Vegan Mac and Cheese

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.

Vegan Mac and Cheese

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

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

5.0 from 1 reviews
Vegan Mac and Cheese
 
Don't skip the smoked paprika in this vegan mac and cheese - it adds wonderful depth of flavor to the sauce. It's also in the yummy crispy topping, which makes this dish full of satisfying creamy/crunchy texture.
Author:
Recipe type: Main dish
Ingredients
  • 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
Crusty topping:
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Optional step - transfer the sauce to a blender and blend to make it really creamy.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

75 comments

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Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. Ashley from edibleperspective.com
    01.31.2013

    Ahh. Love me some vegan mac n’ cheese! Smoked paprika is a constant addition in mine, but I have yet to try coconut milk. The peas are perfect. Looks like I know what I’m making tonight!

  2. This looks AMAZING! I am going to make a gluten-free version of this for dinner next week. Do you use full fat coconut milk from a can or unflavored coconut milk from a carton?

    • jeanine
      01.31.2013

      I used full fat coconut milk from a can… mine was close to being gluten free (I used brown rice pasta) so it’s totally possible… use a gluten free flour & gluten free bread crumbs and you should be good to go.

      • Thanks so much Jeanine! Headed to the grocery store in just a little bit to grab what I need. Have a great weekend!

  3. Jess from inquiringchef.com
    01.31.2013

    I’m looking forward to trying this. I finally got my hands on some nutritional yeast and have been searching for a really good first recipe to test it out on my husband. – he might be a tough sell, but this has a pretty good chance of winning him over!

  4. I am totally down with vegan velveeta. It’s gotta be better for me than the original. Tell Jack he’s an intuitive man.

  5. Joyti from darjeelingdreams.blogspot.com
    01.31.2013

    I AM a “true cheese lover” myself…but regular mac ‘n’ cheese is just too much for me to eat regularly, so I can’t wait to try this myself. It looks DELICIOUS.

  6. Kathryn from londonbakes.com
    02.01.2013

    Coconut milk is a great idea to add that rich, creaminess that mac & cheese demands.

  7. ileana from alittlesaffron.com
    02.01.2013

    Coconut milk! How interesting. I guess this would be a good way to play around with other vegan “cheesy” pastas, too.

  8. Jacqui from goodthingsgrow.com
    02.02.2013

    I make something almost exactly the same! I’ve since even taught my husband how to make it for himself! Although, he usually tops it with a little extra cheese before going into the oven, ha!

  9. Jaylene
    02.05.2013

    I made this last night. Very tasty! I recommend using the two full cups of pasta water (maybe a bit more). I did and it turned out nice and creamy (not dry). Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thank you, thank you for posting this recipe! I’m trying to eat less dairy because no matter how much I love cheese, it doesn’t always love me back. Mac and cheese is one of my favorite foods, so I look forward to trying this.

  11. k from fogandswell.com
    02.06.2013

    This was so tasty – thanks for the recipe! I often find the vegan mac & ‘cheese’ recipes that call for sweet potato/squash are too starchy for my liking, so this version was fantastic. Instead of the peas (my man hates peas) I tossed in both sundried tomatoes and little plum tomatoes.

  12. This version of vegan mac n cheese sounds perfect. I cannot wait to try it!

  13. Kathryne from cookieandkate.com
    02.10.2013

    I experienced my first vegan mac and cheese at a local restaurant the other day (and liked it), but your version looks even better! Though I do love cheese, I don’t often indulge in super creamy, cheesy things, and this looks like a satisfying yet less indulgent option. Hope to give this a try before winter is over!

  14. :D
    02.12.2013

    I’m wondering why you don’t use vegan cheese?

    • jeanine
      02.12.2013

      You could if you wanted. I tend to eat it only occasionally because it’s very processed and doesn’t have much nutritional value. (I’ll eat it on a grilled cheese now and then). For this recipe, I was just playing around with an alternative and I had some coconut milk that I needed to use up. Another great creamy alternative is cashew cheese… and another is a pureed sweet potato sauce (I linked to in the post above).

  15. VELLE
    02.12.2013

    Great recipe!!! But is this coconut milk from a can or carton???

      • VELLE
        02.20.2013

        Thanks so much!!! And I just wanted to say that I love reading your blog! The layout is so perfect, and each picture is a work of art!! : D I find myself coming back to view your posts (even though i looked at all the recipes!) because it’s so pretty and I love the recipes and photos!!!!!

  16. Nancye
    02.20.2013

    This is for tomorrow night’s dinner, can’t wait to try it… I have all the ingredients at hand, so I’m sure it will be a satisfying meal for my hubby….

    Thanks so much for sharing…

  17. Vivian
    03.20.2013

    Looks delicious! Thanks for making vegan recipes 🙂

  18. New cook
    03.23.2013

    For the nutritional yeast…is it the flakes or the seasoning. What is the nutritional yeast supposed to do in the recipe? I went to the store and it was almost $40. Then there was the powder for $15. Just trying to figure it out.

  19. Lindsey
    04.01.2013

    A whole tsp was waaaay too much paprika for me- I’d recommend taking it down to 1/2 tsp or even 1/4!

    • jeanine
      04.01.2013

      thanks, I’ll update the recipe suggesting to starting with less and adding more if necessary, to taste. Sometimes dry spices can also vary in potency.

  20. elaine
    04.08.2013

    Hi There I have a family of 5 is this recipe enough for a full serving for each member???
    Thanks!!!!

    • jeanine
      04.08.2013

      Hi Elaine,

      It might depend on the ages of your children (how much they eat), but to me this seemed to serve about 3 good meal-sized helpings. I’m pretty sure I had extra sauce, so you might just want to scale up the amount of pasta you use.

  21. Amanda
    04.14.2013

    Just made this mac & cheese. I stopped just before baking as I made it for a 5 year old who doesn’t care about that part. I only made slight changes/substitutions due to what was on hand and it came out very cheesy and covers quinoa elbow noodles very well. This is a very tasty version, and I thank you for posting it. He loved it and told me more than once!

  22. Olivia
    04.27.2013

    I just made this and it was delicious! I used chopped kale instead of the peas, and next time I might double the amount of nutritional yeast (I like it cheezy!). Thank you for this recipe – even my non vegan friends liked it!

    • jeanine
      04.30.2013

      Hi Olivia, so glad! I love to win over the non-vegan friends 🙂

  23. juana
    04.30.2013

    Can I leave out the tomato paste? Can I use regular mustard?

  24. Danni
    05.07.2013

    Hi this looks so yummy and I love coconut milk, but not sure I’d like It in a pasta dish. Could I substitute It with another non dairy milk such as rice milk?
    Thanks

  25. Danni
    05.13.2013

    Thanks so much for that, I’ll give it a go with the coconut milk first
    Cheers

  26. Jane
    06.01.2013

    I just tried this (with almond milk because we only had sweetened, vanilla coconut milk) and thought it was amazing! My husband and I have very different taste in foods and it’s hard to find something that I can eat with all my food allergies and that we both actually like. This is definitely a winner on both of those accounts. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  27. Kat from Www.playthetriangle.com
    07.08.2013

    Tried this, it was delish. I used lime juice instead of lemon and omitted the tomato paste and paprika (didnt have those ingredients on hand) and I used coconut cream instead of milk. Overall, delicious!!

    • jeanine
      07.08.2013

      so glad you liked it!

  28. I’m transitioning to a plant-based diet – and the one thing holding me back is cheese. I love cheese – not often or in large quantities – but I do love cheese. Thanks for sharing this recipe…I’ve been wanting to try a vegan mac & cheese and this version will be my gateway!

  29. Jess
    06.27.2014

    I’ve been seeing a lot of cheese recipes that use coconut milk. Do u mind if I ask does the cheese have a coconut taste? Thanks!

  30. Have you ever considered creating an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs?
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  31. Jen
    11.23.2014

    I just made this recipe and I LOVE how it came out! The paprika gives it almost a bacon-y flavor. Bringing it to an omnivore potluck tonight, with pride!

    Other unrelated note:
    On these types of blogs I always find myself sorting through all the comments to find anything written by someone who actually made the recipe. Any way to sort out the “sounds great!” comments from the “turned out great!” comments? 🙂

    • jeanine
      11.23.2014

      Thanks! I’m so glad you liked it (I always say smoked paprika is like vegetarian bacon :)). Thanks for the suggestion, let me think about a way we can make the comments more helpful.

  32. Astha
    10.11.2015

    This is the second time I am making this…thanks so much for the recipe! I added a bunch of veggies to mine…spinach, carrots, broccoli and soyrizo inspired by the Homeroom Mac and cheese and what they have as add ons.

  33. Iulia
    10.26.2015

    Hi! Can I make this ahead? Like assemble it and bake it later? I am looking for something I can make part of the way (earlier in the day) and finish it off in the evening for dinner. Can I do this with this recipe or should I find something else?
    Thank you.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.