Giving up macaroni and cheese was a tough one for me. I mean, it’s safe to say it’s been my favorite food since the beginning of time. Buuuut … as much as I love dairy, dairy – specifically the whey in dairy – does NOT love me back.
This vegan shells and cheese recipe, though? Makes it allll okay.
I’ve already dreamed up one vegan mac and cheese recipe – another stovetop recipe made with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and coconut milk. I adore that recipe, but I needed another one for when 1) it’s not fall or winter and 2) I haven’t been to the grocery store in awhile.
This vegan shells and cheese recipe might just be my new favorite pantry recipe – made with items I almost always already have on hand – cashews, spices, lemon, garlic, pasta.
It’s not only ridiculously creamy, it’s ridiculously easy to make. Seriously – soak your cashews, cook up your pasta, blend up your sauce, drain your pasta, mix it all together, devour happily. We’re talking dinner on the table in 20 minutes tops.
I first discovered the joy of cashew-based vegan mac and cheese when I tried this recipe from Detoxinista. SO GOOD. I started with that and tweaked from there, changing the pasta/sauce ratio up (less pasta, more sauce) and adjusting the flavorings a tad.
I have to admit, when I first tried the original recipe, I tilted my head a bit at the addition of chili powder. But I’ve tried it without, and you know what? It’s just not the same. Chili powder just gives it that YES factor. In other words, just do it.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: We don’t need no stinkin’ dairy, my friends. This, right here, is the ultimate shells and cheese recipe, vegan or not.
Ridiculously Creamy Vegan Shells & Cheese
- 1 cup raw (unsalted cashews)
- 8 ounces small pasta shells (can substitute another pasta like good ol' macaroni)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1/2 medium clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt + more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black + more to taste
- 1/2 cup water
- Finely chopped fresh parsley (for garnish; optional)
- First soak your cashews using either the cold water (slower) method or the hot water (faster) method. Place cashews in a medium bowl or jar and pour 3 cups water over the top. If using cool water, they'll need to soak at room temperature for at least 2 hours (up to 24 hours). Alternately, you can pour 3 cups boiling water over the top, and then they'll only need to soak for about 15 minutes.
- Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add several pinches of salt to the water then add the pasta. Stir and cook according to package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, whip up the sauce. To the pitcher of a high-powered blender, add the soaked cashews, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic, mustard, chili powder, turmeric, one teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and water. Blend on high until completely smooth. The sauce should be thick, but a pourable consistency. If it's is too thick, add another tablespoon or two of water and blend again until it can be poured.
- Drain the cooked pasta and return to the pan (off the heat). Pour the sauce over the pasta. Gently stir with a wooden spoon until the pasta is completely coated with the sauce.
- Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Scoop into bowls or onto plates and garnish with a bit of chopped parsley if you wish. Serve and devour!
Vegan Shells and Cheese is so mouth watering, can’t wait to have it! Thanks for the recipe.
The cashew cheese sauce was super delicious with red lentil pasta and wok fried veggies thrown into the pasta. 😋
Hello! Does the half cup of water go into the blender to make the sauce? Thanks!
Yep! Thanks for asking – I’ll revisit the recipe to make sure this is crystal clear!
It looks so delicious, I have to try it. Thanks for the recipe.
I hope you like it as much as we do!
My cheese sauce was a little gritty. I use a ninja blender. I’m guessing you have a vitamix?
Yes, the Vitamix blends the cashews completely smooth. Did you give them a good soak first?
Yes I soaked overnight.
Oh. My. Gosh. Eating this right now over banza shells and it’s so good! I used my nutribullet to blend the sauce after the hot soak and it worked great. Toddler approved!
I need to try this with Banza! Thanks so much for the review.
Ok this taste nothing like cheese or Velveeta. Honestly all my husband and I could taste was the mustard it is very creamy but to call this a cheese alternative is a bit of a stretch. Maybe just a cream sauce but definitely does not taste like cheese I’m trying to figure out how to mild out the mustard flavor so I don’t have to throw away this whole pot. It is very creamy but it definitely gets thick as it sits like really thick so I would say water it down just a little bit so that as it sits it won’t be overly thick.
I’m sorry this one didn’t work for you! We love it around here. It’s definitely tough to replicate cheese but this one totally hits the spot for me when I have a mac & cheese craving.
This is really wonderful!
Since yesterday I’ve tried 3 of your recipes and I just love them. You’re inspiring me to cook more, thank you :)))
I used the vitamix to blend the mixture however it’s not a big enough portion to fully blend it, the mixture gets stuck under the blades, so I transferred it to my mini vitamix blender and it worked better. Next time I’ll just make a bigger batch, double or triple the size. 😛
Thanks again! I can’t wait to try yet another vegan dish from you tomorrow :))
Hi Lisa, I’m sorry I didn’t respond to this comment sooner; I got really behind! Thanks so much for your nice words. I’m sorry you had some trouble blending this one; great tip to use the smaller blender. Thank you again for the wonderful review and happy holidays to you!
I have made this twice in the past couple of weeks and I just love it! the flavor is perfect…Thank you for sharing the recipe.
I’m so glad you like it! Thanks, Tina!
DELICIOUS!!!!!! Only because I added a few things:
1. A dash of liquid smoke onto the vegan creamy sauce! Liquid smoke makes everything better!
2. I used paprika powder as the chile powder
3. I used my food processor to blend everything first and then transferred the sauce into my regular blender to make it easier to blend the processed cashew sauce and all! I poured it over the pasta and garnished it with basil leaves and oh diosito mío!!!! Sooooo good!!! I totally recommend it!!!! Thank you for sharing ! I never leave reviews when I make recipes but when I do it’s bc I’m really impressed!!! Love being vegan here and there and I’ve been a vegetarian for 6 years slowly transitioning to a vegan diet! Just add vegan meatballs onto the meal and y’all will have a balanced protein + carb meal! So good! Healthy too!
Sounds like a great variation! Thank you for sharing and for coming back to leave a review! ❤️
It helps if you use half a cup of hot water (either from pasta or the water used to soak the cashew) to make it creamy. Blend for no more than 2 minutes. Blend/pulse some more if it’s still chunky. I added onion powder too because I like a garlic onion taste. It’s delicious
Wow, it looks delicious, I’ll try it tonight.