This simple, fast and easy dairy-free cheese sauce recipe was originally shared with us by a reader. I’ve added some options to help modify this recipe to taste, and some instructions to make sure the sauce is smooth. It’s a very basic sauce that can add a pleasant cheesy flavor to everyday foods. Use it to make dairy-free (and gluten-free) mac and cheese or pour it over baked potatoes and steamed vegetables.
This Quick Dairy-Free Cheese Sauce makes for Easy Meals
I love recipes like this one because they work so well with everyday ingredients, and a well-stocked pantry. Here are a few tips and notes to make it work perfectly for your needs.
Get Creative with Simple Meals. Drizzle this vegan cheese alternative over “burrito bowls” made with rice, black beans, corn, and whatever add-ins you have on hand. Stir it into pasta with chicken or chickpeas, and fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. Or make broccoli “cheddar” baked potatoes. The sky is the limit.
You can use Just Pantry Ingredients. As noted, you can use canned tomatoes, and you can even use bottled lemon juice if you don’t have a fresh lemon on hand. For a different flavor spin, try jarred roasted red peppers in place of the tomatoes.
No “Milk” Needed. You can buy shelf-stable milk beverages, and even use one in this dairy-free cheese sauce recipe, if desired. But you don’t need to. The nuts provide creaminess, so plain old water is fine.
Why Ground Cashews? For a few reasons. First, it’s much faster than soaking cashews, making this an almost instant recipe. Second, using cashews that haven’t already absorbed water is a great way to thicken sauces. When ground and blended in, the cashews pull the moisture out as you cook, for a thick and creamy sauce.
Special Diet Notes: Easy Dairy-Free Cheese Sauce
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, optionally nut-free, peanut-free, soy-free, vegan, plant-based, and vegetarian.
- ¼ cup raw cashews (see the Nut Options below)
- 2 cups water, divided
- ¼ cup diced tomatoes (can use canned)
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch or arrowroot starch
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
- 1 to 1½ teaspoons sea salt, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- Grind the cashews in a spice grinder or small food processor until powdered.
- Pour the cashew powder into your blender. Add the 1 cup water, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, starch, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. Puree until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup water and briefly blend to combine.
- Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan (to remove any large or small nut bits). Place the pan over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Taste test and add more salt, if needed.
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. The sauce will thicken as it chills, but you can whisk in more water to thin it.
More Easy Cheesy Dairy-Free Recipes
Vegan “Goat Cheese” Alternative
Dairy-Free “Yogurt Cheese”
Fuddruckers Copycat Cheese Sauce
Are there any alternatives you can suggest for the nutritional yeast? I’m really not a fan of the stuff.
Miso is a great ingredient for adding umami flavor like cheesiness, but you want to add less. See my cottage cheese recipe for an example -> https://www.godairyfree.org/recipes/dairy-free-cottage-cheese-alternative. That said, many recipes use too much nutritional yeast, turning people off from the flavor. This one does not, but even so, you can start with just 1 tablespoons nutritional yeast in the whole recipe and gradually increase. I recommend adding no more than 1 tablespoon per serving, but starting with just 1 teaspoon per serving if you think you aren’t a fan. This allows the nutritional yeast to enhance the flavor, and add light cheesiness, without overwhelming.
Hi. I glanced at a free cheese alternatives but am wondering if they will help me leave dairy cheese alone. I LOVE cheese: American, Cheddar, Mozzarella, etc. I overuse it n my omelets, sautéed spinach, kale, onion concoction, and so forth. Are there alternatives to that if not aforementioned?! Thank you
Have you been able to kick the cheese habit? I am very sick from dairy products, but I cannot seem to kick them. I LOVE cheese and milk so much!
Hi Shay, It really comes down to priorities. From what you are writing, it sounds like eating cheese is more important to you than not being sick. It’s nearly impossible to stay committed to something when your reason for doing it isn’t compelling enough for you. I have this post with tips on how to go dairy free for good -> https://www.godairyfree.org/news/nutrition-headlines/six-simple-steps-to-successfully-going-dairy-free-or-gluten-free-for-good
Ha! You may want to update the name of this one. 😉
Hi, I live in South Africa and have no idea what Nutritional Yeast is…? My daughter has dairy and soy allergies as well as peanuts and most legumes. I’m interested in your cheese substitutes, not so much for her but for me! When I’m breastfeeding (nursing) I have to be on her allergy-free diet. We have instant dry yeast that comes in sachets for breadmaking but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re referring to. Is it called by any other name?
Hi Nicole, nutritional yeast is quite different from the yeast that you would use in breadmaking. It is an inactive yeast that has a pungent almost cheesy flavor and is typically fortified with B vitamins (hence the “nutritional” name). It comes in flakes or powder that are a mustardy yellow color and quite lightweight – not nearly as heavy as active yeast. I’m not sure where you could source it in South Africa – perhaps online or from a natural food store?