This creamy and garlicky vegan lemon pasta is easy enough for a weeknight yet elegant enough for a dinner party. Serve with a side salad and your favorite steamed veggie for a healthy comfort food dish everyone will love! Vegan and gluten-free with an oil-free option.
This recipe was originally published July 2019 and has been updated with new photos and content.
If you enjoy the creaminess of mac and cheese and the fresh zing of lemon, you're going to LOVE this easy pasta dish! And it only requires 6 ingredients and 30 minutes to prepare.
Serve lemon pasta with chopped fresh parsley or basil and a sprinkle of Vegan Parm (OR see the grated cashew trick below). And to make it even more filling, cannellini beans are perfectly at home in this velvety lemon sauce.
Round out the meal with a side salad or steamed broccoli or asparagus, and you're all set!
What You'll Need
- Pasta - any type of pasta you like, regular, whole-grain, or gluten-free.
- Raw Cashews - cashews create an ultra creamy sauce, but raw sunflower seeds are an option for a cashew-free recipe.
- Lemons - you'll need ⅓ cup fresh juice and the zest of one lemon; in case your lemons aren't very juicy it's best to have two on hand.
- Arrowroot Starch - along with the starch in the cashews, this thickens our creamy lemon sauce; corn starch is a possible substitute (reduce amount to 1 tablespoon).
- Oil - olive oil or another neutral cooking oil; feel free to omit if you follow an oil-free diet.
- Garlic - adds nice savoriness and balances the fresh lemon.
See recipe card below for quantities.
- Sauté the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. You can do this in a tablespoon of olive oil, or if you follow an oil-free diet use a splash of water or vegetable broth.
- Zest 1 lemon and blend the sauce. Combine the garlic, zest of one lemon, water, raw cashews, arrowroot starch, and salt in a high speed blender.
*If you don’t own a high speed blender, a scant ½ cup raw cashew butter can be substituted for the whole cashews. Or soak the raw cashews in hot water for about 1 hour first (or overnight), and use a standard blender.
- Cook your pasta of choice. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- Pour the blended sauce into the pasta pot. Whisking constantly, cook over medium heat until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Whisk in ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice.
- Add the cooked and drained pasta to the pot, stir to combine, and serve. Garnish with vegan parmesan cheese and fresh herbs, if desired.
- Cashews - I often use raw sunflower seeds to replace the cashews in my other cheesy and creamy recipes. And though I haven't tested them yet in this particular sauce, a reader (thanks, Nina!) reported that she successfully used a combination of raw sunflower seeds and garbanzo beans to make a lighter sauce.
- Gluten-Free - your choice of pasta makes this dish gluten-free; brown rice pasta is one of our favorites.
- Oil-Free - simply omit the oil used to saute the garlic and use as much water or broth as you need to keep it from browning.
- Arrowroot Starch - I chose arrowroot for this recipe because it tends to handle acidity better than corn starch. But in a pinch I'm sure a bit of corn starch or tapioca starch could work. Use less, though, about 1 tablespoon.
A high speed blender comes in handy for quick, creamy sauces like this, but if you don't have one a standard blender will also work. See the substitutions above for tips. I use this Vitamix (or one very similar to it) and have for almost 10 years now. They really are a great investment.
A microplane zester is useful for zesting the lemon.
You'll also need a small sauté pan for the garlic, a large pot for the pasta, and a colander.
Grated Cashews as a Sub for Parmesan
One last fun little tidbit! While you have your microplane zester out for zesting the lemon, go ahead and grate a few cashews. Can you believe how much that looks like grated cheese? Since the nuts are small, just be careful not to zest your fingers!
You'll be amazed how much you get from just 2 or 3 cashews. After you grate the cashews, mix in a pinch of sea salt, maybe even a pinch of nutritional yeast, and sprinkle on the pasta before serving.
I hope you enjoy this simple, comforting and creamy Vegan Lemon Pasta. If you try it be sure to give it a star rating and leave a comment to let us know.
Creamy Vegan Lemon Pasta
- grated cashews (as mentioned in post)
- Homemade Vegan Parm
- Or store-bought vegan Parmesan
- fresh basil or parsley, chopped
- Heat a pot of salted water for cooking the pasta. Cook according to package directions, then drain in a colander.
- Heat a small saute pan over medium-low heat. Add oil or water/broth, and saute the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat if necessary so that it doesn't brown. Transfer the garlic to a blender.
- Zest one of the lemons, and add the zest to the blender along with the water, cashews, arrowroot, and salt. Blend until completely smooth.
- Cut and squeeze the lemon(s) to get ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice. Set aside.
- Pour the blended sauce into the pasta pot. Whisking, cook over medium heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in the lemon juice. Add the pasta, and stir to combine.
- Taste for seasoning. Serve with fresh parsley or basil, vegan Parm, and black pepper, if desired.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com. For the most accurate nutrition information we recommend calculating it yourself to reflect the specific ingredients used in your dish.
A Note About Arrowroot Starch
In the photos above you can see how deliciously creamy the sauce gets as you heat it. This is thanks to both the arrowroot starch and the starch in the cashews.
I really love arrowroot starch for creamy sauces like this. It takes on such a silky texture, making it ideal for this type of vegan sauce.
You can find arrowroot in most well-stocked grocery stores these days or online from sites like Amazon. It's great for thickening soups (vegan cream of mushroom, anyone?) and gravies.
Similar to what I love about my Best Vegan Stovetop Mac and Cheese, this sauce stays very creamy even as it cools. Some vegan cream sauces get dry, even sort of pasty- and clumpy-looking, as they cool, but arrowroot (plus plenty of water) works wonders in this one.
Just make sure not to overcook the sauce. If heated for prolonged periods, arrowroot can lose its thickening abilities. Other than that, it's very easy to work with. Another perk is that it can withstand acidic ingredients like lemon juice, whereas corn starch doesn't always thicken well in the presence of acids.