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This easy Vegan Carbonara recipe tastes just like the classic Italian dish! Al dente spaghetti tossed in a cheesy, savory, peppery sauce, then sprinkled with vegan pancetta for the ultimate comfort meal. Ready in less than 1 hour!
Table of Contents
- Ingredients You’ll Need
- Equipment Needed
- How to Make Vegan Carbonara
- Serving Suggestions
- Alternative Toppings
- Recipe FAQs
- Storage Instructions
- More Vegan Pasta Recipes You May Enjoy:
- Easy Vegan Carbonara Recipe Recipe
It’s no secret that the real carbonara is very far from vegan. If you were to order a classic carbonara at an Italian restaurant, it would be loaded with animal products including egg yolks, pecorino Romano cheese, parmesan cheese, pancetta, or guanciale (cured pork).
But despite this, veganizing the recipe is not only possible but very close to the real thing! If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can take this creamy carbonara sauce to the next level by tossing it with our Authentic Homemade Vegan Pasta!
Ingredients You’ll Need
For the Vegan Pancetta:
- Super firm tofu: We prefer to use super firm tofu when making vegan pancetta or tofu bacon bits because it doesn’t require pressing. If you can’t find super firm tofu at your local grocery store, use extra firm tofu and press it using a tofu press for 30 minutes before cutting into small cubes and marinating.
- Soy sauce: Adds a salty, umami flavor punch. If you’d like to make this recipe gluten-free, use tamari.
- Apple cider vinegar: A splash of acidity helps to balance the sweet, salty, and smoky flavors. If you’re out of apple cider vinegar, regular white vinegar can work, too.
- Maple syrup: Pork bacon is typically lightly sweetened during the curing process with sweeteners like brown sugar and maple syrup. To mimic this slightly sweet flavor, we have added maple syrup to the marinade.
- Liquid smoke: Adds a natural smokiness without the need for a smoker! A little goes a long way, but makes a huge difference in flavor.
- Spices: All you need is smoked paprika, cumin, and salt for the perfect salty, smokiness!
- Oil: A small amount of neutral cooking oil is used to pan-fry the tofu. If you are oil-free, you can pan-fry the bacon bits without oil, but make sure to use a nonstick pan. It won’t be as crispy but it will still be very flavorful.
For the Vegan Carbonara Sauce:
- Raw cashews: The base of traditional carbonara is made from a combination of eggs and cheese. To emulate this creamy texture, we’re using raw cashews. If you’ve made our Creamy Kabocha Squash and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta, Vegan Mac and Cheese, or this Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo, you’ll know that raw cashews are amazing at creating a creamy, rich texture that’s very similar to creamy eggs and dairy.
- Nutritional yeast: Adds a cheesy flavor without any dairy at all! When purchasing nutritional yeast, make sure to purchase the correct product. Brewer’s yeast is often confused with nutritional yeast but is a completely separate ingredient.
- Black pepper: Classic pasta carbonara is made with a generous amount of black pepper and this vegan version is no different. For the best vibrant flavor, we highly recommend freshly cracked black pepper when possible.
- Vegan Parmesan Cheese: Pecorino Romano cheese or parmesan cheese are the traditional choices. We opted for our homemade Vegan Parmesan Cheese because it’s quick and easy to make, but any store-bought dairy-free parmesan cheese can be used. We’ve used Follow Your Heart and Violife and they are great store-bought vegan options.
- Spaghetti: Any spaghetti of choice will work. If you are gluten-free, opt for a brown rice or corn-based gluten-free spaghetti pasta for similar results.
- Black Salt: Also known as kala namak, black salt is an Indian spice that has a strong sulphur-like and eggy flavor. It’s commonly used in vegan recipes like Tofu Scramble to mimic the flavor of eggs. This recipe doesn’t necessarily need it, but if you want that eggy flavor of classic carbonara, you can finish off this recipe with a sprinkle of black salt if desired!
How to Make Vegan Carbonara
- Soften the cashews. Place the cashews in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow the cashews to soak for at least 20 minutes, or up to overnight.
- Prep the vegan pancetta. Cut the super firm tofu into very small cubes, about 1/2 centimeter wide. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, liquid smoke, paprika, cumin, and salt. Add the tofu pieces into the mixture and mix to coat. Set the tofu pancetta aside to marinate for at least 10 minutes.
- Make the vegan carbonara sauce. Drain the cashews and add them to a high-speed blender along with the water, nutritional yeast, and a pinch of black pepper. Blend until smooth and creamy and set aside.
- Pan-fry the vegan bacon bits. In a medium or large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until warm. Once hot, add the tofu pieces to the pan, along with the remaining marinade liquid. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes or until the tofu is crispy. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Cook the pasta. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Before draining, reserve 2 cups of the pasta water and set aside.
- Toss the pasta in the vegan “egg sauce”. Return the cooked pasta back to the pot and add the cream sauce, vegan parmesan, and a generous amount of black pepper. Then, add the pasta water, 1/2 cup at a time, and toss together until glossy and homogenous. We usually only need 1 cup of the pasta water, but you may need up to 2 cups depending on how saucy you like your vegan spaghetti carbonara. Season with black salt, to taste.
- Serve. Top the vegan carbonara with the crispy vegan pancetta, and serve with additional black pepper and fresh parsley, if desired. Enjoy!
Pasta carbonara is a rich and flavorful dish on its own but can be served alongside various side dishes that can help balance the meal. Try this pasta dish with a light side salad, roasted vegetables, crusty bread, or garlic bread. Check out our top pairing recommendations below:
Carbonara is typically served simply with toppings like cured pork (or in this case bacon tofu), but if you’d like to change up the flavor of your spaghetti carbonara, you can try another one of our vegan bacon recipes or additional fresh toppings, such as:
- Fresh basil or chopped parsley
- Roasted cherry tomatoes
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Roasted garlic
- Green peas
- Chili flakes
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Sautéed spinach, kale, or similar greens
Other Vegan Bacon Recipes
Cashews are a main ingredient in the vegan carbonara sauce and we have not tested a nut-free substitution in its place. However, based on our recipe testing experience, the next best option would likely be plain, raw sunflower seeds. The color of the carbonara sauce will be slightly darker and more prominent in flavor than neutral cashews but will create a similar creamy sauce.
It is not recommended to freeze this spaghetti carbonara. The sauce will change texture upon thawing and become slightly grainy and watery.
Nutritional yeast does help to give this sauce both color and cheesy flavor. If you prefer not to use nutritional yeast, you can replace the nutritional yeast with additional vegan parmesan cheese.
Black salt, or kala namak is an Indian spice that has a strong sulphur-like and eggy flavor. It’s commonly used in vegan recipes like Tofu Scramble to mimic the flavor of eggs. This recipe doesn’t necessarily need it, but if you want to take it to the next level, you can finish off this recipe with a sprinkle of black salt if desired!
Leftover vegan spaghetti carbonara will keep for up to 4 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. As it chills, the creamy carbonara sauce will continue to thicken and become absorbed by the pasta. When reheating, add a splash of water, unsweetened almond milk, or soy milk to loosen the sauce again as needed. Reheat in the microwave or a pan on the stovetop until warm and creamy again.