This vegan broccoli mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food recipe that's also perfect for meal prep! A cashew-based vegan cheese sauce is mixed with pasta, broccoli and chickpeas to make this dairy-free pasta bake healthy and filling.
Why this recipe works
This vegan broccoli mac and cheese bake is the answer to all of your comfort food and meal prep dreams. It's seriously one of my new favorite recipes and I think that you'll love it too!
- Made with a super creamy cashew cheese sauce
- Makes a balanced meal from whole grains, veggies, protein and healthy fats
- Great for meal prep or weeknight dinners
- Topped with spicy breadcrumbs and baked until golden
What you'll need
- Cashews: Choose raw, unsalted cashews as the base of the vegan mac and cheese sauce.
- Nutritional yeast makes up the "cheesy" flavor. It's a great pantry staple to keep on hand for all kinds of plant-based recipes (like vegan cashew cream cheese and even potato soup).
- Non-dairy milk: Unsweetened, unflavored soy milk is my go-to, but any non-dairy milk works. Try almond milk for a soy-free optional or oat milk for an even creamier result.
- Pasta: I use whole wheat rotini in this recipe, but you can also use elbows, shells, or any other small shape.
- Steamed broccoli: You can use fresh broccoli florets or frozen broccoli.
- Chickpeas: While cashews contribute a fair amount of protein to this dish, chickpeas help to fully balance the plate. If you don't have chickpeas on hand, you can use any other canned bean.
- Panko breadcrumbs add a nice crunchy topping to the bake. Leftover panko can be used in tofu cutlets or tofu nuggets.
- Vegan butter: Sticks or spread work here. You can also use coconut oil.
Step by step instructions
Before you begin: Start by soaking cashews in boiling hot water for 15 minutes. I usually use water boiled in the kettle for a quick process. Cover cashews with at least 1 inch of water.
Soaking cashews in hot water makes them easier to blend, especially if you don't have a high powered blender. You can also soak them in cool water overnight for the same result.
Step 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. While the cashews are soaking, cook pasta according to package instructions, until al dente.
Step 2. Steam broccoli. There are a few ways that you can do this. I place a medium-sized pot filled with one inch of water on the stove over medium-high heat. Place a steamer basket in the pot (this is the set that I use and love because all of the parts come together).
Once the water is boiling, cover with a lid and steam until the broccoli is al dente (crisp yet tender), about 2-3 minutes. You can tell it is ready because the broccoli is bright green and can be easily pierced with a fork.
Quicker option: Cook frozen broccoli in the microwave according to package instructions OR add broccoli to the pasta during the last 2-3 minutes of boiling.
Step 3. Make the cashew sauce. Drain water from the soaked cashews. Add cashew cheese sauce ingredients to a blender (this is the one that I use).
Blend on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Taste for seasonings and add extra liquid as needed for a smooth and pourable sauce.
Step 4. Lightly spray an 8x11 or 11x11-inch casserole dish (any similar size will work as long as the pasta fully covers the bottom. The one in the photo is 11x11).
Add cooked pasta, broccoli, and chickpeas. Cover with the cashew sauce. Stir with a spoon or spatula to combine.
Step 6. Melt ¼ cup vegan butter in a small dish in the microwave or on the stove over medium-low heat. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs and spices.
Step 7. Crumble the panko mixture on top of the assembled pasta bake. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F, until the panko breadcrumbs are crispy and the broccoli mac and cheese is completely warmed through.
Tips and variations
- Looking for a nut-free option? My coconut milk vegan mac n cheese sauce would go great in place of the cashew cheese sauce.
- Make it spicy: You can give the vegan cheese sauce a little heat by adding 1-2 chipotle peppers to the blender. This will also give a smoky flavor!
- Different veggies: This recipe works with a whole host of veggies. Try adding peas, carrots, peppers, etc.
Yes, you can make the cheese sauce in a regular blender. You will likely need to blend the sauce for longer to fully break down the cashews. You can also use a food processor (this is my food processor).
Yes, to make this mac and cheese gluten-free just use gluten-free pasta in place of regular pasta and use an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend or corn starch in place of the all-purpose flour. If unable to find gluten-free panko bread crumbs you can use an equal amount of gluten-free breadcrumbs.
This recipe goes well on its own but is great with a side of garlic knots. It can also be enjoyed as a hearty side with your favorite protein.
Keep leftovers refrigerated in a closed container for 3-4 days. Reheat single servings in the microwave in 1-2 minutes. To reheat the entire pasta bake, cover with foil and bake at 325F until warmed through, about 15 minutes.
Yes, you can prep this recipe up to 24 hours in advance. Assemble the pasta bake, the cashew sauce and the panko breadcrumbs. Keep separate until ready to assemble. Add an extra 2-3 minutes to the bake time.
Looking for similar recipes?
Learn more about the magic of cashews in dairy-free cooking with this article on cashew cream. And these are a few of my favorite vegan dinner recipes:
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Vegan Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese Bake
- 1 cup raw unsalted cashews
- 8 ounces dry whole wheat rotini or preferred small pasta
- 1 pound fresh broccoli or ~1 large crowns
- 2 cups unsweetened soy milk or non-dairy milk of choice
- ⅓ cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup vegan butter
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon ground paprika
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Place cashews in a medium bowl. Cover with an inch of boiling water. Let sit at least 15 minutes before using.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions, until al dente.
- Remove the broccoli stem and chop broccoli into florets. Using your preferred method, steam broccoli for 2-3 minutes, until tender but not completely soft.
- To make the cashew sauce, start by draining water from the soaked cashews. To a a blender, add the drained cashews, soy milk, nutritional yeast, flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, turmeric and apple cider vinegar.
- Blend on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. It may take longer with depending on the strength of your blender. Taste for seasonings.
- Lightly oil an 8x11 or 11x11-inch casserole dish. Add cooked pasta, broccoli, and chickpeas. Cover with the cashew sauce and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Stir with a mixing spoon to combine.
- Melt ¼ cup vegan butter in a small bowl in the microwave or stove top. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs, paprika and cayenne pepper. Crumble this mixture on top of the assembled casserole.
- Bake at 350 degrees F on the middle oven rack for 15 minutes, or until the panko breadcrumbs are golden and the casserole is hot and bubbling.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy warm topped with additional freshly ground black pepper.
- Al dente pasta: You want the pasta to be fully cooked but not mushy. Use the shorter about of recommended time on the pasta instructions. For example, if the package says 8-10 minutes you'll want to cook the pasta for 8 minutes.
- Non-dairy milk: If you are soy-free, you substitute with cashew milk. Choose a non-dairy milk that is unsweetened and unflavored for best results.
- How to steam broccoli: There are a few ways to steam broccoli. I place a medium-sized pot filled with one inch of water on the stove over medium-high heat. Place a steamer basket in the pot (this is the set that I use and love because all of the parts come together). Cover with a lid and steam until the broccoli is al dente, about 2-3 minutes. You can tell it is ready because the broccoli is bright green and can be easily pierced with a fork. If you don't have a steamer basket, you can use a metal colander or sieve.
- Frozen broccoli: An equivalent amount of frozen broccoli can be used in place of fresh. Cook frozen broccoli until tender before adding to the casserole.
- To make gluten-free: Substitute the pasta for your favorite gluten-free pasta. An all-purpose gluten-free flour mix can be used in place of the regular all-purpose flour. If unable to find gluten-free Panko, a gluten-free brand of regular breadcrumbs will work.
- Leftovers: For best quality, keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.
Author's note: This recipe was originally shared October 2019. It was updated September 2021 with new photos, a video and more tips. The recipe remains the same.