My favorite vegan mac and cheese! The easy, creamy sauce is seasoned with smoked paprika and Dijon, which give it an irresistible depth of flavor.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that no one will believe this vegan mac and cheese doesn’t have cheese. If you’re vegan, this mac will taste darn cheesy… if you are a true cheese lover (as my husband Jack is), you won’t be totally fooled, but you will devour it anyway.
Jack likes to make fun of me when I make things like this. He calls it “mac & sauce” and “vegan velveeta,” but in the end he always eats his words. And most of the food on the table.
Vegan Mac and Cheese Ingredients
I’ve made vegan mac and cheese before, but this time I took a different approach to the sauce, and we loved it! It gets its creamy texture and depth of flavor from these key ingredients:
- Coconut milk is the creamy base of the sauce.
- Nutritional yeast is the secret to getting “cheesy” flavor without any real cheese! It’s also loaded with B-vitamins and has a bright yellow color, which makes this look like a classic mac and cheese.
- Tomato paste adds a layer of savory flavor.
- Dijon mustard contributes a tangy kick.
- Smoked paprika is the star ingredient. It adds a smoky depth of flavor not only to the creamy sauce, but to the crispy baked topping as well.
How to make Vegan Mac and Cheese
This recipe is really simple. First, sauté the onion in vegan butter, and add flour to thicken. Then, stir in garlic and lemon juice for extra tang, add the remaining sauce ingredients, and let it simmer away!
While the sauce is simmering, cook your pasta. When it’s cooked, stir together the pasta, some of the sauce, and peas for a pop of green! You can serve the pasta at this stage, or you can make this a baked mac and cheese.
If you’re baking the pasta (which I highly recommend – I love the crunch of the crispy, spicy topping!), preheat your oven and transfer the noodles to a baking dish. Make sure the noodles are nice and saucy at this stage, because they will dry out a little in the oven.
Sprinkle your mac and cheese with the panko topping and bake until it’s lightly browned. Finally, serve your vegan mac and cheese with extra sauce on the side, and dig in!
Vegan Mac and Cheese
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- ¼ cup earth balance vegan butter (or regular butter)
- ¼ cup flour (I used spelt)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Squeeze of lemon
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast (not regular baking yeast)
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- ¼ to 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (to taste), plus a little more on top
- 8-12 oz elbow pasta, I used this brown rice brand
- 1 to 2 cups pasta water, use a little at a time
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Sea salt & fresh black pepper
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup chopped pine nuts
- Pinch of cayenne & smoked paprika
- Drizzle of olive oil on top before baking
- Sea salt & fresh black pepper
- Heat the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onions, a few pinches of salt, and simmer until translucent (about 5 minutes). Next, add the flour and whisk to thicken. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes on medium-low.
- Squeeze in a good amount of lemon juice and stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the coconut milk, nutritional yeast, mustard, tomato paste, turmeric, paprika, and a few more pinches of salt. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook your pasta.
- Optional step - transfer the sauce to a blender and blend to make it really creamy.
- Taste and adjust seasonings. In a large bowl, stir together the cooked pasta, some of the sauce, and the peas. Stir in pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. You can stop here and serve this now if you like, or continue on to bake it.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place everything in a baking dish, add more pasta water and possibly more sauce. This will dry out a little while baking so make sure it's really creamy first. Add the breadcrumbs, panko, a little more salt, cayenne, and paprika on top. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and bake for 8-10 minutes, just until the crust starts to become golden brown. Serve with extra sauce.