This 4-ingredient Vegan Mac and Cheese is so simple, it’s basically magic. The starch from the pasta combines with the melting cheese all in one pot, forming the most luscious creamy sauce that clings on to every nook and cranny of the macaroni. No cashews, butter, dairy milk, or roux required. Whenever I have a craving for Kraft Dinner, this hits the spot in less than half an hour.
Perfect Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
I’ve always been a huge cheese lover, and adopting a vegan diet didn’t change that. Here are just a few reasons I consider this lazy mac ‘n’ cheese recipe to be magic:
Simple & Easy. No, this is not the most gourmet vegan mac out there. It’s not meant to be. It’s quick, fast, and straight-up delicious. I’m a Canadian with fond childhood memories of Kraft Dinner, and this recipe is what hits the spot for me.
Versatile. As I explain down in the Ingredients section, you can use almost any storebought vegan cheese. Want something basic like KD? Use a Cheddar Daiya. Feeling fancy? Try the Violife Colby Jack, or better yet, Smokey Gouda from Parmela Creamery (hands down the best vegan shredded cheese I’ve ever tasted). Or mix and match with a few of your favourite cheeses.
Fewer Dirty Dishes. This started as a much more complex recipe, with extra ingredients and steps like making a roux, draining your pasta, adding it back. Basically your standard mac recipe. But over the years, I pared down the recipe more and more. Mainly for one reason: my college apartment didn’t have a dishwasher, and I hate doing the dishes. I had to find a way to minimize the dishes without compromising the tastiness of my mac ‘n’ cheese. Over the years and many bowls of pasta later, I’ve whittled down the recipe to four ingredients. And at the end, all you have to wash are a pot and a spoon.
To make the cheesy sauce for macaroni and cheese, you usually start with a roux made from flour and butter, then add your milk and cheese. The roux thickens up the milk and helps the cheese melt smoothly, avoiding clumps.
Now here is where vegan cheese has an advantage. As long as it melts fully, it never clumps! Unlike dairy cheese, storebought vegan cheeses contain barely any protein. It’s the proteins that usually cause curdling and clumping in dairy-based sauces. So for this recipe, we can add the cheese right at the beginning of cooking, and don’t need to worry about any clumping issues.
Next, as dried pasta cooks, it sheds starch into the milk and thickens it naturally, without need for added roux. That’s why it works so well as a One-Pot Recipe: instead of draining the starchy pasta water, we use it to achieve a smooth, creamy sauce!
And that, my friends, is how you get perfect One-Pot Vegan Macaroni and Cheese in under half an hour. Magic.
What You’ll Need
As promised, you only need four ingredients to make One-Pot Vegan Mac and Cheese:
Any Short Dried Pasta—macaroni, shells, penne, rigatoni, rotini—works here. But macaroni is my preferred… I mean, after all, it’s in the name.
The most important ingredient here (well, maybe other than the pasta) is Vegan Cheese. I have tested this recipe with just about every vegan cheese brand imaginable (Daiya, Emborg, Farm Boy, Ilchester Applewood, Nafsika’s Garden, Nurishh, Okanagan’s Soya Co., Parmela Creamery, Violife, Vitalite). They all work. Most shredded vegan cheese is also sold in 200g packages, which is the perfect amount to use for this recipe.
You can even use sliced cheese or whole cheese blocks; just tear them into smaller pieces to help them melt faster.
The only types of vegan cheese that may not perform so well are: cream cheese, homemade vegan cheese, and the more “artisanal” nut-based soft cheeses (like Nuts For Cheese).
As with the cheese, almost any Unflavoured Plant-Based Milk will work. But try to stick to one with as few ingredients as possible. (Some storebought mylks, even so-called “unflavoured” ones, contain additional flavourings and additives that may alter the taste of the mac ‘n’ cheese.)
Personally I think Homemade Soy Milk gives the creamiest mouthfeel and flavour. But if you’re in a pinch, even water will do the job.
Whatever you choose, just make sure not to use a sweetened milk or a vanilla-flavoured one. (Ask me how I know 🤮)
Note: I recently tested this recipe using NotMilk and NextMilk, which are two innovative vegan milks that aim to replicate dairy milk. Although I loved the taste of both of these beverages on their own, and found them to taste really similar to cow’s milk, they weren’t the best in this mac ‘n’ cheese. They made the cheese sauce taste a little too plasticky and synthetic.
With most of the cheeses I tested, 3 grams of Salt (roughly 1/2 tsp of table salt or 3/4 tsp of kosher salt) was the ideal amount. Depending on the saltiness of your cheese, you may want to add more or less.
Additions and Substitutions
- Add an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegan cheese for extra cheesiness. Which is always a good thing.
- Add 1 tbsp nutritional yeast to boost the umami flavour.
- Add 2 tbsp vegan butter for an even richer mouthfeel.
- Substitute the salt for 1 tsp adobo seasoning.
- Want to feel a bit healthier? Toss in 4 cups of spinach or 2 cups of broccoli / cauliflower midway through cooking. I find that these are the veggies that work best with mac ‘n’ cheese.
Do you have a favourite way to dress up your pasta? Please share in the comments!
Step 1: Start by adding dried pasta to an empty Dutch oven or stock pot.
Step 2: Pour over the milk of your choice.
Step 3: Pile on shredded cheese. Cover with a lid and set it on the stove.
Note: If you prefer your mac and cheese on the saucy side, add an extra 1/2 cup of milk.
Step 4: Let cook until it comes to a boil. Stir every couple of minutes, scraping the bottom, to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom and burning.
Step 5: Once it begins boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and don’t cover again. Set a timer for the cook time indicated on your pasta package.
Step 6: Maintain a gentle simmer, while continuing to stir occasionally. Once the timer is up, your one-pot mac and cheese is ready to eat. Salt to taste.
Tip: If adding any vegetables like broccoli florets or spinach, stir them in a few minutes before the mac is done cooking.
Meal Prep & Reheating Tips
If you’re not planning on eating the mac ‘n’ cheese fresh after cooking, I recommend undercooking it by a minute or two so that it doesn’t become too soft when reheated.
Fridge: Store vegan mac ‘n’ cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days. Note that because pasta continues to absorb moisture from the sauce after it’s cooked, it will look dry when you take it out of the fridge.
Reheating: To reheat on stovetop, add 1/4 cup plant milk per serving and heat on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until cheese sauce becomes smooth and creamy again.
Vegan mac and cheese is a dairy-free alternative to the classic dish. It typically includes dried pasta, which is already vegan, plus a creamy sauce made from non-dairy milk (like almond or soy milk), and vegan cheese for a rich mouthfeel and flavour. Sometimes recipes use nutritional yeast and cashews instead of commercial vegan cheese. The result is a satisfying and flavorful mac and cheese that appeals to anyone with a dairy-free diet.
Instead of cashew cheese, you can explore alternatives like using plant-based cheeses made from ingredients like coconut oil, nutritional yeast, and starches. Additionally, you could opt for tofu-based sauces, creamy butternut squash or sweet potato purées, or storebought vegan cheese options like Daiya, Follow Your Heart, and Violife. Just make sure to use a recipe that is specifically formulated for the cheese substitute you want to use.
The best vegan shredded cheese for mac and cheese varies based on personal preference. Here’s a list of all the vegan cheeses that I’ve tested for this recipe: Emborg, Farm Boy, Ilchester Applewood, Nafsika’s Garden, Nurishh, Parmela Creamery, Violife, Vitalite. My personal favourite brand is Daiya; although it has a controversial smell and isn’t necessarily the tastiest choice in other applications, it melts very nicely into the mac and cheese sauce, and it has a great strong cheesy flavour. Not to mention, it’s one of the most affordable vegan cheese brands. These brands offer a range of flavors and meltability, making them suitable for creating creamy and flavorful vegan mac and cheese. The choice often depends on factors like taste, texture, and dietary preferences, and experimenting with different brands can help you find the one that suits your mac and cheese recipe best.
Vegan cheese can be a good option for those seeking a dairy-free alternative. It is generally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol compared to traditional dairy cheese. However, its nutritional value varies based on the brand and ingredients used. Some vegan cheeses are fortified with vitamins and minerals, making them a source of nutrients, however, most are high in oil and low in protein. While they can offer a satisfying cheese-like experience, it’s important to consume them in moderation.
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One Pot Vegan Mac and Cheese
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- Dutch oven or stock pot with lid (a 2 quart pot is the perfect size for making 2 servings)
- Wooden spoon or spatula
- 8 oz dried macaroni pasta = half a box
- 2 cups vegan cheese shreds see Note 1
- 2 cups milk of your choice see Note 2
- ½ tsp salt
- Add macaroni, cheese, and milk to a Dutch oven or stockpot. Cover with a lid and set it on medium heat until it comes to a boil, stirring every few minutes to prevent sticking.
- Once the pasta begins boiling, remove the lid. Turn the heat down to medium low and maintain a gentle simmer, uncovered.
- Simmer for the cook time indicated on your pasta package (or a few minutes longer if you prefer softer pasta), stirring occasionally. If you find your cheeze sauce is getting too dry before the pasta is fully cooked, stir in more milk, 1/4 cup at a time.
- Stir in the salt and add more to taste. Serve immediately.
- Cheese: I have tested this recipe with just about every vegan cheese brand available to me. Here’s a list: Daiya, Emborg, Farm Boy, Ilchester Applewood, Nafsika’s Garden, Nurishh, Parmela Creamery, Violife, Vitalite. They all work. You can even use sliced cheese or whole cheese blocks; just tear them into smaller pieces to help them melt faster. The types of vegan cheese that may not perform so well are: cream cheese, homemade cheese, and the more “artisanal” nut-based soft cheeses.
- Milk: As with the cheese, any unflavoured plant-based milk will work. If you’re in a pinch, even water will do the job. Personally I think Homemade Soy Milk gives the creamiest mouthfeel and flavour. Make sure not to use a sweetened or flavoured milk!
- If you prefer your mac and cheese on the saucy side, add an extra 1/2 cup of milk.