My kids and husband told me this healthy plant-based mac ‘n’ cheese tastes “like the kind from the box” and have requested it almost daily for about two weeks. That’s testimonial enough for me! The sauce is nut free (!!) and made from just 5 simple, allergy friendly, wholesome ingredients. Plus it’s oil free, gluten free, and soy free!
It is just creamy enough without being too heavy or rich, and has the perfect amount of cheesy tang thanks to tomato paste and apple cider vinegar. I like to use quinoa or brown rice pasta, but you can use any pasta that suits you.
To make this vegan mac and cheese nut free without the typical cashews, I thought of a few options. I was tempted to start with a vegan cauliflower mac and cheese, but that requires some extra effort in the form of boiling or steaming, and I wanted to keep this as easy as possible. I decided to try using sunflower seeds. To my delight, it turned out just as delicious as with cashews, and way cheaper!
The simplicity of this recipe for vegan mac and cheese honestly blows my mind. The fact that tomato paste, sunflower seeds, water, vinegar, and salt can combine to make this seriously satisfying vegan comfort food is just insane to me. But trust me, it’s very real!
This vegan mac and cheese without cashews is also much lighter than many other versions, both plant-based and otherwise. You could even pour it over zoodles or spaghetti squash instead of traditional pasta!
I am absolutely more than happy with a simple vegan mac and cheese without any frills or extras. That said, if you fancy, the addition of some simple extra veg or a drizzle of a little hot sauce can definitely be pretty bomb. Try some of these options:
Add-In Options for Your Plant Based Mac and Cheese – Mix and Match!
Roasted bell peppers or jalapenos
Roasted or caramelized onions
Roasted or sauteed zucchini or yellow squash
Special Dietary Needs
This nut free vegan mac and cheese is suitable for many diets, such as:
Nutritarian inspired (Fuhrman Eat to Live/ETL)
Refined sugar free
WFPB (whole foods plant based)
WFPBNO (whole foods plant based no oil)
See my FAQ and Resources pages for more on the philosophy behind this vegan gluten free mac and cheese and whole-foods-plant-based eating in general. Plus, check out my online shop for all my top picks for everything you could possibly need for your plant-based, naturally minded life!
*Salad Therapy is reader supported. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases – at no extra cost to you. Making purchases through my links helps me continue providing you with free recipes. I only recommend products I would happily use myself!
First, boil the pasta water for your vegan nut free mac and cheese and cook your pasta. While your pasta is cooking and has a few minutes left on the stove, put all your plant based cheese sauce ingredients into your blender. Blend, baby, blend until it’s smooth and homogenous. There should be no pieces in it.
When your pasta is not quite al dente (nearly finished but not quite), drain it without rinsing, then return to the stove on low to medium-low heat. Immediately pour your dairy and gluten free mac and cheese sauce into the pasta, stirring continuously (but gently so as not to break the pasta) to coat all the pasta in the sauce, as well as to cook the sauce and thicken up the whole concoction a bit.
After stirring on the heat for about 3-4 minutes, when your pasta is al dente, remove it from the stove and serve while hot. Keeps well in the fridge for about a week. Enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
I don’t have sunflower seeds on hand. What else can I use?
While I haven’t used substitutes in this particular recipe, I have made many similar recipes with different nuts. If you’re not nut free, cashews should definitely work, and I believe almonds and walnuts could work, as well, though they might alter the flavor somewhat (should still be good; just a little different). Let me know in the comments if you try a variation!
Be serious, does this really taste like the mac and cheese from the box?
My family thinks this tastes very similar to the Banza vegan mac and cheese box (which we have every once in a while when Mommy just cannot), only better! It has been a while since I’ve had the Daiya mac and cheese, so I can’t really comment on the similarity to that one. I can say that it has all the tangy, zesty, lightly creamy goodness of most boxed mac and cheeses I’ve had.
Can I add turmeric for color?
Many people do this, but I do not recommend this as I find that adding enough turmeric to make a significant difference in the appearance also alters the flavor in an unfavorable way. However, many people don’t seem to notice a difference in taste, and if you have done this before and aren’t bothered by the flavor of the turmeric, let me know in the comments, and power to you!
Love pasta? Try these:
Red Lentil Pasta with Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce
Vegan Lasagna with Tofu Cashew Ricotta
Simplest Ever Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta
5-Ingredient Vegan Mex-Style Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Curried Couscous with Roasted Veg and Orange Tahini
Healthy Plant-Based Mac and Cheese (with no nuts, vegan cheese, oil, or soy!)
- 1 Blender
- 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds cashews would work instead; walnuts and almonds would likely work, as well, but I have not tried these in this particular recipe
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 3/4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar white or rice vinegar would probably work, too
- 2 teaspoons salt (for the sauce)
- 2 cups water (for the sauce)
- 16 ounces pasta I prefer quinoa pasta or brown rice pasta, but any whole grain pasta will work
- Fill a pot with water (not included in ingredients above) and bring to boil. Cook pasta of choice according to package instructions without salt.
- While your pasta is cooking and has a few minutes left on the stove, put all your sunflower seed cheese sauce ingredients into your blender. Blend until it's smooth and homogenous. There should be no pieces in it.
- When your pasta is not quite al dente (nearly finished but not quite), drain it without rinsing, then return to the stove on low to medium-low heat.
- Immediately pour your cheese sauce into the pasta, stirring continuously to coat all the pasta in the sauce, as well as to cook the sauce and thicken up the whole concoction a bit. Be careful to stir gently so you don't break the pasta, and make sure you scrape the bottom of the pot regularly so the pasta doesn't stick to the pot.
- After stirring for about 3-4 minutes, your pasta should be al dente. When it is, remove it from the stove and serve while hot. Keeps well in the fridge for about a week. Enjoy!
If you’ve made this, please take a sec to RATE AND COMMENT below! It helps other readers and also helps direct more people to Salad Therapy! Please also tag @saladtherapy on social media, and don’t forget to COMMENT, LIKE, AND SHARE on Facebook and Instagram!
STAY IN THE LOOP WHENEVER A NEW SALAD THERAPY RECIPE IS POSTED! SIGN UP FOR MY EMAIL NEWSLETTER – NO SPAM!
Thank you, Thank you
I made this and had to substitute a few things due to not having them. I used salted cashews but soaked them for a while, organic ketchup (did not have tomato paste), added nutritional yeast to the sauce and broccoli to pasta.
I loved it was creamy and wonderful. I was a bit skeptical about the 2 cups of water but it turned out amazing. Next time I will try it with original ingredients although can’t imagine it being better than this.
Thank you for the recipe this one is a keeper.
I am so glad you enjoyed it, and I love your problem-solving spirit in using what you had!
Would adding some Nooch and maybe a tablespoon of Lemon Juice to this hurt the flavor at all?
I personally don’t usually enjoy nooch in vegan cheese, but if you do then go for it! However I would advise against adding lemon juice since it already has plenty of acid from the vinegar. You could try replacing the vinegar with lemon juice, but I can’t vouch for that as I haven’t it that way. I tend to notice lemon juice as a distinct fruity flavor, so just keep that in mind. Would love to hear if you try it with either of these!
Following the recipe as written, this had way too much vinegar flavor. Didn’t at all taste like the box cheese sauce. To ‘fix’ it, I stirred in Chao non-dairy cheese shreds and about 1/4 cup nutritional yeast. The additions cut the vinegar taste and made it work for us. I would definitely make this again using my variations / additions because it’s nut free and vegan. Super simple preparation and makes a great quick meal.
Hi there, did you allow the sauce to cook into the pasta for a few minutes? I find the vinegar flavor decreases significantly as it is absorbed into the pasta after a few minutes of cooking.
Could one substitute cooked white beans for sunflower seeds?
I think cooked white beans could work great. I haven’t tried it in this particular recipe but have done similar things with success. I would probably recommend increasing the volume of the beans somewhat, and decreasing the amount of liquid to account for the liquid in the beans. Would love to hear how it turns out if you try it!
Is the water & salt part of the sauce ingredients or is that for cooking the pasta?
Good question, the water and salt are for the sauce. Cook pasta with additional water according to package and no salt.
Very close to “box” Mac n cheese & delighted how few ingredients! This will be an easy side that also takes me back to childhood!
Thanks so much! Love those dishes that whisk us away to a simpler time 🙂