that’s 80% oil here!), and the sauce is easy to freeze for quick weeknight dinners. This recipe is one of our originals—it pre-dates our meal plans—and it’s remained a favorite ever since.
What you’ll need
Potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic: yep, these veggies form the base of our delicious cheesy sauce. This is part of what makes our plant based mac and cheese the best. They provide a flavorful foundation while being mild-tasting enough to carry the cheesier notes we’ll be adding. They also create a nice saucy texture when cooked and blended. We recommend using russet potatoes, although most other starchy white potatoes will work. You can substitute red or white (not sweet) onions for the yellow.
Raw cashews: as usual, these amazing beauties help the overall texture and taste of our sauce because of their high-fat content. You can sub with raw sunflower seeds in equal amounts if there’s a nut allergy to consider.
Nutritional yeast: also known as “nooch,” this non-active yeast has savory and cheesy notes. You can find it online, in most health food stores, and in some conventional grocery stores. Be sure to purchase the non-fortified variety if you can.
Turmeric: this inflammation-buster adds color and subtle seasoning that plays well with nutritional yeast. We like to use fresh turmeric root, but you can use powdered. Pro tip: if you use fresh, you can peel the skin off by scraping it with the side of a spoon. This method only removes the skin and leaves the flesh underneath whole, unlike a peeler.
Apple cider vinegar: vinegar brings acid to the party, which helps brighten otherwise flat flavors, and balances everything to form a harmony of yum.
Pasta: every family has their own mac and cheese pasta preferences. Elbows, shells, fusilli, or rotini, go with what you like. If you want yours gluten-free, we like brown rice or quinoa pasta.
How to make the Best Plant Based Mac & Cheese
Grab a medium-sized pot and throw in the potatoes, carrots, onions, turmeric (if using fresh), and garlic. Pour two cups of water on top, cover with a lid, and place over high heat until it just starts to boil. Don’t allow the water to fully boil as the lid will increase the chances of things boiling over, and you want to preserve as much liquid as you can.
While your veggies are going, start cooking your pasta according to the manufacturer’s directions. How much you cook per serving is up to you, but there will be some guidance on the label with the nutritional info. Once the pasta is done, drain it and set aside for now.
As soon as your veggies start boiling, lower the heat and simmer with the lid on until they’re fork-tender, about 20 minutes. If you want to be super efficient, set a timer and add your cashews to the pot after 10 minutes so you don’t need to soak them separately.
Remove the veggie pot from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Then, using oven mitts (preferably a pair with some grip), very carefully pour all the contents of the pot (including the remaining water) into your blender.
Add the soaked and drained cashews (if you haven’t already) along with the nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, salt, and the remaining half a cup of water. If you’re using powdered turmeric, now is the time to add it.
Blend until the sauce is super creamy and smooth. Pop off the lid and give it a taste test.
Grab your pot, place it over the lowest heat setting, add your pasta, and pour the cheesy sauce over the pasta. Give it a good stir to coat everything, and add fresh black pepper to taste.
Turn off the heat, dish it up, and serve the Best Plant Based Mac & Cheese you’ve ever had.
- 2½ cups water, divided (591 ml)
- 1½ cups russet potato, peeled and chopped (215 g)
- 1 cup carrot, chopped (115 g)
- ½ cup yellow onion, diced (70 g)
- 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric root, chopped (7 g / can sub with 1 teaspoon turmeric powder)
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole (9 g)
- ½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 10 minutes (65 g)
- ½ cup nutritional yeast (40 g)
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Pasta of your choice (refer to label for serving suggestions / if using gluten-free pasta, we like brown rice or quinoa pasta)
- black pepper, to taste
- Place the potato, carrot, onion, turmeric, and garlic in a medium-sized pot, cover with 2 cups of water, and place lid on the pot. Bring just to a light boil, lower the heat, and simmer with lid on until the veggies are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
- Follow the manufacterer's instructions to cook as much pasta as you'd like. Serving guidance can be found on the label. Drain and set aside once it's ready.
- Remove your cooked veggies from the heat and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Then carefully add everything from the veggie pot, including the remaining water, to your blender. Drain the cashews (discard the water) and add the cashews to the blender, along with the nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, salt, and the remaining ½ cup of water. Blend until the sauce is creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes.
- Return your pasta to its pot and place over very low heat. Pour as much cheesy sauce over the pasta as you like and stir to coat everything. Add black pepper to taste.
- Dish up and serve!
Depending on how generous your portions are, this recipe will make between four and ten servings. Keep leftover sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to seven days.
You can also freeze leftover sauce in silicone muffin cups to throw together super fast single-serving mac and cheese on busy nights. Once they’re frozen solid, pop off the muffin liners, and store the frozen sauce pucks in an airtight container. When you’re ready for cheesy goodness, you can thaw and reheat pucks individually in the microwave.
Use to top enchiladas, smother cooked cauliflower, or serve up with cooked pasta. Since it’s full of veggies, it’s also a healthy option for kids with a dipping fixation. Just serve warm alongside raw veggies or crackers. Yum!
Have you been a longtime lover of the Best Plant Based Mac & Cheese or have you newly discovered it? Let us know in the comments below.
Here’s to something we can all agree on.
Once you try this recipe, pop over to Plant Fueled Life, start a free trial, and check out all our vegan mac and cheese recipes.
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