Finally nailing this vegan mac and cheese sauce recipe changed my life. It’s the little things. 🙂
I used to love making homemade regular cheesy mac but hated the way I felt after eating it. Cut to a few years and lessons later, I can still enjoy the ultimate comfort food without the belly upset and mucus inducing results of consuming dairy.
This recipe came out of a series of testing and research on how to create a plant based sauce that was comforting, creamy, smooth but not too heavy and gluey. Thank you raw cashews.
This dish would be perfect with veggies and your favorite protein (tempeh, tofu and chickpeas are a few of mine!) and a slab of my homemade focaccia bread and a sprinkle of some vegan parmesan cheese! I’ve also used it alongside a red sauce in lasagna or stuffed shells. There’s more to the sauce than just mac and cheese!
The Essential Ingredients
Along with some other spices and accoutrements, I gathered a quick list of ingredients I recommend to have on hand if you want to achieve vegan mac and cheese sauce excellence at a moment’s notice.
We’re looking for a bit of tang, a salty richness and depth, and of course a creamy smooth texture. Here’s the crew:
Raw cashews (I buy mine in bulk online. If you want to go nut-free here, silken tofu is an excellent replacement)
lemon juice (if you have a lemon allergy, substitute lime juice or more apple cider vinegar)
The basic how to of this recipe (you know it’s my favorite!) is to throw everything in a blender and blend until smooth. That’s about it. Easy peasy.
What if I don’t have a magical Vitamix Blender?
My Vitamix was the greatest purchase I’ve ever made in the history of my healthy at home cooking pursuits. This is true. I’m AMAZED at the power and ability to transform just about anything I throw in there into silky smooth deliciousness. It’s magic. However, for YEARS before I got one, I rocked a $3 yard sale 1970’s blender I called Lady Kenmore. I loved her.
After a blade broke and the motor burned out, I used an immersion blender and a large stainless steel cup. I used this inexpensive combination to make cashew cream sauces, green smoothies and everything in between. It’s great to take with you if you’re traveling.
Are you allergic to onion? I was reading about an Indian spice called Asafoetida that has a very similar flavor as onion and garlic. Check it out!
Add a few fresh basil leaves or sun-dried tomatoes in the sauce and blend.
Sauté mushrooms and red pepper with some spices and few splashes of tamari for a topping.
Stir in some steamed broccoli florets. TIP: add the broccoli florets right to the boiling pasta water in the last THREE MINUTES of cooking, they’ll steam and cook to al dente perfection and can be strained in one step with the pasta.
Crumble tempeh and sauté in avocado oil, tamari + onion powder.
Roast up some butternut squash and stir in after adding the sauce!
No Cheese ever, what?!
I often hear from curious friends that cheese would be the most difficult thing to eliminate from their diets. I’m not going to disagree with you, but, there’s hope! I can honestly say that in my current plant-based lifestyle, I never feel like I’m sacrificing or missing out on anything. Mainly because I take the time to seek out delicious ideas that can be just as satisfying. THERE ARE PLENTY, I promise.
TWO THINGS really made it possible for me, in the event that you, you beautiful reader you, are also curious:
Learn about the AMAZING alternatives out there. Whether you go full on DIY like me or purchase non-dairy products from great brands like Miyokos or Violife; the plant-based resource world is tremendous online and in stores. Just be sure to stick to products that have QUALITY ingredients you can pronounce and recognize.
Experiencing how I FELT without dairy, really tuning into those improvements was a huge turning point for me. I noticed my belly flattening, regularity sure is nice, my cough / sinus issues improved, etc. I have PCD and bronchiectasis so avoiding dairy wasn’t AS much of a choice for me, it was necessary to breathe better and be able to perform athletically. I committed to the change and the differences are pretty remarkable. So, combined with the other motivations of environmental and humanitarian impact, I’ll simply never go back for my health’s sake. I like being able to run fast and often without wheezing. 🙂
Soaking raw cashews to prepare for making vegan mac and cheese or other creamy cashew-based goodies is super easy. I have two go-to methods: OVERNIGHT or QUICK.
If you have a high powered blender, soaking isn’t absolutely necessary but I always recommend it. The goal is to hydrate and soften the nuts up for the creamiest sauce possible.
OVERNIGHT: Place 1 cup of raw cashews in a large bowl. Cover with water (at least 2 inches above cashews). Soak overnight.
QUICK: Place 1 cup of cashews in a large heat-safe bowl. Pour boiling water over the cashews, at least an inch above the cashews. Let soak until the water cools, about 30 minutes tops.
Creamy and satisfying vegan mac and cheese sauce recipe made with simple whole-food plant-based ingredients.
1 cup silken tofu (about half a package)
1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight or in hot water for 15–30 minutes, drained
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
1/3 cup soy milk
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup hemp seeds (optional)
2 cloves garlic
1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Better than Boullion veggie
1 tsp. Salt (you may add more after blending too)
1 tsp. Onion Powder
1/2 tsp. of each: Garlic Powder, Pepper, Chili Powder
1/4 tsp. paprika for a bit of color
Throw everything in a blender. Blend until smooth, about 20 seconds.
Taste test. Add a bit of extra soy milk to bring to desired consistency. It shouldn’t be too thick. Add salt & pepper as needed.
Cook your favorite pasta (or pasta alternative!). We use whatever we have on hand, typically whole wheat elbows or spaghetti. Drain. Stir cheese sauce into warm noodles and serve. Add toppings (veggies + protein) if you’d like!
We’ve made this vegan mac and cheese sauce served over spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles as well which are great gluten-free options.
When reheating the next day, mix in a few splashes of soy milk to help rehydrate and bring back that delicious creamy texture!
Different variations of nut butter sauces and dressings make an appearance every single week in my plant-based meal prep. They’re simple to make and super versatile.
Combining whole food ingredients you can pronounce and stand by to create nut (or seed!) butter sauces at home have a couple key benefits.
Make more for less than the cost of buying pre-made processed options at the store.
Maintain full control of the ingredients and flavors to keep things as healthy and nutritious as YOU want.
Keep things simple and free of additives, gums, preservatives, etc.
I use nut butter sauces to dress salads, drizzle over roasted vegetables, in bean and rice bowls, or as a dipping sauce. They basically make every food a little more interesting and add an additional bit of protein too!
I rarely measure ingredients with precision, everything is heaping this or sorta kinda that. Unless you throw in 12 cloves of garlic instead of one or two, or 3 tbs. of cayenne instead of 1/2 tsp. — you really CAN’T MESS THIS UP.
I love recipes that involve “throw all the ingredients in and blend until smooth” as a step. This is the case with nut butter sauces and dressings. I basically throw it all in my Vitamix, blend it up, taste, adjust and I’m done.
Side note: I still made alllll the homemade sauces and dressings while we traveled full time in the bus too, sans Vitamix. I had my trusty $20 hand blender (immersion blender) and stainless steel smoothie cup by my side instead. They were a magical duo. But I do appreciate the upgrade to a blender.
Use whatever you have at home!
BASIC ELEMENTS OF A GOOD NUT BUTTER SAUCE
There’s a handful of basic categories of ingredients that come together to make a nut butter sauce. Take the recipe I share below for example: nut butter (duh.), spices (ginger + cayenne), sweet (maple), tangy/savory (tamari + vinegar), oil (sesame), and a bit of acid (lime juice).
All of these things can be easily swapped with another ingredient in the same category to make a completely different tasty dressing/sauce.
It’s more important to learn the basic concepts and building blocks behind an element of cooking rather than worrying too much about strictly adhering to one specific recipe or LOOK.
Sometimes I feel like the overly perfected and expertly plated recipes featured on social media or in major magazines can be a little defeating and unapproachable! Give me something REAL I can make EVERY WEEK for cheap and feel good about without spending 4.5 hours to make it. 🙂 Using obscure and unapproachable ingredients and methods isn’t a lifestyle you can stick with, it’s a special occasion kind of thing.
This flexibility and understanding exercises our eye and taste buds to cook intuitively with what we have on hand. That’s both more convenient and more fun because you really CAN make delicious stuff happen with random things in your house right now. What can i do with what I currently have? Well, if you’re stocked with spices and staple pantry items, you’re off to a good start.
ESSENTIALS ON HAND
When you dig into the HOW, you can create 10+ nut (or seed!) butter sauces and dressings on a whim.
Over time you will get to know the key pantry and ingredient staples to have on hand for meal prep greatness.
Here is a quick list of 10 things I use constantly and always have on hand:
Unsweetened organic soy milk
Better than Boullion Vegetable
Garlic & onions (they go in everyyyyythiiiingggg)
Apple cider vinegar
Different types of dry rice, beans and lentils
Lots of fresh produce (greens, lemons, limes, carrots, peppers, kale, spinach, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, etc. etc.)
Think about what your essentials are. Sometimes having a bit of an outline and routine to your weekly meals helps to keep things on a healthier track. You’re not wondering WHAT to buy because the list rarely changes. You know you can make a long list of delicious things with the same core ingredients + different sauces + different spices.
I hope this sparks some ideas for how you can create some sauces in your kitchen!
INGREDIENT SWAP TALK
Ohhhh the possibilities. Here is a list of ingredients in my favorite peanut sauce (below) along with a few ideas of swaps you can make to switch up the flavor profile of the nut butter sauce you’re dreaming up.
PEANUT BUTTER – almond butter or tahini or omit for a lighter feel of a dressing.
GARLIC – fresh minced ginger (tasty with apple cider vinegar and tahini) or 1 tsp. dijon mustard (great to pair with balsamic)
RICE VINEGAR – apple cider vinegar, balsamic or omit the vinegar and add more liquid via water or soy milk for a milder flavor, less tang.
SESAME OIL – olive oil or avocado oil
TAMARI – coconut aminos (sweeter, LOVE this with almond butter, lime juice and some soy milk) or liquid aminos (milder flavor)
MAPLE SYRUP – agave (I like using a liquid sweetener in dressings but coconut sugar works too, just shake/blend it well)
LIME JUICE – lemon or orange juice (this piece really adds something FRESH, orange juice is delicious with ginger and sesame)
GINGER & CAYENNE – curry powder + onion powder (sometimes I go a bit crazy in the spice department but I’ve yet to go wrong. If you have the right core spices at hand, just pick and play.)
Here’s a base nut butter sauce recipe idea to start adjusting and swapping ingredients. Please, as always, feel free to reach out to me on FB messenger or email if you have any questions. I’m always happy to help.
This is a delicious plant-based peanut sauce recipe (quite possibly my favorite variation yet) that can be used as a dressing, dip or drizzle on salads, roasted vegetables, in a wrap, on pasta, you name it. It makes everything it touches a bit more interesting.
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs. tamari
3 tbs. rice vinegar
2 tbs. sesame oil
2 tbs. maple syrup
2 tsp. lime juice (1/2 a lime)
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional but tasty)
2–4 tbs. water (start with 2 tbs.)
Throw all the ingredients in a blender and blend it up until smooth.
Check consistency. Add 1-2 tbs. more water to thin it out if needed.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. We usually eat ours within a day or two because it’s so good. Juuuuust a warning.
My lentil balls and whole wheat penne recipe is one of my go-to dishes for plant-based meal prep. It’s inexpensive, delicious and full of healthy energy via legumes, whole grains and veggies. It also makes A LOT of servings too, about 6 – 8.
Feel free to use a jarred sauce to make this even quicker (just check ingredients, keep it simple!). Throw in some frozen peas to add a few more grams of plant based protein. ENJOY!
When I first went plant-based 11 years ago I didn’t really understand the importance of combining a variety of whole foods in your daily diet for sustained energy, health and stamina.
I just ate A LOT of plain pasta on pasta on pasta. 🙂
I’ve learned a thing or two since then but yes, I still eat (and love!) pasta a couple times a week, just with a few easy adjustments.
I traded in processed white pasta for organic, non-GMO whole wheat pasta (6g fiber + 7.5g protein per serving!).
I incorporate more veggies and additional protein sources to make things more substantial and balanced. Take this meal prep recipe as an example — three little lentil balls provide an additional 10g of protein to the dish!
I PLAY with spices and flavors. Stock up your spice rack and and start playing. Oh and onion powder and garlic powder go in just about everyyyything.
Pasta is a great inexpensive palette for healthy meal magic.
Especially if you’re active, you NEED carbs. Plant based diets inherently have a higher ratio of carbs and that’s okay. Just remember to level up and create BALANCE with servings of seasoned legumes, tofu, tempeh, seeds or nuts, and lots of roasted, steamed or sauteed vegetables. So many possibilities here.
Remember the goal to is to eat a variety of WHOLE FOODS. Minimize the processed junk as much as possible and you’ll be on the right track!
Cook the lentils. The ratio to remember is 2:1 water to lentils. Amp up the flavor with vegetable broth instead of boring water.
Prepare and bake the lentil balls, 400 degrees for 12 minutes, flip and bake for another 10 minutes. Easy peasy. I always double the recipe so that I have extra for other meals. They freeze really well!
While the lentil balls are baking, make the tomato sauce. I’ve used everything from all day family recipe style sauce to the glorious shortcut of a Classico organic jarred sauce. You do you! I shared a super quick and flavorful 20 minute sauce recipe for you here. Right in the middle! 🙂
While the sauce is cooking, prepare your pasta. That’s easy.
With a few minutes left to the pasta, steam some veggies, in this case I chose spinach, but feel free to use sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, roasted butternut squash, etc. — I just love incorporating some vegetable element with the whole grains and protein of this dish.
Throw it all together! If you’re serving it right away, let the lentil balls warm a bit in the red sauce to soak up even more flavor. If you’re packaging this for meal prep for the week, keep them separate so they don’t get mushy.
This high-protein, plant-based pasta dish features herbed tomato sauce, spinach + veggie packed lentil balls making it meal prep favorite of mine. I typically double the lentil ball recipe for an easy meal another week. Lentil ball sub sandwiches maybe, or a salad topper?! Yum.
SPICES: 4 tbs. fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried), 1 tsp. Italian seasoning, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. each garlic powder, pepper and onion powder.
HERBED TOMATO SAUCE
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 tbs. real maple syrup
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. each oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder, salt + pepper
1 bay leaf
1 16 oz. box of whole wheat pasta (100% whole wheat = 6g fiber, 7.5g protein per serving)
2 – 3 cups fresh spinach + 2 tbs. water
nutritional yeast and hemp seeds to sprinkle before serving (optional)
Prepare Lentil Balls:
Rinse and drain the lentils. Put the lentils and broth together in a medium saucepan and cover. Heat to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium-low, simmer and cook for 20 minutes until tender and all water is absorbed.
While lentils are cooking…
Prepare “flax eggs” — in a small bowl, combine ground flax seed + 1/4 c water, set aside.
Caramelize onions — Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium, add onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower heat, cover and cook until golden and caramelized, another 10 – 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked lentils, caramelized onion, oats, carrots, garlic, tomato paste, flax eggs, and spices. Mix really well until combined.
Scoop portions of the mixture into balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Each batch should make around 16-20. I find it helpful to use a cookie scoop. I also put a little olive oil on my hands to keep it from sticking too much when shaping.
Bake for 12 minutes, remove the pan, flip, and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
Prepare the Sauce, Pasta & Spinach
While the lentil balls are baking… prepare the sauce!
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and follow the same procedure to caramelize — cook for 5 minutes, lower heat, cover and cook for another 10 minutes until golden.
Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and spices to the skillet, stir to combine. Increase heat to medium high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf before serving!
While the sauce is cooking, cook your pasta according to the instructions on the box. I chose penne, but go with your favorite pasta shape!
(OPTIONAL STEP) Once the sauce is cooked, carefully add the baked lentil balls to the sauce. Spoon some sauce on top to coat. Cover the skillet for a few minutes to heat the balls through on low then this is ready to rock! NOTE: If you’re not serving this right away, skip this step like I did in the photos for meal prep and keep the balls separate so they don’t get soggy.
Last but not least, prepare the spinach. Feel free to sub other roasted or sauteed veggies here.
Add spinach and 2 tbs. water to a small skillet over medium heat. Cover and wilt, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes tops. You want to keep that vibrant green color!
Plate your pasta, add the sauce, top with 3 lentil balls and a bit of spinach. Sprinkle some nooch and hemp seeds if desired.
Always always always taste throughout the cooking process and add a bit more salt and pepper when needed. Add some more spices, mix it up, adjust to your taste, this recipe isn’t meant to be static, play with it!
The lentil balls are fairly soft but should hold together nicely once baked.
Feel free to add your favorite sauteed or roasted veggies to this dish for even more dynamic flavors and variations. I’ve added sauteed sliced mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers, etc. — there’s no going wrong!
Keywords: meal prep, vegan, plant-based, savory, pasta
I started making homemade focaccia bread years ago with the goal to create a recipe/method that was simple, forgiving and delicious.
This is it. You don’t need years of practice or fancy tools. You don’t need hours and hours of time in the kitchen. This focaccia bread takes about 20 minutes of active time, 1-2 hours of resting time and 25 minutes or so in the oven.
What is Focaccia Bread?
Focaccia is a yeasted flat bread born on the shores of the Mediterranean. The original recipe likely originated with the Etruscans or Ancient Greeks.
It’s considered a precursor of modern pizza. Yum.
Among challah (which can be made vegan!) and ciabatta, it’s one of my very favorite breads.
Focaccia is rich in olive oil and herbs and often topped with delicious things like caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes and olives.
Focaccia is light and airy inside, golden and crispy on the outside when fresh from the oven. It has an open structure similar to ciabatta, but with a softer, pillowy chew.
Keys to a Great Focaccia Bread:
Strong or high gluten flour — When I first started making focaccia, I used all-purpose flour. I’ve had MUCH better results since switching to bread flour. The higher protein content provides a more stable structure and a chewier texture/bite.
What kind of bread flour should I use?! I love King Arthur Flour, personally, since they’re New England born and their non-organic products are all non-GMO.
Active Dry Yeast — Make sure your active dry yeast hasn’t been sitting in the cabinet for years, that won’t work. 🙂 I’m a fan of buying yeast in bulk since I bake bread weekly and it’s cheaper. Store yeast in an airtight container in the fridge after opening.
High hydration — Focaccia dough is more on the slack (wet) side than your standard sandwich bread or whole wheat loaf. Don’t worry! The classic sessions of kneading by hand don’t really happen here. Time saver! I simply mix for a few minutes in a large bowl with a rubber spatula.
Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil — We want all the rich flavors here. There’s a few tbsp. in the focaccia dough and we drizzle more on top before baking. It’s all essential to the finished product! Don’t skimp with over filtered “light flavor” olive oils and blends.
Simple Homemade Bread Baking
Bread in it’s simplest form is flour, yeast, water and a touch of salt.
The grocery store bread aisle tells a much different story; a long, confusing one with added sugars, preservatives and ingredients we can’t quite pronounce.
But who has time to make bread?! We all do! It’s all about simplifying the method.
Focaccia is a good gateway to a life of homemade bread baking! You could also try making my family’s traditional French Acadian Ployes! which is in the flatbread family too. Flatbreads are easy peasy.
I’ve been experimenting with that foundation for years and can attest that you don’t need hours of hands on time to bake delicious bread! Your bread!
It’s all about making the method work for you, don’t settle for less. My mother in law swears by her bread machine and I agree it’s a pretty amazing option too. It provides the same limited ingredient fresh bread consistently with minimal hands on time! Win win.
Whatever method you choose, trust that homemade bread can fit into your lifestyle and become a healthy habit.
Focaccia is versatile, simple and delicious
Add my vegan basil pesto and veggies to make a pizza, slice in half and build a sandwich, serve alongside olives and hummus for a tasty appetizer. It’s all good.
You don’t need any fancy tools to bake this at home. Just make sure you have a quality sheet pan for baking and a large enough bowl for mixing and proving.
I’ve made several tweaks and made hundreds of loaves over the years. Be on the lookout for a golden top, bottom and sides with an open-textured interior, large holes, soft and chewy bite.
Basic Focaccia Method
The ingredients list is so simple: bread flour, water, yeast, salt, olive oil, herbs/spices of your choice. Let’s do this!
Mix the yeast and warm water in a large bowl until combined. Let sit for five minutes. The yeast will get foamy. I forgot to take a picture after the yeast got foamy. Oops.
Let’s pretend it’s all foamy on top:
Add three cups of flour + 2 tsp. salt. Mix for a couple minutes to wake that gluten up. We’re mixing with a rubber spatula in lieu of kneading. It’s a quicker, cleaner and easier process.
Add the rest of the flour (+1/2 cup or so) and olive oil. Mix for another minute. The dough should be slack but still come together/retain it’s shape.
Cover the bowl with a dinner plate and let rise for 1-2 hours.
Shape into loaf or rolls, place on olive oiled cookie sheet. Herb & oil it up and let it sit while the oven preheats to 425 degrees.
I make one loaf of focaccia every single week, at least one because I share it so much, and you can too. It’s a very forgiving method!
Try shaping them into rolls!
I am so excited to share what I consider to be the best and simplest focaccia bread recipe.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees and bake until golden. 20 – 25 minutes. Done!
QUICK TIP: Ingredient Swap – Coconut Sugar
My favorite part of cooking plant-based is finding ways to make DELICIOUS, satisfying food that you feel great after eating. Simple ingredient swaps make all the difference.
One of my FAVORITE swaps, featured in this recipe is coconut sugar instead of white, granulated sugar. Swap it 1:1 in baking. Among other pros, coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index (35) compared to white sugar (65), which means it won’t spike your blood sugar as easily. Still use moderation, of course! 🙂
TIP:Reduce your use and consumption of highly processed, white granulated sugar; don’t keep it in your house. Don’t buy it. Pretend it doesn’t exist on the grocery shelves. It sneaks it’s way into a lot of processed foods, so check labels! Baby steps.
The most time consuming part of this recipe is making the sesame orange sauce and even that is pretty simple, so don’t worry!
Making a sauce from scratch means that you know and can control exactly what ingredients go into it!
Make the sesame orange sauce ahead of time and store it it a ball jar in the fridge! You could definitely use this sauce for other dishes as well.
It’s really important to remove the excess batter before baking the cauliflower bites.
The first time I made it I battered the cauliflower and transferred them right to the pan with batter kind of pooling around the florets. It was still SO TASTY, but everything sort of stuck together and I knew it could be improved.
MEAG TIP: I batter the cauliflower in batches and set it on a cooling rack with a sheet of parchment paper underneath (to keep things neat). Give it a minute and they can head on over to the cookie sheet and into the oven to bake to perfection!
You could try using broccoli with this same method! I plan to. If you do, please let me know how it goes! Let’s dive into the recipe! Please let me know if you have any questions at all.
In a large bowl, whisk together all batter ingredients.
Batter & Bake
Dredge the cauliflower florets in the batter bowl in a few batches to make it easier. I got in there with my hands, shook the initial excess batter off into the same bowl first and transferred them to sit on the cooling rack to remove a bit more excess batter. If you leave too much batter on it kind of glues the florets together and isn’t as pretty.
Transfer the coated cauliflower from the cooling rack to the cookie sheet. Spread everything out evenly in a single layer.
BAKE at 425 degrees for 25 minutes until golden and sizzly. Test a piece, depending on how thick the batter is, they may need a few more minutes.
Let the cauliflower cool for a few minutes.
Toss the cauliflower with the tasty orange sauce to coat. I found it easier to do this in a large bowl vs. directly on the baking sheet. It’s up to you.
Transfer the sauced wings to your serving dish/plate.
Sprinkle with 1 tbs. SESAME SEEDS & minced fresh parsley if you want to be fancy!
Adapting a traditional pesto recipe to be vegan-friendly is pretty simple, we just need to find a substitute for parmesan cheese! Typically you make a vegan parmesan cheese with raw cashews but I’m loving the nutty, less sweet hemp hearts version I made here.
Start to finish you’re investing about 15 minutes of your time in exchange for yummy dinner prep, a tasty vegan sprinkle cheese alternative and bragging rights. “LOOK WHAT I MADE!”
I also argue that this pesto is just as delicious if not tastier than the traditional pesto. A bunch of fresh aromatic basil, garlicky rich olive oily goodness with notes of a nutty, cheesy guilt-free parmesan, served over ANYTHING — YES. Let’s do this. I LOVE PESTO.
I can’t count how many variations of this weekly dinner staple of ours I’ve made since my first vegan pesto rendition a few years ago. There are no rules! Sometimes I use different nuts (walnuts, sunflower seeds). Sometimes I add leafy greens or avocado, different spices (sage, oregano, smoked paprika), you name it, I’ve tried it. It’s still vegan pesto at it’s finest. I’ll get into variations later…
Our Amazon shop has a handful of our essential kitchen tools/ingredients I reference below. Thanks in advance for reading & for your support of our blog!
Basic Vegan Pesto Method
This section is so short. Get this — I add all the pesto ingredients in my stainless steel smoothie cup and mix it up with my immersion blender for 30 seconds or so until combined. Done. If you have a blender, you can use that. If you have a Vitamix, I salute you. Can I have it? No? That’s okay I guess… I really do love the simplicity and portability of an immersion blender for now.
Keep Things Simple & Versatile
I’m a big fan of recipes that involve throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl or blender and mixing it up into tasty things really fast. I’ll try to keep sharing versatile recipes you can incorporate into your day to day to keep healthy plant-based meal prep a sustainable venture.
PRO SAUCE TIP — Mix the finished pesto with vegenaise in a 2:1 ratio (2 parts vegenaise, 1 part pesto) in a small glass jar. BOOM — VEGAN PESTO MAYO FOR SANDWICHES! You’re welcome.
Do I have to serve this with Pasta? What if I eat Gluten-Free?
NO worries. Endless possibilities! I’ve served this pesto over traditional pasta, gluten free pasta, roasted spaghetti squash, zoodles, a veggie and rice bowl (rice, beans, sautéed veggies), mixed with some vegenaise and slathered on a marinated tempeh sandwich — you name it. The world is your pesto oyster.
A Quick Round of Applause for Nuts
I recently read an article about plant based diets in Eating Well’s “What to Eat for Life” special edition. There were a lot of golden tidbits of research in there but one piece was that nuts are one of the key elements that makes a plant-based diet so beneficial. Nuts and legumes contain little saturated fat and are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats which have been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol.
Doesn’t Pesto have to have pine nuts?! Why are you so un-fancy, Meag?!
No. You don’t need to use pine nuts. They’re tasty, sure, but dang they’re pricy. More power to you if you want to spring for it but other nuts are so much more versatile and useful to have on hand. They can be used for a million other recipes and snacks. So stock your pantry, or tiny cabinet if you live in a bus like us with a variety of nuts!
I try to purchase in larger quantities online for a slightly cheaper per pound price. My favorites are raw cashews, raw walnuts, raw almonds and pecans for the sweet treats. I loooove pecans + dark chocolate + coconut together. Recipe for another day…
Tell me more about that Vegan Hemp Heart Parmesan Cheese Recipe?!
I included the recipe for that magical concoction below too. It features nutritional yeast (a deactivated yeast LOADED with vitamin B; it has a nutty, cheesy flavor), spices, dried onion and hemp hearts — YUM.
It couldn’t be easier to make, plus it involves ART sort of! All the ingredients are mixed up sand art style (where you at 90’s kids?!) in a 24 oz. ball jar. I prefer the tall 1 1/2 pint size ball jars, love ’em. They’re a top 10 must-have item in our bus kitchen and life in general. We make our overnight oats, drink water and coffee, store fresh food, dried spice mixes, leftovers, sauces — basically everything happens in ball jars on this bus. I digress…
I typically make a big batch of my vegan hemp heart parmesan cheese and keep refilling a small shaker jar as needed, so… often. IT GOES ON EVERYTHING, people. EVERYTHING! 🙂
What are Hemp Hearts (Seeds) and why do you like them so much?
Hemp hearts (or seeds) are the seeds of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa. Yes, they are from the same species as cannabis (marijuana) but they’re a different variety. They contain only small trace amounts of THC (less than 1%).
Hemp hearts are a staple in our plant-based kitchen because they have a delicious nutty flavor and are considered a complete protein. They are a source of all nine of the essential amino acids which is REALLY great news for vegans since we don’t consume animal/dairy products.
Hemp hearts are also rich in essential fatty acids (3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3).
They can be sprinkled on or added to so many dishes. They’re not a main source of protein by any means but they’re a welcomed, healthy addition!
Feel free to adjust this Pesto Recipe!
I full on encourage you to add, subtract and adjust my vegan pesto recipe to your heart’s content as I do on a regular basis with zero shame. Don’t let the recipe bind you. It’s meant to be a base structure/ratio to play with; also proof that pesto is wicked easy to make at home.
Wild & Free Style of Cooking
If I’ve cooked a meal for you, you know my style is pretty wild and free. I’m always up to try different flavor combinations and have a habit of making the same dish but in a million different ways.
If I’m going to share my recipes I need to pepper in a bit of empowerment around cooking skills in general because that’s where the magic happens — outside the recipe!
Meag Tip: Focus on mastering 3-5 staple meals/flavors. Rather than attempting to learn 100 recipes (not sustainable), learn five foundational meals you can build off of and get creative with.
Start with pesto night!
Pesto is a favorite go-to meal for me because you can modify and amplify flavors and ingredients in so many ways. It works for so many diets and it never gets old. You want to look forward to what’s on the dinner menu, crave it and be thankful for it’s healthy benefits as well.
Vegan Pesto Recipe Possibilities:
CREAMY PESTO VARIATION: Add a half cup of unsweetened regular soy or almond milk (reduce olive oil to 1/2 cup). This one reminds me of those Pasta Roni sides I used to eat entire boxes of after school when I was 14. SO GOOD but SO BAD. Not this! 🙂
GREENEST GREEN VARIATION: Sneak in A BUNCH of healthy, dark leafy greens in this vegan pesto base, for ex: add a handful of organic baby spinach, kale or arugula. The kids won’t know the difference.
AVOCADO VARIATION: Add an avocado (reduce the olive oil here since avos have their own oily richness). Pack in those good fats! This one won’t last as long (1-2 days) in the fridge after blending it up though because of the avocado.
TUSCAN VARIATION: Add a 4-6 sun-dried tomatoes and eight kalamata olives. One of my personal favorites…
I hope you enjoy these simple plant-based eating ideas and recipes and please make them often! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions! Tag us on Instagram @wilddrivelife when you create some of these delicious things at home!
Sending love to all. Treat your body and mind well today and always.
My quick & easy non-dairy parmesan cheese mix is a delicious topping on so many dishes and perfect for vegan pesto. With just a few ingredients it doesn’t take long to make either. I make a big batch in a ball jar and keep refilling a small spice jar with a shaker top as needed. Easy peasy.
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes (I call it nooch :))
3/4 cup hemp hearts (seeds) (look for non-gmo)
1/4 cup dried minced onion
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Mix all ingredients in a ball jar sand art style.
Screw cover on and shake!
Store in the ball jar at room temperature or fill up a small spice jar with a shaker top to make serving easier.
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