Vegan, Gluten Free Mac n’ Cheese with Peas

An overhead shot of vegan, gluten free mac n' cheese with green peas.

This is a fast and comforting mac n’ cheese with peas, which just so happens to be both vegan and gluten free!

We all have a collection of recipes that we associate with comfort and familiarity. They usually date back to childhood. My memory of comfort food growing up is definitely complicated by my eating disorder history, but I do have a list of favorites. They include my mom’s grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, which I’ve done by best to make vegan. Avgolemono. My grandmother’s oven roasted potatoes and green beans in tomato sauce. And mac n’ cheese—definitely mac n’ cheese.

Like many kids, I relished mac n’ cheese from the box. When I first went vegan, I just assumed that this kind of mac was a thing of the past. Then, I realized that it’s not hard to make this classic comfort food dish without any dairy.

My quest for the perfect vegan mac n’ cheese

I’ve experimented with a many vegan mac n’ cheese dishes. Some of my trials have been more creative than others. I’ve made vegan mac with carrots and with roasted red peppers. I’ve tried thickening sauces with nuts, agar, roux, and beans. I have recipes for both baked and stovetop mac. I think it’s fun to add different herbs and seasonings.

But there’s something to be said for a simple, stovetop mac, right? Something that’s truly reminiscent of the boxed stuff that so many of us grew up with. The fact that stovetop mac is pretty easy to make sweetens the deal.

In this recipe, I add a little green to the mac n’ cheese with peas. In place of peas, you could certainly use chopped broccoli florets, chopped green beans, zucchini, or wilted spinach or kale. The idea is simply to add a little extra fiber and color to the dish.

My pick for a gluten-free, vegan pasta

This mac n’ cheese is plant-based, of course, but it’s also gluten free. There are so many gluten free pastas out there these days that it makes my head spin. But the one that I always end up returning to is from the Tinkyada brand. It comes in a number of shapes, but elbows are my pick for a mac n’ cheese!

If you’d like to add some protein to the dish, you can also use a bean/legume based pasta, like the Banza shells or Tolerant Foods elbows. And of course, if eating gluten free isn’t a priority for you, it’s fine to use regular pasta in the recipe instead.

Making vegan, gluten free mac n’ cheese with peas

I love that this recipe requires very little prep work: just blend the sauce, boil the pasta, add whatever steamed veggies you like, and mix. The only bit of foresight you need is to soak your cashews ahead of time.

I used to create mac n’ cheese with an all-cashew base, but over time I’ve come to love the thickness that results from adding beans as well. I also love the additional boost of protein and micronutrients that comes from blending legumes into the sauce. For those who are being mindful of fat, using a combination of beans and nuts can also be a good means of lowering fat content.

Needless to say, the miso and nutritional yeast combination creates that authentic, “cheesy” flavor, and I love the slight bit of heat and smokiness that cayenne and smoked paprika contribute.

A bowl of vegan, gluten free mac n' cheese, made with green peas.

An overhead shot of vegan, gluten free mac n' cheese with green peas.
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Easiest Vegan, Gluten Free Mac n’ Cheese + Peas

Author - Gena Hamshaw
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 2 hours and drained
  • 1/2 cup cooked cannellini, great northern, or navy beans
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons white miso (substitute brown or chickpea miso)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Dash cayenne
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup green peas, frozen and defrosted according to package instructions or fresh and blanched for 2 minutes
  • 12 ounces gluten free elbow or shell pasta (or another pasta of choice)

Instructions

  • First, make the pasta sauce. Place the cashews, beans, lemon juice, paprika, turmeric, miso, nutritional yeast, garlic, cayenne, and water into a blender or a food processor and blend/process until totally smooth. The sauce should yield about 1 1/2 cups. Set it aside until you're ready to use it.
  • Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta. Cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until the pasta is tender, using the package instructions to help inform cooking time.
  • Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the cooked peas. Add the sauce and fold everything together gently, until the pasta dish is creamy and evenly coated. Adjust seasoning to taste. You may not need to use all of the sauce -- if you have a few tablespoons leftover, you can reserve them as a dip or a dressing for a salad or a grain bowl, or you can use them to top leftovers. I usually use the whole batch, but sometimes I end up having a small amount leftover.
  • Divide the mac n' cheese onto four plates or bowls and serve. Leftovers will keep for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge.

A sideways shot of vegan mac n' cheese, featuring the addition of green peas.

And that’s it. Such a simple, yet delicious meal.

Yet more stovetop mac add-ins

If a green vegetable isn’t what you’re craving, there are other fun add-in options for the recipe. Here are some ideas:

  1. Sautéed mushrooms
  2. Cubed and roasted butternut squash
  3. Caramelized onions
  4. Chickpeas or white beans
  5. Burst grape or cherry tomatoes (you can also use the garlicky roasted tomatoes from this recipe)

You could also sprinkle some hemp seeds or toasted sunflower seeds on top of your mac n’ cheese. If not, some of my hempesan or walnut herb parmesan will add both texture and flavor!

On my last post, I was asked about creating more recipes that are friendly and safe for kids with multiple allergies. The cashews in this recipe could be replaced by using 1 full cup of beans instead, or by using hemp seeds or sunflower seeds, if you have a child who’s allergic to tree nuts but can tolerate seeds. Using chickpea miso makes it naturally soy free, too.

No matter what modification you choose, I hope that it’ll be comforting and tasty. I wish everyone a great start to the weekend, and I’ll be back for weekend reading on Sunday.

xo

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    19 Comments
  1. I adore mac n’ cheese. I tried so many terrible vegan recipes for mac n’ cheese when I first started being vegan that I gave up hope for quite a while. They just didn’t taste like cheese to me at all. Then I stumbled upon the Veg News Vegan Mac N’ Cheese, and my whole life changed! I’ve made that one countless times, and I love the smoked paprika and cashew combination.

    This recipe looks just as delicious and I love the addition of peas! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Oh goodness yes! I love mac n’ cheeze. It’s tied with pizza as my all time favourite foods. I love the beans in the sauce – it would make it so nice & thick and pack a little more protein in. Yum =)

  3. Gina this looks delicious (as always)! And lighter too! Which is what I always want in a mac n cheese, as it always sounds good, but it’s so heavy I get deterred from making it. I think I found my compromise though, thanks to you. 🙂 P.S. I am so into peas right now, I keep adding them into everything I can. So you using peas makes me that much happier.

  4. Mac n cheese definitely makes it to my list of favorite comfort food as well! I love the fact that we can tweak it a bit to make it in this case – vegan and gluten free! The peas surely add more texture and I like the color contrast, too!

  5. I dislike peas – its a texture thing – but the brocolli and/or mushroom substitutions, or perhaps a more seasonal substitute, such as asparagas sound great. I also like the idea of blending beans and cashews, as I find many of your raw food inspired nut-heavy recipes just too fatty/sleep inducing esp. in the summer months.

  6. This recipe sounds delicious! I am glad you made it gluten free. Being vegan is easy, but gluten free can be a challenge sometimes. I won your book awhile back and love it. I recommended it on one of my posts for people who want to add more raw foods into their diets.

  7. This sounds perfect. These last couple of weeks have been super busy so I’ve been eating more pasta than usual. It’s just so easy for a weeknight tossed with some homemade (at the weekend!) pesto & veggies. I’ll have to try swapping in the pesto for this yummy-looking sauce.

  8. This looks fantastic 🙂
    Planning on making some today with broccoli florets and carrots!

  9. My husband and daughter are tree nut / peanut / sesame allergic too….so thank you for providing substitutions, and taking allergies into consideration!

  10. This looks fabulous Gena! I love peas in mac-n-cheez! When it gets back out of the triple digits here on the West Coast, I bet my kids and I would love to try a version of this! xo

    • Thanks, Maria! I hope things cool down enough for you to try it soon, and that your whole family will enjoy whatever spin on the recipe you create! <3