This vegan butternut squash mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food recipe made healthier and comes together in just 30 minutes. It’s so creamy and delicious, no one will ever guess it’s packed with veggies!
This vegan butternut squash mac and cheese was inspired by my vegan mac and cheese recipe, so if you’ve tried that one you’re going to love this recipe! I wanted to use that recipe as a base but create a more fall-inspired mac and cheese using butternut squash in the sauce. And let me tell ya, the subtle sweetness from the squash and creaminess from the cashews seriously makes for the best vegan cheese sauce. I can’t wait for you to try this one!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
There’s no butter or cheese – it’s plant-based comfort food at its finest!
It’s packed with hidden veggies and has more nutrients than traditional mac and cheese.
After your cashews have soaked and your butternut squash has softened this recipe comes together in a matter of minutes!
It’s guaranteed to be a hit with the whole family – kiddos and adults will love the creamy sauce.
shell pasta – I went with shell pasta instead of macaroni elbows for this recipe as it does a great job at holding the creamy sauce, but you can use any pasta of choice.
butternut squash – the star ingredient for the sauce! Look for a squash that is heavy for its size, has smooth, firm skin without many cuts or bruising. Butternut squash is a vegetable that’s packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals while also being low in calories.
yellow onion and garlic – adds a ton of delicious savory flavor to the sauce.
unsweetened almond milk – I prefer unsweetened almond milk for this recipe, but any milk will work. Just make sure you’re using unsweetened milk! If you don’t have milk on hand vegetable broth would be a good substitute.
raw cashews – this is what makes the sauce thick and creamy! You’ll soak the cashews for a few hours (or overnight) and then blend until smooth with the rest of the sauce ingredients.
nutritional yeast – this nutrient-packed ingredient gives the sauce a “cheesy” flavor without any actual cheese! It’s slightly nutty, slightly cheesy and a key ingredient in this recipe so I don’t recommend skipping it! Learn more about nutritional yeast here. You can find it at most grocery stores in the spice section or you can buy nutritional yeast online.
lemon juice – just a touch of acidity to brighten up the sauce! I recommend using freshly squeezed lemon juice.
dijon mustard – adds a slight tanginess to the dish that rounds out the flavors. You can also use dry mustard powder if you don’t have any dijon on hand.
paprika – adds a nice spice to the sauce that’s not too overwhelming. I used sweet paprika, but feel free to use smoked paprika if you want more of a smoky flavor.
salt and pepper to bring all the flavors in the sauce together, you just need 1/4 teaspoon salt to make a difference!
How to Make
Soak cashews: You’ll want to begin with soaking your cashews. They only need to be soaked for 30 minutes to an hour if you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix, but even with one, I like to soak the cashews for several hours. Just place the raw cashews in a bowl and cover them with water to soak. You can also soak them for about 15-20 minutes in boiled water if you’re in a hurry.
Cook veggies: Over medium-high heat fill a large pot or large saucepan with about 1 inch of water. Add the butternut squash and onion to a steamer basket or a metal colander and steam for about 15-20 minutes until tender.
Cook pasta: Boil water in a large pot and cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Make sure you save 1/2 cup of pasta water before you drain it! This adds flavor to the end result and also helps the sauce stick to the noodles.
Make sauce: Place the butternut squash, onion, garlic, milk, cashews, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, dijon mustard, salt, pepper and paprika to a blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.
Mix together and serve: Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta, stir to combine and serve immediately!
Substitutions & Variations
Gluten-free: If you need this dish to be gluten-free use gluten-free pasta like brown rice pasta, lentil or chickpea pasta.
Butternut squash: Don’t have butternut squash on hand or can’t find it? Use sweet potatoes or make this vegan mac and cheese instead, which uses gold potatoes and carrots in the sauce instead of butternut squash. You could also make this pumpkin pasta if you have pumpkin puree on hand!
Baked: Want some added texture? Make the recipe as directed and pour the pasta into a 9×13 baking dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs or almond meal and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the top starts to brown and crisp up.
Spice it up: Add in some sliced jalapeño, red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper to the sauce if you’d like to turn this into a spicy mac and cheese. You can also add nutmeg or garlic powder to amp up the flavors.
Add veggies: Want to amp up the veggie count? Add cooked broccoli, peas, zucchini, spinach, kale, or mushrooms to this dish!
What to Serve with Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
This butternut squash mac and cheese makes a great option for a plant-based dinner, but I also think it would be amazing served alongside some protein or additional sides for a more filling meal. Here are some ideas:
Protein – hot dogs are a classic add-in for mac and cheese lovers. Use tempeh hot dogs or grass-fed beef hot dogs. It’d also be delicious with some beyond sausage, tofu crumbles, tempeh bacon or these lentil meatballs.
Chili – serve this mac and cheese with a side of chili for a southern twist!
Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, add mac and cheese to a saucepan and heat over medium-low, until warmed, stirring often to prevent burning. Make sure to add a little bit of milk or water to thin out the sauce and prevent the noodles from burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can also heat leftovers in the microwave if you’re in a rush!
This vegan butternut squash mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food recipe made healthier and comes together in just 30 minutes. It's so creamy and delicious, no one will ever guess it's packed with veggies!
If you haven’t already soak your cashews for 2-4 hours. If you have a high powered blender like a Vitamix you can get away with soaking for only 30 minutes-1 hour.
Fill a large pot with about 1 inch of water. Add butternut squash and onion to a steamer basket or metal colander and steam for about 15-20 minutes or until soft.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and transfer the pasta back to the pot.
Place cooked butternut squash and onion in a blender, along with garlic, almond milk, cashews, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, dijon mustard, salt, pepper and paprika and blend until smooth and creamy.
Pour the sauce over cooked pasta and stir to fully combine.
Season to taste and serve immediately.
Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. To reheat it, add a little bit of milk or water to thin out the sauce. When reheating, stir often to avoid burning.