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Enjoy this dairy-free mac and cheese featuring elbow pasta bathed in a rich and creamy cashew cheese sauce. Topped with crunchy panko and baked until golden brown, this meal makes a perfect lunch or comforting dinner.

Dairy-free mac and cheese in a pot.
Serve dairy-free mac and cheese baked or unbaked

🧡 Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Diet-friendly: As a vegan and dairy-free dish, this recipe is suitable for most dietary needs and preferences.
  • Cheesy: You won’t miss dairy-based cheese in this recipe! Cashews, almond milk, and nutritional yeast provide a creamy texture and umami flavor that emulates traditional mac and cheese.
  • Comforting: There’s nothing quite as comforting as a bowl of macaroni and cheese. From children to adults, this dish is a serious crowd-pleaser.
  • Simple: With our simple-to-follow instructions, this almond milk mac and cheese couldn’t be easier to prepare! No matter what your cooking experience is, you can do it!

If you enjoy a good bowl of dairy-free mac and cheese, you should really check out our lemon garlic pasta, espagueti blanco, vegan Mexican macaroni salad, and espagueti rojo.

🧀 What is dairy-free mac and cheese?

Mac and cheese is a nostalgic childhood favorite for many people, but for those who are lactose intolerant or don’t consume dairy, that’s a whole lot of cheese and butter! Dairy-free mac and cheese incorporates all the same great flavors of traditional recipes without the need for dairy — go figure!

Elbow macaroni is cooked until al dente, then mixed with a cheese sauce made of almond milk, cashews, and nutritional yeast. The final result is rich, creamy, and velvety smooth.

To add a little more texture and flavor, we topped this recipe with panko breadcrumbs and baked it until golden brown on top. The added crunch helps balance out all of the creaminess underneath. We can’t wait for you to try it!

🥛 What kind of dairy-free milk is best?

We used unsweetened almond milk to make this mac and cheese, but any plant-based milk will do the trick. Soy milk, oat milk, or pea milk are three more of our favorites for recipes like this.

With the addition of cashews, you’ll have no issues thickening the sauce. The only thing we recommend is to steer clear of sweetened or flavored plant milk as it will change the overall flavor of the dish.

🌱 Is dairy-free mac and cheese vegan?

Just because mac and cheese is dairy-free doesn’t always mean it’s vegan! There are many recipes that incorporate meats like bacon bits, hot dogs, ground beef, or chicken broth to thin the sauce.

This recipe requires only plant-based ingredients, like cashews and almond milk, making it suitable for vegans. 

Onion, cashews, pepper flakes, nooch, garlic, and macaroni on a table.
Don’t forget to soak the cashews!

🛒 Ingredients & substitutions

  • Elbow macaroni: The most classic choice is elbow pasta, but feel free to experiment with other short pasta varieties like farfalle (bow-tie pasta), fusilli, penne, or cavatelli.
  • Onion: We love to add caramelized onions for a sweet, rich, and complex flavor. Use white or yellow onions, or omit the onions altogether.
  • Olive oil: To caramelize the onions. You can replace olive oil with vegan butter for a richer flavor and texture. Or, use avocado oil, canola oil, or another neutral vegetable oil.
  • Garlic: Garlic powder provides a punch of roasted savoriness that helps round out the flavors of the cheese sauce. Substitute fresh garlic cloves for a more intense and zesty flavor.
  • Raw cashews: Cashews form the base of the cheese sauce. Choose raw, unsalted cashews, and don’t forget to soak them! It’s an important step in creating a silky smooth sauce. For a more budget-friendly option, replace cashews with raw sunflower seeds.
  • Almond milk: Provides a creamier cheese sauce consistency. Feel free to use other dairy-free milk varieties like soy milk or pea milk. Or, replace it with vegetable broth.
  • Nutritional yeast: If you want a cheesy sauce, you can’t skip nutritional yeast! It is often fortified with B12, which is essential for vegans and vegetarians.
  • Apple cider vinegar: We tend to reach for apple cider vinegar, but you can also add white vinegar, coconut vinegar, or rice wine vinegar.
  • Dijon: Adds a savory, tangy, and subtle kick to the sauce. If Dijon isn’t your thing, you can always replace it with regular mustard.
  • Red pepper flakes: For a touch of heat, we always love red pepper flakes. You can also add paprika or cayenne pepper. The choice is yours!
  • Sea salt: Enhances the other ingredients. Season with salt to taste.
  • Vegetable broth: To caramelize the onions, keeping the oil content to a minimum. You can always use more oil or water if you don’t have broth.
  • Topping: Panko, nutritional yeast, and salt create a crispy “parmesan” crust that is sprinkled on top before baking the mac and cheese.

For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.

📝 How to make dairy-free mac and cheese

Step 1: Caramelize the onions

Preheat your oven to broil. In the meantime, heat some olive oil in a pan over low-medium. Add in ¼ cup of vegetable broth and the onion slices, then cook them low and slow until they deepen in color.

Remember to stir them occasionally to avoid burning. If they start to darken too quickly, turn the heat down.

Caramelized Onions.
Your onions should start to brown slowly

Step 2: Cook the pasta

Bring some water to a boil in a medium-large pot. Once boiling, salt it generously and cook the elbow macaroni according to the package instructions, or until al dente.

Step 3: Blend the cheese sauce

While the pasta cooks, blend the garlic cloves, cashews, almond milk, nutritional yeast, Dijon, apple cider vinegar, onion powder, and red pepper flakes until you have a creamy consistency. Add in sea salt to taste, and adjust the other seasonings as needed.

Pouring Sauce Over Macaroni.
The sauce will thicken as it mixes with the pasta

Step 4: Assemble

Transfer the cheese sauce into the pot that cooked the macaroni, and simmer it for a minute or so in some vegan butter or more olive oil. Add the macaroni, and cook everything on low heat for another few minutes to thicken the sauce up.

Step 5: Bake the mac and cheese

Mix in the caramelized onions, then transfer everything to an oven-safe dish. Smooth it down with a spatula, then top it with a mixture of olive oil, panko, salt, and nutritional yeast. Broil the mac and cheese until golden brown and crispy on top, then serve warm. Happy eating!

Dairy-free mac and cheese on a fork.
Garnish almond milk mac and cheese with onions

If you have questions about making dairy-free mac and cheese, check out our FAQs or leave a comment down below!

🥗 What to serve with mac and cheese

Serve this creamy almond milk mac and cheese alongside light (or comforting) side dishes like the following:

🌡️ Storage & reheating

If you have leftover mac and cheese, follow these storage tips so they don’t go to waste:

  • Fridge: Almond milk mac and cheese stores well in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. Just make sure to keep it in an airtight container.
  • Freezer: Feel free to freeze this recipe as well. Let it cool completely, then transfer it to a freezer-safe bag or container. It will last for up to 3 months.
  • Reheating: If frozen, thaw the mac and cheese in the fridge overnight, then reheat it in the microwave or on the stovetop. You can add a little plant milk, broth, or water to thin the sauce out once more.

♻️ Variations

  • Protein: Instead of caramelized onions, add veggie ground, vegan bacon bits, vegan chicken cubes, or tofu. 
  • Spicy: Turn the heat more by throwing chopped pickled jalapeños, hot sauce, more red pepper flakes, or other hot chiles into the mix.  
  • Cheese: Instead of cashews and nutritional yeast, use your favorite dairy-free cheese to form the base of the sauce.
  • Gluten-free: Transform this almond milk mac and cheese into a gluten-free recipe by replacing the elbow macaroni with your favorite gluten-free brand.
  • Breading: In place of panko, try crushed tortilla chips, potato chips, crackers, fried onions, or regular breadcrumbs.
  • Vegetables: Add steamed or roasted broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, corn, or peas to the mac and cheese for a heartier, more balanced meal.

🧑‍🍳 Top tips

  • Sauce consistency: If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little bit of water, plant milk, or vegetable broth. If it’s not thick enough, add a cornstarch slurry (1 part cornstarch, 2 parts water). Just note, the sauce will thicken up as it mixes with the pasta and has time to rest.
  • High-powered blender: Make sure you use a high-powered blender for an extra-smooth sauce consistency.
  • Watch it bake: Don’t stray too far from your oven as the mac and cheese bakes. You want golden and crispy, not black and charred!
  • Soak the cashews: You don’t want to skip this step as it really is the key to a creamy cheese sauce, especially if you don’t have a high-speed blender!

💬 FAQ

Can you make dairy-free mac and cheese without nutritional yeast? 

Yes, you can make dairy-free mac and cheese without nutritional yeast, but it provides the cheesy, umami flavor. If you decide to leave it out, it’s important to add another umami element like white miso paste.

What can I use as a substitute for milk in mac and cheese?

Instead of regular milk, try using plant-based milk like almond, soy, oat, or cashew for this mac and cheese.

How can I substitute cheese in mac and cheese?

Instead of dairy-based cheese, use plant-based cheese shreds, cashew-based cheese, or a mixture of both.

🍴 More lunches and dinners

If you enjoyed this dairy-free mac and cheese recipe, be sure to check out some more comforting dishes like the following:

Dairy-free mac and cheese in a pot.

Best Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese

Mitch and Justine
This dairy-free mac and cheese is made with elbow pasta bathed in a rich and creamy cashew sauce. Topped with crunchy panko and baked until golden, it's the perfect comfort meal.
5 from 31 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine American, Vegan
Servings 4 servings
Calories 478 kcal

Equipment

  • Large pot
  • Frying pan
  • High-speed blender
  • Colander

Ingredients
 

Caramelized onions

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil or vegan butter
  • ¼ cup vegetable broth
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced

Pasta

  • 3 cups elbow macaroni

Cheese sauce

  • ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked
  • 1 ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 5 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt to taste

Toppings optional

  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons panko
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Instructions
 

Onions

  • Preheat your oven to broil. In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a pan over low-medium.
  • Add in ¼ cup of vegetable broth and the onions, then cook them low and slow until they deepen in color, about 15 minutes. Stir them occasionally to prevent burning. If they start to darken too quickly, turn the heat down.

Pasta

  • Bring some water to a boil in a medium-large pot. Once boiling, salt it generously and cook the elbow macaroni according to the package instructions, or until al dente.
  • Once cooked, drain the pasta and set it aside for now. Reserve some of the cooking water in case you need to thin the sauce.

Sauce

  • While the pasta cooks, blend the cashews, almond milk, nutritional yeast, Dijon, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes until you achieve a creamy consistency. Add sea salt to taste, and adjust the other seasonings as needed.
  • Heat a little more oil or vegan butter in the same pot that cooked the macaroni, then transfer the cheese sauce in and simmer it for 1-2 minutes. Add the macaroni back in, and cook everything on low heat for another 1-2 minutes to thicken the sauce up.

Assemble

  • In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, panko, nutritional yeast, and salt.
  • Mix the caramelized onions into the mac and cheese, then transfer everything to an oven-safe dish. Smooth it down with a spatula, and top it with the panko mixture.
  • Broil the mac and cheese for 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on top. Serve warm with a garnish of green onions or paprika. Happy eating!

Notes

  • Sauce consistency: If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little bit of water, plant milk, or vegetable broth. If it’s not thick enough, add a cornstarch slurry (1 part cornstarch, 2 parts water). Just note, the sauce will thicken up as it mixes with the pasta and has time to rest.
  • High-powered blender: Make sure you use a high-powered blender for an extra-smooth sauce consistency.
  • Soak the cashews: You don’t want to skip this step as it really is the key to a creamy cheese sauce, especially if you don’t have a high-speed blender!
  • Watch it bake: Don’t stray too far from your oven as the mac and cheese bakes. You want golden and crispy, not black and charred!
  • Nutritional information is a rough estimate and should not be taken as health advice.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 478kcal | Carbohydrates: 71.25g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0mg | Sodium: 152mg | Potassium: 234mg | Vitamin A: 90IU | Vitamin C: 2.7mg | Calcium: 120mg | Iron: 1.92mg
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Note: We’ve updated this post to include new information and helpful tips about the recipe.

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Recipe Rating




11 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I love this dairy free Mac and cheese. Now I no longer have to miss out on enjoying my favourite comfort food, thank you.

  2. 5 stars
    This is so good. addition of almond millk to Mac and cheese is perfect. That cheese sauce with cashew bring this to another level.

  3. 5 stars
    I am a huge fan of Mac and Cheese! Am already very excited about this variant! Super handy when you have lactose intolerant guests visiting!

  4. 5 stars
    Great alternative for people who can’t have dairy products. The cheese sauce is yummy and I love the addition of the onions.

  5. If I already cooked my macaroni the day before, so it is cold, should I bake the dish at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes, then broil? Or re-heat the macaroni in some boiled water?