Why You’ll Love this Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipe
This cheese sauce is one of the first recipes I developed after going vegan! I’ve been making it for many years and I never get tired of it. I’ve also made it for many of my friends and family who have all loved it. This vegan cheese sauce recipe:
- Is made with wholesome, real ingredients like nuts, potato, spices and plant milk.
- Won’t make you feel heavy or weighed down like dairy or more processed vegan cheese.
- Comes together super quickly and easily!
- Is super versatile. Make vegan mac ‘n’ cheese, enchiladas, nachos, cheesy cauliflower bake, and more.
Vegan Cheese Sauce Ingredients
- Raw cashews. Soaked and blended smooth, these act as a thick and creamy base for the cheese sauce.
- Potato. Feel free to use any variety! These add bulk to the vegan cheese sauce and contribute a velvety texture.
- Carrot. This contributes color and a touch of sweetness. You can substitute in sweet potato or butternut squash, or omit it altogether if you’re in a pinch.
- Plant milk. Unsweetened plain cashew or oat milk are my preferred varieties since they tend to be creamy and have a neutral flavor (though this is brand-dependent). Feel free to use any kind of milk you like. In a pinch, you can even sub in plain water.
- Onion + garlic powder. These flavors make the vegan cheese sauce taste more savory and well-rounded.
- Paprika. Optional but recommended! If you like a touch of spice, add in a pinch of cayenne pepper too.
- Lemon juice. Adds a slight tanginess.
- Nutritional yeast. This contributes most of the cheesy flavor and umami to the vegan cheese sauce, so don’t skimp on it! You can purchase it at most regular grocery stores nowadays, or order it online.
- Vegan butter. If you want to make this recipe oil-free, you can omit this. I like to add a few tablespoons to contribute a cheesier flavor and to make the texture a little more luscious.
Tips for the Best Vegan Cheese Sauce
Pre-soak the cashews. I recommend at least 4 hours or overnight. If you forget, you can also boil them along with the potato and carrot. Pre-soaking softens the cashews and make them easier to blend smooth. If you don’t have a high-powered blender, I especially recommend soaking them on the longer side for the smoothest and creamiest vegan cheese sauce.
Reserve some of the potato cooking water. Depending on the size and starch content of your potato, the sauce may need a bit of extra liquid. I like to reserve the starchy cooking liquid from the potato and carrot to thin out the sauce as needed. (It’s similar to saving the pasta cooking water to help thicken and emulsify pasta sauce!)
Make the recipe yours. Give it a taste and feel free to adjust this vegan cheese sauce recipe to your preference! Add a little extra lemon juice if you want it tangier, a pinch of cayenne to give it a kick, and extra salt if needed. Feel free to doctor it up with your favorite herbs as well.
Ways to Serve Your Cheese Sauce
Make Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Just cook up your favorite pasta till it’s al dente. Combine the pasta and some of your cheese sauce in a pot over medium heat, stirring often until it’s warmed through.
This vegan cheese sauce recipe makes quite a lot (generally around 4 cups), so quite often we will use half of it to make mac and cheese, and turn the rest into a vegan nacho cheese dip!
Make Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce
Add chopped pickled jalapeños and/or diced green chilis (the kind from a can), along with a handful of diced tomatoes (or Rotel), and some ground cumin and chili powder. We also love to add a few shakes of whatever hot sauce we’re currently loving. We top it with fresh chopped cilantro and a pinch of smoked paprika.
Bring a batch of this vegan nacho cheese sauce with tortilla chips to your next get-together. Or assemble a big platter of nachos — add vegan taco crumbles, chopped black olives, pico de gallo, fresh homemade guacamole, and crisp shredded lettuce. This also makes a delicious addition to 7 layer dip if you’re in need of a crowd-pleasing game day snack.
Can You Make this Vegan Cheese Sauce Without Cashews?
While cashews are my personal go-to for most creamy vegan sauces and dips, I understand that not everyone can eat cashews, whether due to allergies or simple preferences. Here are a few potential substitutions for this vegan cheese sauce recipe. Please note that all of them will impact either the texture or flavor in some way.
Substitute an equivalent volume of raw sunflower seeds for the cashews for a nut-free vegan cheese sauce that is still thick and creamy. You only need to soak sunflower seeds for 30 minutes since they’re so small. They don’t have quite as neutral a flavor as raw cashews, so you will pick up a slightly nutty flavor in your cheese sauce.
Soft or silken tofu
You can substitute in about 12 oz of soft or silken tofu for the soaked cashews. Depending on the brand and level of firmness of your silken tofu, you may need to tweak the amount of liquid you add to the vegan cheese sauce when blending. I recommend starting with just 1/2 cup each of the water and milk, and adding more as needed to achieve your perfect texture.
The vegan cheese sauce will feel a little less rich on the tongue if you make this substitution, since tofu is relatively low in fat and not as creamy as nuts or seeds. If you like, you can increase the amount of vegan butter in the recipe to bring back some of that rich and creamy mouthfeel.
Personally I do not enjoy substituting in other varieties of nuts for cashews in creamy vegan sauces. In my opinion, raw cashews have the most neutral flavor and are easiest to blend to a velvety smooth consistency.
You can try subbing in raw soaked almonds, but you would need to remove their skins after soaking, which can be a lot of work. I also find that blended almonds still have a slightly gritty texture that I don’t love in sauces. Macadamia nuts are an option, but they are quite pricey so I prefer to save them for recipes where their delicious unique flavor won’t be obscured by heavy spices like in this recipe.
For more information about this recipe, check out the video on YouTube!
More Classic Vegan Recipes
Vegan Cheese Sauce
- small pot
- high powered blender
- 1 cup raw cashews soaked overnight or boiled for 10 minutes
- 1 small potato peeled and cubed
- 1 medium carrot peeled and chopped
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup unsweetened plain plant milk
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- 1 teaspoon salt or more to preference
For nacho cheese sauce
- 1 cup prepared vegan cheese sauce
- 1/4 cup jalapeño nacho slices coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 cup diced tomatoes or rotel
- couple dashes your favorite hot sauce
- pinch smoked paprika (optional, to sprinkle on top)
- chopped cilantro (optional, to garnish)
- chopped black olives (optional, to garnish)
- Cover potatoes and carrots with water in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender. (If you haven't soaked your cashews yet, you can also boil them in the same saucepan at this time.)
- Drain potatoes and carrots and add to a blender with remaining ingredients. Reserve the starchy cooking water to thin out your sauce if needed.
- Blend until completely smooth, scraping down sides of blender with a spatula as needed. Depending on how starchy your potato is, you may need to add a little extra water to thin out the sauce. Add some of the reserved cooking water, a few tablespoons at a time, blending between additions until your perfect consistency is achieved.
To make vegan mac n cheese
- Cook your pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and add back into the pot. Pour in your desired amount of vegan cheese sauce and heat over medium, stirring often, until warmed through.
To make vegan nacho cheese sauce
- Add chopped pickled jalapeños, diced tomatoes, cumin, and smoked paprika to cheese sauce. If you like, you can warm it on the stove in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often.
- Top with fresh chopped cilantro and black olives if desired. Sprinkle on smoked paprika. Enjoy as a dip with chips or make a platter of delicious vegan nachos or 7 layer dip.