When the craving for a big bowl of mac and cheese hits, it hits hard. But if you’ve got food allergies or dietary restrictions, fulfilling that craving takes a little creativity. Thankfully we’ve done the leg work for you with this ridiculously creamy, veggie-packed, vegan cauliflower mac and cheese recipe that’s dairy-free AND grain-free. Trust us, it totally hits the spot either on its own (thanks to that salty-herby ‘bread crumb’ topping’) or as a side dish. We loved this recipe!
Cheesy without the cheese
This one is for all of our veggie-loving friends out there. Not just those following a plant-based or vegan diet or those who don’t tolerate dairy. It’s for everyone who loves to tuck into a big bowl of creamy, dreamy, cheesy comfort food.
We’ve adapted our vegan nacho cheese to make a delightfully tangy, ultra-creamy vegan cheese sauce. Then we used it to smother fork-tender bites of steamed cauliflower, before topping the whole thing with grain-free “bread crumbs” (read: savory garlic and herbs mixed with almond flour and olive oil). The result? A dairy-free, Paleo-friendly, plant-based bowl of comfort that’s perfect for those days when you want something indulgent but don’t want to (or can’t) go totally off the rails with the real deal.
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What You’ll Need for Vegan Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- Cauliflower – While we tested the recipe with fresh cauliflower that we steamed to fork-tender, you could use frozen cauliflower florets that have been steamed and well-drained.
- Yukon Gold Potatoes – Potatoes make the sauce extra creamy and make this vegan cheese sauce lighter than typical cashew-based sauces. You can substitute peeled Russet or red-skinned potatoes in a pinch but Yukon Gold’s produced the best results during testing.
- Carrots – Carrots give the sauce it’s signature yellow-orange color and a little boost of beta-carotene.
- Raw Cashews – Raw cashews will give you the creamiest blend but if all you have are roasted cashews, those will work if you give them an extra 10 minutes of soaking. Macadamia nuts can be used in place of cashews if desired.
- Unsweetened, Plain almond or cashew milk – May substitute with plain, unsweetened nut milk of choice.
- Nutritional Yeast – These funky yellow flakes are what give vegan cheese sauces their tangy, cheesy flavor and while you could leave them out, you’ll be missing out on the familiar savory-umami flavor that we typically associate with (real) cheese.
- Lemon Juice
- Olive Oil – Avocado oil or another light-tasting oil will also work.
- Dijon Mustard
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Salt and Pepper
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How to make Vegan Cheese Sauce
Step 1: Place the raw cashews in a medium heat-proof bowl. Then pour boiling water over cashews and place a lid or plate over the bowl and allow cashews to soak for about 30 minutes.
Step 2: Peel and cut potatoes and carrots then place them in a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat a bit, as needed, to prevent a boil-over but keep the temperature high enough to maintain a low boil or vigorous simmer. Cook until the veggies are very tender, then remove from heat. This should take about 15-20 minutes (depending on how big the pieces are).
Step 4: Add almond milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic and onion powders, salt, and black pepper to the food processor or blender. Place the lid on the blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Can I Make the Vegan Cheese Sauce Ahead of Time?
Yes! This can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in a tightly covered bowl or jar in the fridge until ready to use. In addition to using it in this vegan mac and cheese, it’s delicious served over a variety of veggies, with cooked pasta (think dairy-free mac ‘n’ cheese with hidden veggies!), or you can stir in some of your favorite salsa and a little lime juice for an easy dairy-free queso dip.
How to Make Vegan Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375℉. Make the vegan cheese sauce as directed.
Step 2: While the veggies are boiling for the cheese sauce, cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and steam it until just tender when poked with a fork. We like to steam it in a saucepan fitted with a steamer basket on the stove, but you can also place the cauliflower in a steamer basket and use the ‘steam’ function on your Instant Pot and set it for 1 minute.
Step 3: Coat a 9×9-inch (or another small baking dish) with oil or cooking spray. Place steamed cauliflower florets in the baking dish and toss with the sauce, stirring well to coat.
Step 4: Make the ‘breadcrumb’ topping by combining almond flour, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, parsley, and olive oil in a small bowl. Stir with a fork or use your fingers to combine. Sprinkle over the cauliflower.
Step 5: Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes or until cheese sauce is bubbly. Serve immediately.
How Do I Store Vegan Mac and Cheese?
Vegan cauliflower mac and cheese is great for meal preps when you want a quick reheat-and-eat dish or side dish. To store, cool on the counter for at least 30 minutes before transferring to a container with a lid or cover the baking dish with foil and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
We do not recommend freezing this recipe as a whole, as it will get very watery when thawed and reheated. However, you can freeze the vegan cheese sauce for up to 2 months. Then when you’re ready to thaw, place the container in the fridge to thaw overnight before gently reheating the sauce in a saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop.
How Do I Reheat Cauliflower Mac and Cheese?
Stovetop – Place the cauliflower mac and cheese in a skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally until sauce is hot and bubbly and cauliflower is heated through.
Toaster Oven – If you stored the mac and cheese in an oven-proof container, remove the lid and cover the dish tightly with foil. Then place in a toaster oven set to 350℉ for 15-20 minutes until hot and bubbly.
Microwave – Place the desired portion in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a damp paper towel. Heat 45-90 seconds, depending on the wattage of your microwave, or until heated through. Stir before serving.
- 1 large head of cauliflower (~ 2 ½ lbs.), trimmed and cut into bite-sized florets
- 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled cut into small cubes (~ 1 cup or 6 oz.)
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small
- ½ cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes then drained
- ½ cup + 1 Tbsp. unsweetened, plain almond or cashew milk
- 2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- ¾ tsp. onion powder
- 1 ¼ tsp. salt
- Pinch of black pepper
For the ‘breadcrumb’ topping:
- ¼ cup finely ground almond flour
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of black pepper
- 2 tsp. finely minced fresh parsley or ¾ tsp. dried parsley
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- Place cashews in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Place a plate over the bowl and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375℉.
- Place potatoes and carrots in a small saucepan with water on the stove and bring to a boil. Cook until veggies are very tender, about 15-20 minutes (depending on how big the pieces are).
- While the carrots and potatoes are cooking, place cauliflower in a steamer basket in a large covered pot. Add water to pot and steam, covered, until cauliflower is tender (about 15 minutes).
- To make the sauce, add drained carrots, potatoes, and cashews to a food processor or blender.
- Add almond milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic and onion powders, salt, and black pepper to the blender. Place the lid on the blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Coat a 9×9-inch (or another small baking dish) with oil or cooking spray. Place steamed cauliflower florets in the baking dish and toss with the sauce, stirring well to coat.
- Make the ‘breadcrumb’ topping by combining almond flour, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, parsley, and olive oil in a small bowl. Stir with a fork or use your fingers to combine. Sprinkle over cauliflower with cheese sauce.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes or until cheese sauce is bubbly.
- Serving Size: 1/4th Recipe
- Calories: 305
- Sugar: 6g
- Sodium: 675mg
- Fat: 21g
- Saturated Fat: 3g
- Carbohydrates: 21g
- Fiber: 3g
- Protein: 9g
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Photo Credit: The photos in this blog post were taken by Jess of Plays Well with Butter.
About Jessica Beacom
Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.