This super easy coconut milk mac and cheese is ultra creamy, fully vegan and gluten-free and SO delicious. Made using canned coconut milk, nutritional yeast and spices, it comes together within 30 minutes and makes for such a great weeknight dinner recipe.
I have a few vegan mac and cheese recipes on my blog, such as this no cashew mac and cheese, this baked cauliflower mac and cheese and our kids's all time favorite: butternut squash cheesy pasta. We eat dairy-free mac and cheese regularly as it is easy and quick to make during the week and always works well for our children (and the grown ups too).
But recently, I have been in a spurt of coconut milk pasta recipes, so I thought I would include this ingredient to make a new coconut milk mac and cheese for the blog. And obviously, it worked out so well! Such a delicious plant-based twist on the American comfort food classic! ❤️
Coconut milk is already so creamy straight from the can, all you have to do is flavor it to make it cheesy and salty and full of flavor. This recipe actually is inspired by my vegan powdered cheese, which is a pre-made cheese sauce powder mix to keep in the pantry. It goes so well with the mild coconut flavor here, I was stunned!
The coconut milk brings that amazing rich + creamy base and I actually found the coconut flavor to be mild once you add all the nutritional yeast and spices. Using coconut milk also makes this recipe completely dairy-free and gluten-free (no need for flour) without any compromise on the final texture.
The sauce comes together super quickly and will be all done by the time the noodles are cooked. It makes for a perfect weeknight dinner for the whole family and can also be tailored to your taste by adjusting the flavoring ingredients and adding all your favorite veggies. There is plenty of sauce for the amount of noodles, so there is a lot of room for adds-on.
Hope you give it a try!
Why using coconut milk to make a vegan mac and cheese
- Using canned coconut milk makes this recipe quick, easy and super convenient.
- No blending required, no veggies to cook, no soaking nuts and this sauce is made without having to make a roux first (flour and butter mixture to thicken a sauce). SO EASY!
- Full-fat coconut milk is super creamy and feels very rich, perfect to make a delectable cheesy sauce that's very smooth and silky.
- Coconut milk is naturally vegan, nut-free, dairy-free and gluten-free, which fits many diets.
- Coconut milk is mildly sweet and already so flavorful, which makes it a great base for a tasty pasta meal. The result is a deep-in-flavor dish without much effort.
Ingredients you'll need
- Noodles: I used regular elbow macaroni noodles, but feel free to use any kind you like, especially short noodles like penne, rigatoni or farfalle.
- Canned coconut milk: I highly recommend to use full-fat coconut milk for best texture and richness. Also, check to make sure it is unsweetened.
- Nutritional yeast: Important for a cheesy flavor. I used ⅓ cup, but feel free to use as much as you want.
- Lemon juice: Just a little bit to brighten up the flavor and to help the nutritional yeast flavor stand out for a more cheesy result.
- Cornstarch: Helps thicken the sauce to a creamy but still very saucy consistency.
- Spices: I used a combo of garlic and onion powder, paprika, chili powder and a touch of turmeric (for color).
How to make a coconut milk mac and cheese
Cook the noodles
Start by cooking the macaroni noodles al dente. Once done, drain well and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a medium pot and use a whisk to combine.
It won't be super smooth at this point (the coconut milk will stay clumpy), but you want to dissolve the cornstarch in the liquid as much as possible before turning on the heat.
Then, turn the heat to medium and keep whisking.
The coconut milk clumps will slowly melt and the mixture will become smooth and eventually will become thicker too. Whisk almost constantly so it does not stick to the bottom. Once the sauce bubbles up, let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.
Finish up and serve
Add the cooked macaroni to the pot with the sauce and stir well. Then, taste to adjust salt and seasoning to your liking and serve while still warm.
Watch how to make it
- I used half of a bag of 16 oz (1 lb) of macaroni noodles, which gave me a super saucy macaroni and cheese. You could use more noodles, maybe 10 oz, but if you wanted to use a whole bag of 1 lb noodles, then I would double the sauce recipe.
- It important to first dissolve the cornstarch in the liquid before warming up. If the cornstarch is combined with warm liquids or not fully combined when you turn the heat on, then it can clump!
- I think full-fat coconut milk is best for this recipe. Low-fat would work too, but the sauce won't be as rich and creamy.
- Do NOT use the boxed and refrigerated coconut milk. You need the CANNED coconut milk for this recipe.
- The sauce will thicken further once the heat is turned off, just something to consider when making this recipe.
Variations and serving suggestions
You can add so much more to this mac and cheese recipe, especially vegetables. My favorites include green peas, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and green peas. Simply thaw them first and steam before adding to the mac and cheese.
Also, you can include more flavorful ingredients depending on what you like, such as miso paste (about 1 tablespoon and omit salt), dijon mustard (start with 1 teaspoon), chopped tomatoes and green onion.
We also love spicy mac and cheese! In you do too, then feel-free to add a dash or two of cayenne pepper, some of your favorite hot sauce and chopped marinated jalapeño.
You can turn this basic coconut milk mac and cheese into a chili mac super easily. To make it, add more chili powder, some canned (mild or hot) greens chiles, drained black beans, chopped tomatoes and red pepper.
I think mac and cheese goes great with a side of wilted greens, such as kale, collard green or spinach. We also love ours with a drizzle of sriracha sauce and a generous amount of ground black pepper at serving.
If you want to serve it with the crispy panko topping as seen in the picture, then here is how to make it: combine ½ cup of panko breadcrumbs with ½ teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder, a big pinch of salt and about 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast.
How to make a baked coconut milk mac and cheese
To turn this recipe into a baked mac and cheese, then follow the recipe as is and once the sauce is done, then add an extra splash of water (around ¼-1/3 cup).
Then, combine with the noodles and transfer into your baking dish. Then, you can sprinkle with a crispy top such as the one in my baked cauliflower mac and cheese and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 375º.
Storage and reheating tips
Keep the leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
To reheat, add a splash of plant milk, stir and warm up on the stove or using the microwave.
I would not recommend it since it brings the cheesy flavor that's just so flavorful. If you really need to avoid it, then you might want to try swapping it for a handful of vegan cheese. In that case, make the sauce without the yeast and warm up until thicker and then, add the cheese at the end to let it melt.
The sauce is already naturally GF, so simply use GF noodles to make the mac and cheese 100% GF.
You can taste the coconut flavor, but it is mostly mild and definitely not overpowering, at least to my taste. The subtle coconut flavor is a little sweet and actually balances out the rest of the spices beautifully. But, if you really don't like coconut flavor, then I would recommend making a vegan mac and cheese made with a base of cashews (baked cauliflower mac and cheese) or potatoes (nut-free vegan mac and cheese) instead.
More vegan coconut milk pasta recipes
I hope you like this coconut milk mac and cheese recipe as much as we do! If you try it, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how it was. Your feedback is so helpful!
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Coconut Milk Mac and Cheese
- 8-10 oz elbow macaroni - cooked al dente
- 13.5 oz canned coconut milk - full-fat and unsweetened
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ cup water
- ½ tbsp lemon juice
- ⅓ cup nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp paprika - sweet or smoked
- ¼ tsp chili powder
- pinch of turmeric (or about ⅛ teaspoon) - optional, for color
- 1 tsp salt - or to taste
- Start by cooking the noodles al dente. Then, drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add all the ingredients for the sauce in a medium pot and whisk to combine (the coconut milk will still be clumpy, it's fine).
- Then, turn on the heat to medium and keep whisking. When the sauce is bubbly, then keep cooking and whisking for 4-5 more minutes and then add the cooked pasta. Stir to combine, taste to adjust flavoring to your liking and serve while still hot. Enjoy!
- Keep leftovers in an air-tight container for up to 4 days. To reheat, add a splash of plant milk and heat up on the stove or in the microwave.
- I used 8 ounces of noodles and it gave me a super saucy mac and cheese meal. You can also use 10 ounces if you need to feed more than 3 people.
- It is important to first stir the mixture together before turning on the heat so the cornstarch does not clump.
- You can add more veggies to this recipe such as green peas, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, etc.
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