Bring a fun childhood staple back in the house with this easy one-pot vegan hamburger helper! This version is much healthier, but as tasty and quick to prepare as the boxed one. It makes for a great last minute weeknight dinner that's wholesome and super satisfying!
Boxed hamburger helper was probably one of my favorite meals growing up. My parents most often made homemade meals, so the processed food in a box was not getting out of the pantry very often. But, it was one of these once in a while forbidden food that I still crave today.
I mean, it's like a combo of mac and cheese with ground beef that's spiced up and all made in one-pot. No wonder everyone loved it.
Even my husband got overly enthusiastic when I said I was going to make a hamburger helper for the blog. Even if he pretends never having it growing up, we still had fun remembering these 80-90s' commercials always showing a desperate mom wanting to feed the happiest looking family. Alongside a disturbing talking white hand. Remember that?
You don't have to be dreaming about the old school hamburger helper to love this meal. If you enjoy creamy, hearty, easy + quick comfort pasta recipes, then you will have to give this one a try. It's very bold in flavor, so be ready, but also very satisfying.
And here is the best part: it's a one-pot recipe! Everything goes in the same pan (or pot), including the raw noodles. The pasta cooks in the savory creamy mixture while releasing some of their starch to help thicken the sauce. Just like the old fashioned boxed pasta!
Vegan cheeseburger creamy pasta
This meal really feels like a vegan cheeseburger, but served with pasta! The ground beef is replaced with seitan for a very similar chewy bite and the sauce is made using soy milk + nutritional yeast to get a cheesy touch.
This is the meal you got to make when you want to cook vegan for your meat lover friend (or hubby)!
What is seitan
If you have never had seitan before, then this recipe is a great place to start! Seitan is one of these unique foods that might sound odd to you, but really is something you have got to try if you are constantly craving meat.
Seitan is made using wheat gluten, which comes from regular flour that had its starch taken away to leave the high gluten protein. It has a bouncy, chewy and very meaty texture that's so amazing (even more meaty than tofu or tempeh). I also love seitan for its high in protein content. Careful though, seitan is not for someone with gluten sensitivity or suffering from celiac disease!
Where to buy seitan and which kind to get
You can now find seitan in most grocery stores in the fridge section with the tofu, usually close to the produce.
Although seitan's flavor is naturally mostly bland, it is often sold in flavorful packages. You will find seitan that's ground, in sausage shapes, sandwich slices and in many other forms.
For this recipe, I used the Upton's ground seitan, Italian flavor. If you have a different brand available at your grocery store, simply use the one you can find and grind it using your hand or chop using a knife.
Vegan hamburger helper ingredients
- Short noodles
- Green pepper
- Vegetable broth
- Soy milk (or other vegan milk)
- Spices & dried herbs (nutritional yeast, chili powder, paprika, oregano, basil and salt)
How to make this vegan hamburger helper
- Start by combining all the spices and dried herbs in a small bowl so it's all ready to go. Chop the veggies and crumble the seitan if necessary.
- Then, in a large pan or pot, cook the onion and green pepper on medium-high heat until browned, for about 5-7 minutes. Then, add the garlic, mushrooms, spices and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir often and use a little oil if desired so it does not stick to the bottom.
- Once the veggies are softened, add the rest of the ingredients (seitan, veggie broth, vegan milk and raw noodles). Stir well, cover and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the noodles are tender and the mixture saucy. You will have to remove the cover and stir often so the noodles don't stick to the bottom.
- Taste to adjust the spices (will depend on the seitan you chose) and add a splash of milk if you want the texture to be more saucy.
Watch how to make it
What kind of noodles to use when making this vegan hamburger helper
The traditional boxed hamburger helper is made using egg noodles which I swapped for regular wheat noodles to avoid the eggs.
Short noodles are best when making this dish. Choose anything little-ish, like macaroni, ditalini, cavatappi, rotini, etc. I haven't tried it, but I think that long noodles would not work very well and probably would break a lot while cooking.
Also, I like using a whole wheat kind of noodles when making this dish. White noodles were also tried and worked well too with the same ratio of noodles vs liquid. Simply use whatever you have!
Vegan meat substitutions to seitan
I find that seitan adds such an amazing chewiness to the meal, but if you don't want to use it, then there are many other options to replace it:
- Tempeh: In this case, you might want to first boil the tempeh in water for about 10 minutes (I boil the whole block!). I find it tenderizes the texture and removes some of the bitterness. Then, when cool enough to handle, simply crumble it using your fingers.
- Tofu: Use extra firm tofu, pat dry (or even better, do a quick tofu press) and crumble it using your fingers.
- Cooked lentils: Just like in this vegan baked ziti, I find that lentils do a great job to bring a fun meaty texture to pasta dishes. In this case, beluga, green or even brown lentils would work great. Just make sure to cook them before adding to the pan.
- Omit it all together: Although the meat-ish ingredient is important to have a hamburger helper that really looks like the real one, you can also omit it as it won't interfere with the cooking of the other ingredients (plus, there are already mushrooms part of the recipe that bring a satisfying crumbly texture with great umami flavor).
In all cases, you might need to adjust the spices if using a seitan substitution. The seitan I used was filled with spices, so if using a flavorless substitution, then you might need to add extra dried herbs or spices or even, consider adding a splash of soy sauce for extra umami flavor. Also, if using other kinds of vegan ground meat, then you can add it alongside the veggies so it can brown before adding the broth.
Vegan hamburger helper cooking tips
- Cook until the noodles are tender, but still al dente. One-pot pasta meals can turn mushy if not watched carefully, so make sure to lift the cover often, stir and taste to know when to remove the pan from the heat.
- If too much water evaporated and the mixture is getting too dry before the noodles are done, then simply add a small amount of broth or milk and cook for a few extra minutes.
- I noticed that the soy milk can get a little foamy at first while cooking. Just keep cooking and stirring and it will turn perfectly creamy later on.
- I love using soy milk when making this dish. I find it to be creamier and helps create that rich texture.
- If you love vegan cheese, then add a handful to the pan when the meal is completely done and stir until all melted.
- You can easily make this dish spicy if you like by adding some red pepper flakes, a dash or two of cayenne pepper, chopped jalapeño or simply your favorite hot sauce.
- This is a great meal to stuff with more veggies, like chopped carrots, leafy green, tomatoes, celery, etc. Add them at the beginning of the cooking process when adding the onion and pepper so they have time to soften too.
How to make this vegan hamburger helper extra kid friendly
The seitan that I used was very flavorful and heavy with pepper flavor. My hubsand and I simply could not stop eating it, but even though my kids are quite adventurous with food, these strong flavor were a little much for them.
If you are making this meal for a family with kids, then choose carefully your seitan and consider using a meat replacement if you want to be sure to control the spice level (or make your own seitan!).
Also, you can make it more cheesy by adding extra nutritional yeast or vegan cheese to the pan. Also serve with vegan parmesan cheese.
I found this meal better served when just prepared as the noodles keep sipping on the sauce while storing, which soften the noodles a little more. It still made for a great next day lunch though!
Store any leftovers in a air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. When reheating, add a splash of broth, water or vegan milk to loosen up the sauce!
Other one-pot noodle recipes you might like
I hope you enjoy this hamburger helper 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!
Vegan Hamburger Helper (One-Pot and Healthy)
- 1 cup white onion - diced
- 1 cup green pepper - diced
- 8 oz mushrooms - diced
- 2 cloves of garlic - crushed
- 8 oz ground seitan - or vegan ground meat of your choice
- 2 cups short noodles of your choice - uncooked, I used whole wheat macaroni but white noodles work well too
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup vegan plain milk - I used soy milk, plus more if needed
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basilic
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- In a small bowl, combine all the spices and dried herbs together (nutritional yeast, oregano, basil, chili powder, salt and paprika). Set aside.
- In a large pot (or pan), start by cooking the onion and green pepper on medium-high heat until softened, for about 5-7 minutes. Stir often and use a small amount of oil if desired to prevent the veggies from sticking to the pan (or use water).
- Then, add the mushroom, garlic and spice mix and cook for another 5 minutes while stirring often (if it gets too dry, add 1-2 tbsp of water to help the mixture come together).
- Add the seitan, raw noodles, veggie broth and vegan milk. Stir well and cover. Keep cooking on a low simmer until the noodles are al dente and most of the water was absorbed (keep it a little saucy though). Remove the cover once in a while to stir and make sure the bottom does not stick to the pan. If too much water evaporated before the noodles are done, then add a splash of broth or milk and cook for a few more minutes or until done.
- I used the ground seitan from the brand Upton, Italian flavor.
- If you can't find ground seitan, then use any other form of seitan you have available at your grocery store and grind it using your hands or chop using a knife.
- You can swap the seitan with tempeh (boil first), tofu or cooked lentils. If doing so, you might need to adjust the spices as seitan is often already filled with spices.