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 / 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.

4.7 from 24 reviews

Vegan Spinach Mac & Cheese

Recipe type: main dish
Serves: 4
  • 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
  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.
*Gluten-free option: use brown rice pasta



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  1. Lauren from

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

  2. Paulina from

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

  3. Charlie from

    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,

  4. Ronsky

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

    • jeanine

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

      • Melissa

        But Pasta contains gluten

        • jeanine

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

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

    • jeanine

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

  6. adina from

    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.

  7. 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!

  8. Cilicia

    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

      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

        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

          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

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

  10. jessica

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

    • jeanine

      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.

    • Elisa

      This recipe tastes just as great reheated. I do generally add a bit of the leftover pasta water when I store any kind of pasta recipe leftovers in the fridge though, regardless of what recipe I use. Pasta soaks up moisture while stored, so saving the pasta water and adding 1/2C or more keeps sauces creamy. I just made this again last night and for lunch, I tossed in a 1/4 sweet peas for lunch. Delicious!

  11. 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

  12. Ellie from

    This looks amazing! The ultimate comfort food made healthy.

  13. 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!

  14. Liese

    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!

  15. 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

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

    • Noemi

      Tried this just now, and i don’t know where i did wrong. I used sweet paprika because thats what i have. I don’t have cayene pepper, but i did add turmeric to reach the yellowish color. Maybe i didn’t soak the cashew enough? Isn’t the balsamic vinegar to dark? My cheese ended up the color of fresh uni. I had it with whole wheat spaghetti. It looks grainy all though doesn’t feel like that. But it wasn’t as smooth as melted cheese. Taste is still edible, but i don’t want to settle. I want to share your experience with this recipe.

      • Jeanine Donofrio

        Hi Noemi, to get a creamy sauce over the pasta, I mix in scoops of the starchy pasta cooking water. It helps coat the pasta and loosen the sauce if it’s thick. If the sauce isn’t creamy enough, I would blend longer. (in a high speed blender ideally). If you don’t have a high powered blender, you might like this mac & cheese recipe better, it has less cashews:

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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.