Jan 25

Smoky Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

Smoky Vegan + Gluten-Free Mac 'n' Cheese

Heaps of warm elbow pasta tossed in spoonful after spoonful of gooey cashew cheddar cheese. It’s hard to compete with this deeply comforting dish when faced with icy cold winter weather and snow.

Other than sharing Gena’s lovely butternut squash mac ‘n’ cheese recipe back in the fall, this is actually the first vegan mac and cheese dish I’ve ever shared. It was worth the wait for me, and I have a hunch you’ll feel the same (or at least I hope).

To make it, you’ll start by cooking up a bit batch of elbow pasta. I use brown rice pasta, but feel free to use whichever kind your mac ‘n’ cheese heart desires.

Smoky Vegan Mac and Cheese

While the pasta is cooking, you’ll get to work on the cashew cheddar cheese sauce. You’ll blend together soaked raw cashews, filtered water, roasted red peppers, nutritional yeast, arrowroot powder (a root-derived thickening agent), apple cider vinegar, lots of smoked paprika, sea salt, black pepper, and an optional dash of both cayenne and hot sauce.

Once everything is blended into a smooth liquid, you’ll pour it into a saucepan and whisk over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens like so…

Smoky Vegan Mac and Cheese

Then, spoon all of that gooey, nearly stretchy cheddar cheese sauce over the warm elbow pasta and get stirring…

Smoky Vegan Mac and Cheese

It will initially seem like there is wayyyy too much sauce, but the noodles will draw it in as you stir and trust me, you’ll want every bit of it.

Smoky Vegan Mac and Cheese

The final step: taste and season with a bit more sea salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika. The smoked paprika weaves a savory smoky flavor throughout, so if you want to up the smokiness even more, go on and get shaking. I usually add a few more dashes along with a bit more sea salt and black pepper.

Then, serve yourself a generous mound of that cheesy goodness and get cozy.

Smoky Vegan + Gluten-Free Mac 'n' Cheese

5.0 from 7 reviews
Smoky Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Pasta, Main
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
  • 12 to 16 ounces brown rice elbow pasta, depending on desired level of cheesiness (I use 12 ounces for a cheesier mac 'n' cheese)
Smoky Cashew Cheddar Cheese
  • ⅔ cup raw cashews, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes and drained (to soften)
  • 1⅓ cups filtered water
  • ⅓ cup chopped roasted red peppers
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder/flour/starch
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Dash of hot sauce (optional)
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, make the Smoky Cashew Cheddar Cheese by adding the soaked and drained cashews, filtered water, roasted red peppers, arrowroot, apple cider vinegar, smoked paprika, sea salt, black pepper, cayenne (if using), and hot sauce (if using) to a high-speed blender. Blend on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until completely smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
  3. Once the pasta is ready, pour the Smoky Cashew Cheddar Cheese mixture into a medium saucepan. Heat over medium for 5 minutes or until very thick and just shy of stretchy, whisking constantly. Once thickened, immediately turn off the heat to avoid overheating. Arrowroot loses its thickening power if overheated, so be attentive to it.
  4. Spoon the cheese over the pasta and toss to coat, adding pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time, as needed to thin the sauce. Season with more sea salt, smoked paprika, and black pepper, to taste. I usually add another ½ teaspoon sea salt, another dash or two of smoked paprika, and a few grinds of black pepper; however, seasoning will vary depending on the amount of pasta you used and how salty your pasta water was, so adjust according to your tastes.




  1. How much nutritional yeast do you use? Maybe I’m overlooking it but I don’t see it on there! Can’t wait to try this!

    • Good catch!! 2 tablespoons (just added it). I must have accidentally deleted it when I transferred it from my recipe note doc to my post — thank you for catching that and commenting! :)

  2. Celeste Jackson says:

    This looks delicious! I’m looking forward to making it.

  3. Oh yes!! This is the perfect bowl of cheesy deliciousness for these cold winter nights. It hits the perfect level of coziness!!

  4. I made this last night for dinner for myself, my boyfriend, and a friend and we all loved it! The red pepper adds a delicious flavor and I love the color it gave the sauce! I ended up adding a couple more tablespoons of nutritional yeast because I can’t resist the extra cheesiness it adds! We served it over brown rice shells because there weren’t any elbow noodles in stock but it was just as delicious! Another hit recipe Ashley! I can’t wait to make this one again!

    • Somehow I’m just seeing your awesome comment, Karissa! I think you have permanent comment approval for my site, so sometimes I miss yours since I don’t have to manually approve them!

      I’m so, so glad that you all enjoyed the recipe so much!! I swear, roasted red peppers are game-changing in vegan cheese sauce — between the color and the flavor they add, I’m always pleasantly surprised. And good idea with the extra cheesiness — the more nooch, the merrier. As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hope you’re having a wonderful start to 2016! <3

  5. Can you substitute cornstarch for arrowroot?

    • Hi, Melissa! You should be able to substitute cornstarch. You’ll probably need a bit more (maybe 1-2 teaspoons more) because arrowroot is a more potent thickener, and the texture will be slightly different but it will be close enough! Hope this helps!

      • Thanks Ashley. I actually got my hands on some arrowroot powder and made this today. Unbelievably delicious! I made this for my husband who loves all things smoky and he LOVED it. He said you could probably fool someone into thinking there was real cheese in there! This will be my go-to comfy-food mac & cheese recipe from now on! Thank you for the wonderful recipes. I really enjoy your blog! :)

  6. Hi, Ashley!
    For the roasted red bell pepper, do you deseed and remove the skin?


  7. This was my first foray into vegan “cheese” and holy cats is it amazing (and easy)! Thanks for a fantastic recipe.

    • Welcome to the magical world of vegan cheese, Kristin!! I’m honored that you used this recipe for your first go at it and so happy (and relieved) that you enjoyed it so much! Thanks for taking the time to share your feedback! xo

  8. I sautéed red chard with onions and added, along with fresh, chopped tomatoes. Delicious sauce, thanks!

  9. Guinevere says:

    I made this for my non-vegan, dairy-loving family tonight… and they absolutely loved it! We all went back for more. It’s so deliciously creamy, and the smoked paprika takes the flavour to another level. I can’t wait to try some of your other recipes :)

    • So happy to hear it was a hit, Guinevere! I saw your comment come through the other day and it planted the craving for the dish, so I actually made it again (for like the 20th time this year—eek!) last night. Isn’t the smoked paprika something else in the cheese sauce? Really offers it a flavor *oomph*! Thanks for taking the time to come back and share your thoughts—I really appreciate it.

  10. I’ve been trying out a ton of vegan mac and cheese recipes since I went vegan, and this is BY FAR HANDS DOWN HONEST TO GOD THE BEST RECIPE !!!

    • Jenn! I am thrilled that you’re enjoying this recipe so much, and I’m taking this as a huge compliment because there are seriously SO many vegan mac ‘n’ cheese recipes out there. So thank you for your kind words and thank you for taking the time to come back and share them. All the best to you! xo

  11. I’ve been loving your vegan/gf peanut butter cookies and I want to try this recipe next! I have a question about this one: Are you roasting your own peppers, or is it okay to use the ones that come in a jar? Thanks!

    • Hi, Gina! So glad you’re loving the peanut butter cookies. No fancy pepper roasting going on in my house—I use jarred roasted red peppers! Hope you enjoy this recipe too. xo

      • That was the answer I was hoping for! Thanks for the quick reply. Can’t wait to make this this weekend!

      • Are you using the store bought roasted peppers that are in oil or the ones that are in more of a brine/vinegary type solution?
        Just curious as I want to make this but too lazy to roast my own, haha!

        • Hi, Dannielle! Great question. I always use jarred roasted peppers in water/brine for this recipe. Hope this helps! Enjoy :)

        • I see that Ashley already replied but I’ll chime in too and say that I also use the ones in brine (not oil). I usually end up adding a bit more than the recipe calls for, just because. I also add a bit more smoked paprika and about twice as much nutritional yeast. This has quickly become one of my favorite recipes!

  12. I’ve made this numerous times and had to drop in to let you know….This is by far the BEST Mac and Cheese I have ever had…. vegan or otherwise. Thank you for such a delicious recipe!!

    • You’re making me smile! Thanks for taking the time to come back and share your feedback, Melissa. So glad you’re enjoying the recipe so much! xo

  13. Can you use paprika instead of smoked paprika?


  14. I tried to make this for thanksgiving and the sauce came out grainy with little bits of cashew chunks everywhere. :( The flavor is nice but the texture did not turn out well. I used a food processor instead of a blender because my blender isn’t very good. Is that what caused the grainy texture?


  1. […] Dinner Guest’s mac n’ cheese ingredients (adapted from blissful basil): RED LENTIL PASTA (INGREDIENTS: RED LENTILS), CASHEWS, ROASTED RED PEPPERS, NUTRITIONAL YEAST, […]

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