Nut-Free Vegan Cheese Sauce (Oil-Free and Soy-Free)
You’ll never believe this Nut-Free Vegan Cheese Sauce is, well, nut-free! It’s also soy-free, oil-free, and Paleo and has just 30 calories per 1/4 cup! It’s creamy and luxurious but made with nourishing, wholesome ingredients. Say hello to mac’n cheese, quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, and nachos!
When I did a recent poll in my Instagram Stories about the hardest foods to give up on your vegan journey, the answer was clear. It was CHEESE! This answer didn’t surprise me because it was also the most difficult (and last) food I gave up before going entirely vegan.
This is why I’ve made it one of my missions to come up with mouthwatering, satisfying cheese substitutes so you don’t have to feel deprived! Two of my favorites are:
Pumpkin Cheese Sauce (in this epic Pumpkin Mac and Cheese)
Creamy Tofu Ricotta (in this Vegetable Lasagna from my cookbook)
And while I love my cheese recipes that contain cashews, tofu, and/or miso paste, I wanted to create an allergen-friendly recipe that is free of cashews (and all kinds of nuts) and any form of soy, as well as a version that is made with nourishing, whole food plant-based ingredients.
I am so proud of and excited about this recipe because, despite not containing any nuts or soy (or even oil), it is luxuriously creamy and silky smooth. And it’s so very healthy that you’re basically just eating vegetables, so lather on as much cheese as you’d like!
While I never calculate or include calories in my recipes (trying to maintain a balanced space here!), I do want to point out that there’s less than 125 calories in 1 CUP of this sauce, or about 30 calories per 1/4 cup serving! So yeah, really, lather on as much cheese as you’d like! Personally, I think 1 cup is a perfectly acceptable serving amount :)
Let’s talk about the main ingredients that make up this sauce!
Cauliflower: If you’ve been in the vegan food space for awhile, you’re already aware of cauliflower’s secret powers. This humble vegetable, once cooked, gets creamy and rich, and brings the luscious texture to this cheese sauce without requiring cashews.
Butternut Squash: Butternut squash brings some more heft to this sauce and, of course, that golden yellow-orange color reminiscent of cheese. I’ve tried making vegan cheese sauces with carrots and sweet potatoes instead (they re a bit easier to cut than butternut squash), but they bring an unwanted sweetness (cheese should not be sweet)! To save time, I sometimes opt for pre-peeled, pre-cut butternut squash at the grocery store.
Garlic: This recipe calls for a copious amount of garlic (10 cloves). Since the ingredient list is minimal and there’s no soy products involved (which add umami flavors), adding a lot of garlic is essential to making this sauce flavor.
Nutritional Yeast: Since we’re using a lot of vegetables (8 cups), we need a generous amount of nutritional yeast to bring that cheezy flavor (1/2 cup).
Coconut Milk: While cauliflower does make this sauce quite creamy, we need a little helping hand from some full-fat coconut milk. Not a lot though, just 3/4 cup for 8 cups of vegetables and 1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth.
And yes, as you might have guessed, this is the PERFECT sauce for mac and cheese! While I have a soft spot for my Pumpkin Mac and Cheese (it happens to be one of the most popular recipes on the blog), this recipe is an excellent option as well, especially for (a) anyone who has nut allergies, (b) anyone with a soy intolerance, (c) anyone eating a whole food plant-based diet, or (d) anyone watching their caloric intake.
In addition to mac and cheese, this sauce is excellent for quesadillas, nachos, baked potatoes, and grilled cheese. Be sure to check out my Youtube video for three easy recipes using this Nut-Free Vegan Cheese Sauce!
Simple Cheesy Pasta
Tex-Mex Tempeh Quesadillas
If you try out this recipe, please leave a comment below with your feedback - it always helps out the blog and I love hearing from you!
What you need to make this recipe
Nut-Free, Oil-Free Vegan Cheese Sauce
Vegan, Gluten-Free, Paleo
Makes 6-7 cups
4 heaped cups of cauliflower florets (about 1 medium head of cauliflower, ~400g)
4 cups (about 18 ounces or ~500g) of butternut squash, chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
32 ounces (~945mL) water (stovetop method only)
32 ounces (~945mL) vegetable broth
1/4 cup (60mL) water (can substitute with 1 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil)
10 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (~40g) nutritional yeast (add more for a more pronounced cheesier flavor)
3/4 cup (~195ml) canned full-fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon hot or sweet paprika
A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional for a lightly spicy version)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
Instant Pot Method
Add the cauliflower florets, chopped butternut squash, and 4 cups vegetable broth to your Instant Pot. Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Select the Pressure Cook setting at high pressure and set the cook time to 4 minutes.
Once the 4-minute timer has completed and beeps, perform a quick pressure release by carefully switching the Pressure Release knob from Sealing to Venting.
Open the pot and transfer the vegetables to a blender. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking broth. Add 1 1/4 cups to the blender, leaving 1/4 cup to the side.
While the vegetables are cooking, heat the 1/4 cup water in a nonstick skillet over medium heat (alternatively, instead of the water, you can heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil or avocado oil). Once the water is simmering (or the oil is shimmering), add the minced garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the water mostly evaporates and the mixture is fragrant.
Transfer the garlic mixture to the blender with the cooked vegetables and reserved cooking liquid. Add the nutritional yeast, coconut milk paprika, salt, and black pepper to taste. Blend until the sauce is smooth, thick, and creamy, adding the reserved 1/4 cup cooking liquid as needed to thin out the sauce. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper as needed.
Add the 4 cups or water and the 4 cups of vegetable broth in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the cauliflower florets and chopped butternut squash, cover the pan, and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are fork tender.
Transfer the vegetables to a blender. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid. Add 1 1/4 cups to the blender, leaving 1/4 cup to the side.
Follow remaining steps 4 and 5, as outlined above.