Vegan Spinach Mac & Cheese

A creamy vegan mac & cheese made with cashews, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, balsamic, and cayenne. A healthy & delicious weeknight dinner.

Vegan Spinach Mac & Cheese / www.loveandlemons.com Vegan Spinach Mac & Cheese

Jack here, writing for the blog today while Jeanine writes for the book…

I have something to admit that I’m having a hard time with. I’m starting to prefer vegan “mac and cheese” to actual mac and cheese. Now, this is a hard one for me. You see, I love cheese. Almost every time we go to Whole Foods, I raid the “under $3 cheese” bin to find crazy new cheeses that I can barely pronounce. And a great grilled cheese is work of art.

Vegan Spinach Mac & Cheese

But these vegan “mac and cheese” recipes Jeanine comes up with pretty much hit everything I need out of mac and cheese. This one is as creamy as mac and cheese could ever get, the paprika and turmeric give it an incredible depth of flavor, and the spinach gives it the right amount of texture. I honestly can’t get enough…

Sorry, Kraft.


4.8 from 16 reviews
Vegan Spinach Mac & Cheese
 
Author:
Recipe type: main dish
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked 3 to 4 hours, preferably overnight, and drained
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup water, more as needed
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric, optional
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces macaroni or small shell pasta*
  • 4 cups packed spinach
Instructions
  1. In a small skillet, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika and balsamic vinegar and cook another 30 seconds.
  2. In a high speed blender, puree the sautéed shallot mixture with the cashews, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the water, nutritional yeast, cayenne and turmeric (if using). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 1 ¾ cups of sauce.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare the pasta according to the instructions on the package, cooking until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain and return the pasta to the pot. Stir in the sauce, adding the pasta water as needed to thin the sauce and make it creamy. Add the spinach, stir until wilted, season to taste, and serve.
Notes
*Gluten-free option: use brown rice pasta

 

81 comments

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Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. This looks delicious! Sorry if this has already been addressed, but what is the brand/name of pasta you use? I can never find those larger macaroni/shells. Thanks!

    • jeanine
      05.11.2015

      Hi Medha, it’s called Pipe Rigate, and it’s the Whole Foods Brand pasta.

  2. Liese
    05.11.2015

    I used to have a wonderful goat family, milked and made cheese, so at that time we were vegetarian. But that world showed me how dairy animals are very much mistreated, even the University husbandry programs are much less humane than you would want to know about. So when giving up cheese (and all dairy) feel good that you aren’t contributing to the terrible cycle of birth & death involved with most dairying. This mac & sauce dish is very nice, good comfort food!

  3. After having made Jeanine’s sweet potato vegan alfredo I can see why you prefer this mac & cheese. I do too! And I will certainly be making this version as well.

    • Wow, this was an amazing meal. I used blanched broccoli instead of spinach because I prefer the bulk and crunch it adds. Otherwise it’s just a perfect recipe. My husband is partial to the traditional mac & cheese but he loved this. This is topping my “go-to comfort food” list!

    • Wow, this was an amazing meal. I used blanched broccoli instead of spinach because I prefer the bulk and crunch it adds. Otherwise it’s just a perfect recipe. My husband is partial to the traditional mac & cheese but he loved this. This is topping my “go-to comfort food” list!

  4. Ellie from rovinglights.wordpress.com
    05.11.2015

    This looks amazing! The ultimate comfort food made healthy.

  5. I really need to get on this vegan mac and cheese train! If there’s anyone I would trust with this, it would be Jeanine. 🙂 Can’t wait for that booooooook <3

  6. jessica
    05.11.2015

    Can’t wait to try this! I always run into the left over problem. Is this just as good reheated?

    • jeanine
      05.11.2015

      Hi Jessica – yep, the sauce is great leftover – I keep it separate though. I basically make as much pasta as the 2 of us want to eat, scoop on as much sauce as I want and store the rest in the fridge in a sealed container for 3-4 days. It’ll thicken some, but the next time you make it, add enough pasta water to thin it out.

  7. Annaliese from thedirtysifter.com
    05.11.2015

    Looks delish! I love greens in mac n cheese…broccoli, peas….now spinach. Love it!!!

  8. Cilicia
    05.11.2015

    This sauce looks fabulous! Does anyone have any tips on how to get a creamy cashew sauce? Whenever I try it comes out very lumpy.

    • jeanine
      05.11.2015

      Hi Cilicia, these are my best tips:

      – if you don’t have a vitamix (or blendtec or similar), you might need to add a little more water or olive oil and blend longer (up to a minute), until your sauce is creamy. Be sure to soak your cashews, that’ll help too (although I usually shortcut that).

      – when you combine your sauce with your pasta be sure to add lots of the hot starchy pasta water as you go – stir it in until it’s creamy. This helps the sauce from being sort of lumpy to really loosening up over the pasta. (In the instructions, I list up to 1 cup, which feels like a lot but this trick really works for me).

      • Sarah
        07.16.2015

        What would you suggest using in place of the starchy water when using gluten free pasta? The brown rice pasta always produces a sludge that I don’t imagine would be conducive to thickening the sauce. Would corn pasta work, or maybe making an arrowroot flour and water mixture to add in? Thanks in advance!

        • jeanine
          07.17.2015

          Hi Sarah,

          I make this with brown rice penne all the time – the pasta water is meant to loosen the sauce over the pasta, not thicken it (the sauce is thick enough as it is with the cashews and all).

          • Sarah
            07.17.2015

            Interesting, thanks for the clarification Jeanine! I’ve never thought of the brown rice pasta water as usable but I’m excited to try it out!

  9. A good mac and cheese is as fine as any fine dining experience, and all the better in the in case because it is actually good for us, too. Please send Jeannine best wishes on the writing. We look forward with eager anticipation the result of her kitchen and computer labours!

  10. adina from whereismyspoon.com
    05.12.2015

    I was looking for an idea for my vegan day tomorrow and I even bought macaroni today. We are having this tomorrow, it sounds and looks delicious.

  11. Cashews are total superstars when it comes to creamy vegan things. I wonder if one could sub out nutritional yeast for miso here…?

    • jeanine
      05.12.2015

      yes – not with the same ratio, but miso would give a great flavor.

  12. Ronsky
    05.12.2015

    One of the main ingredients od pasta are eggs… so how is this a vegan dish?

    • jeanine
      05.12.2015

      most dried pastas do not contain eggs – just check the ingredients on your package.

      • Melissa
        06.04.2015

        But Pasta contains gluten

        • jeanine
          06.04.2015

          this (pictured) isn’t gluten free, but if you want it to be, feel free to sub in brown rice pasta, it’s delicious.

  13. Charlie from lemonbutterlove.com
    05.12.2015

    I’ll have to try this sometime when my husband is out of town. He usually overseas my cheese addition to regular mac & cheese to make sure that I add enough! A healthier, non-cheese option is very, very interesting! Thanks for all the tips in the other comments, I’m sure they will come in handy! – Charlie, http://www.lemonbutterlove.com

  14. Paulina from urudejnatalerzu.blogspot.com
    05.13.2015

    It looks so delicious ! I’m hungry again :}

  15. Lauren from gilkeyrestaurantconsulting.com
    05.13.2015

    What a wonderful recipe for mac and cheese! Thanks for sharing this healthy version of a very popular dish.

  16. Eva
    05.13.2015

    I just had my mind blown!!! I made this mac & cheese for dinner and it was amazing – both me and my boyfriend really enjoyed it despite both being enthusiastic “real” cheese eaters. It is super creamy and has lots of flavor. I added broccoli as well so the ratio of veggies and pasta was 1:1 – so yummy! Thanks for this great recipe

    • jeanine
      05.14.2015

      Hi Eva, oh I’m so glad you both liked it! Thanks for coming back to share!

  17. Lindsay
    05.14.2015

    oh wow, it’s serious if Jack is shunning cheese for this!

  18. Alesha
    05.18.2015

    This looks amazing! Is the nutritional yeast a must?

    • jeanine
      05.18.2015

      It helps it taste “cheesier,” it might be ok without it but it’s definitely better with it :).

  19. Helena
    05.18.2015

    I really love Mac and cheese & I love spinach!
    I also want to eat a bit healthier.
    So I am really happy that you showed me a way to combine all of the above.
    I think it looks really tasty! Even my little sister (who doesn’t like spinach) might agree.
    And on top of that all it is really healthy, It doesn’t look like it is really hard to make and you can find all of the ingredients in most of the regular supermarkets.
    To me, maybe the best thing of all is that it is a vegetarian dish.
    I read just about everywhere that eating vegetarian dishes more often is really good in lots of ways. It is good because I don’t have to feel sorry for those sweet animals that are killed to feed us. And eating vegetarian is told to be much healthier.
    So I will definitely try to prepare this meal and I really want to thank for your great advice and recipe.
    P.S.: This is a task for school.

  20. Must be delicious! I love pasta and spinach together 🙂

  21. is pasta making easiy recipy?
    05.20.2015

    i wish . i will make pasta . whenever i tried to make it .it being wrost

  22. Liz
    05.21.2015

    I made this last night, and it was excellent! My first foray into vegan “cheese” sauces, and it did not disappoint — very creamy and flavorful. It did remind me more of an alfredo sauce than a cheddar cheese sauce, but it was delicious. I made it with whole wheat fusilli pasta, too, which was a good combo.

    • jeanine
      05.28.2015

      Hi Liz – I’m so glad you liked it!

  23. Liz B
    05.28.2015

    Sounds amazing! If someone were allergic to all nuts, what could you use as a cashew substitute?

    • jeanine
      05.28.2015

      sunflower seeds – they become really creamy just like cashews (double check to make sure that the ones you buy aren’t processed a facility that does nuts too).

      • Ana from debajo-un-boton.com
        03.08.2016

        Oh thank you! I was scouring through the comments to see if you had already answer this question… but I didn’t expect to find such a simple answer. Can’t wait to test this on my allergic family.

        • Jeanine Donofrio
          03.09.2016

          Great – let me know how you like it with the sunflower seeds!

  24. Victoria
    06.02.2015

    Hello!

    what happens if I use this recipe without yeast? I have candida.

  25. Sonia
    06.04.2015

    Made this today and I will try it again without the turmeric. I only used 1 tsp but it is a very strong flavor that just doesn’t agree with me. Loved how creamy it was though. Very simple and quick. I added broccoli and it was perfect.

  26. natalia mori
    06.05.2015

    Perfect! the kids loved it (including my 14 months baby) 🙂
    I have never tried the nutritional yeast before.. what a surprise! Can’t wait to use in other recipes!!

  27. Kari
    07.22.2015

    This recipe sounds wonderful — I can’t wait to try it out And see what my daughter thinks!

    P.s. Where did you find the plate? It’s beautiful.

  28. ChrisD from realfoods.co.uk
    07.23.2015

    Oh boy, I cannot wait to try this one. Thanks J & J!

  29. m
    10.22.2015

    made this but added a tablespoon of miso because i thought it needed some salt. super yummy!

    • jeanine
      10.22.2015

      great idea! Love adding miso to things, thanks for the feedback 🙂

  30. Kyle
    11.02.2015

    We made this tonight. One of my daughter’s has a dairy intolerence/allergy and I wanted some kind of creamy pasta soooo badly but can’t usually make anything like that. This was a big hit. Super ridiculously easy, packed with protein, and the kids loved it too. Very filling and cheap. Thank you!

  31. Annie
    12.06.2015

    This is the second recipe I tried from you. The first was the vegan carrot cake (which was out of this world) and so I decided I wanted to give another recipe a shot. I’ve been lactose intolerant for over three years now and have been vegan for awhile so let’s just say I haven’t had any mac & cheese for a very long time. This was AMAZING. I made it last night and it was probably one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever whipped up. I will definitely be trying another recipe soon because so far every single one has been right on the money!

    • jeanine
      12.06.2015

      Hi Annie – I’m so glad you liked it, and the carrot cake! Thanks for coming back to let me know!

  32. Jennifer
    04.22.2016

    Your recipes are the best! I’ve been hankering to try this a long time and finally read the full recipe. I’m not a fan of strong balsamic vinegar—do you think it could be left out, subbed for apple cider vinegar, or could you reassure me that it doesn’t end up tasting like a balsamic sauce? 🙂

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.22.2016

      Ha! it doesn’t taste like balsamic sauce, but if you’re worried about it you can skip it or maybe just add less to be on the safe side (say 1 teaspoon instead of a tablespoon). Let me know how it goes!

  33. Dr. Dopey
    04.26.2016

    I will try this with Banza Pasta. This pasta is made from chickpeas. I love it.

  34. Scott
    09.26.2016

    Very pleasantly surprised! Will definitely make it again. Didn’t see the comment/reply about leftovers and keeping the sauce separate until too late, but I am sure it will still taste good. 🙂

  35. ShibaFan
    02.10.2017

    I made this recipe last night; it’s the best vegan mac & cheese recipe I’ve ever made! I thought the spinach might be a bit weird in it, but it was quite tasty and added a nice little crunchiness to the dish. The smoked paprika is an excellent addition, too. This definitely gets a “Yum!”

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      02.10.2017

      Yay, I’m so glad you loved it! Thanks for coming back to let me know!

  36. I made this recently and thought it was delicious! I was a little apprehensive about presenting it to my cheese-loving husband, selling it as “pasta with a creamy cashew-based sauce” rather than calling it vegan mac and cheese, but of course he devoured it. Thank you for sharing <3

  37. ShibaFan
    04.06.2017

    An update: I froze half of the sauce for a couple of weeks, thawed it in the refrigerator for a day, and reheated it over low-ish heat on the induction cooktop. We cooked pasta, added the heated sauce, stirred in fresh chopped spinach, and it tasted just like it was made fresh. Extra convenient for weeknight dinners!

    Modifications to the sauce: I added a Tablespoon of light miso paste, and more water (we settled on 1-1/4 C) to make the sauce a bit thinner.

    I shared this recipe with meat-eating friends…I wasn’t sure if they would like it, but they loved it! They thought it tasted a bit like curry.

    Still our favorite vegan mac & cheese!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.06.2017

      Thanks for the tips about freezing the sauce! I’m glad that worked out well.

      I’m glad your friends loved it too! You could try lessening (or eliminating) the turmeric and the curry taste would go away.

      • ShibaFan
        04.06.2017

        Good point about the turmeric! Luckily we all like curry and turmeric (and it’s good for you too), so we like the amount in the recipe. 🙂

  38. Diane
    01.02.2018

    I don’t cook with oil or add oil so would I be able to leave the oil out of the sauce with good results still?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      01.02.2018

      I wouldn’t cook the shallot and garlic in a dry pan, but the sauce should be fine – add a few tablespoons of water, if necessary, to help it blend. Hope that helps!

  39. Diane
    01.02.2018

    Thanks. I dry sauté onion and garlic all the time in a good stainless pan without oil and do add a bit of water/or broth as needed to keep veggies from sticking but not enough to steam them. It works out fine. Thanks for you reply. Diane

  40. Amanda from ofthesunleather.etsy.com
    01.25.2018

    WOW! Soooooo good and so simple! Thanks so much for your awesome recipes!!

  41. pamela
    02.22.2018

    I have tried a bunch of dairy-free mac n cheese recipes, and this one is THE BEST. Thank you! Your blog has a new fan. 🙂

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      02.22.2018

      LOVE hearing that! Thank you for coming back to comment with your feedback!

  42. Charlotte
    03.02.2018

    What is the conversion into grams? Thank you!!

  43. Andrew Iucci
    03.19.2018

    Delicious! I am not a huge fan of standard Mac and Cheese but I really enjoyed this recipe. Thanks!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      03.22.2018

      I’m so glad!!! Thanks for coming back to let me know!

  44. First of all, this was delicious! But, I think it should not be called Mac and Cheese. It really tastes nothing like it at all. Needless to say, I’ll make this again and again because we loved it. Thank you!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      12.22.2018

      Hi Molly, I’m so glad you loved it 🙂

  45. Fabio
    01.25.2019

    OMG!!!!
    Never tasted something so good!
    I was eating from the pan already!

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.