Vegan carbonara

Barcelona, Spain

Hello Ladies,

As you know, growing up, one of the family’s favorite dishes was Dad’s carbonara (or Nigel’s Cardiac Carbonara as Mom once called it!). It’s hard to resist creamy spaghetti peppered with salty bacon bits and the hint of dry white wine. Nevertheless, I haven’t made Dad’s recipe since I abandoned cow dairy and meat… and I’ve missed it. I promised myself that one day I would veganize his carbonara, and ladies, that day has come.

Vegan carbonara recipe

I’ve been working on perfecting this recipe for some time, the trickiest part was finding an adequate bacon substitute. In the end, I found that tempeh does a fine job. This pasta doesn’t taste exactly like the original (how could it?) but it has most of the same taste markers. I confess to having a Proustian moment when I ate my first bite.

For readers who didn’t have the pleasure of growing up with my Dad’s carbo, you may find that this recipe doesn’t mimic the carbonara that you’ve had. I still encourage you to try it, the Man (who never tasted the original recipe) gave the meal a 9 out of 10. High praise, believe me.

Makes 2 – 4 servings (depending on your hunger and whether or not you’re having a starter)


For the tempeh bacon

  • 125 grams / 8 ounces tempeh (soy or chickpea)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • A big pinch of smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (for frying)

For the pasta and sauce

  • 250 grams / half a pound wholewheat spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (plus extra for the cook!)
  • 1 cup cashew cream
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • Water (to thin sauce)
  • Salt & pepper


Start by making the tempeh bacon bits. Steam the tempeh for 40 minutes (I use a steamer basket over pot of boiling water, but you can choose to simmer the tempeh if you prefer). Remove and let cool.

Once the tempeh is cool enough to handle, cut it into slices about 1 cm wide (a little less than half an inch). Then, cut again widthwise to make the bacon bits.

Tempeh bacon bits

In a bowl, mix all of the other tempeh bacon ingredients, except the olive oil. Add the tempeh and mix well. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least 15 minutes (but leave it for a couple of hours if you have the time).

Once the tempeh has finished marinating, warm a pan on medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil has heated up, use a slotted spoon to add the tempeh (you don’t want to pour the leftover marinade in the pan).

Frying tempeh bacon bits 1

Fry until very golden. My Dad always cooked the bacon until it was almost charred, giving it a crunchy texture and concentrating the saltiness. That’s what I’ve replicated here but feel free to fry to your desired texture.

Frying tempeh bacon bits 2

Set bacon bits aside on paper towel.

Now, get the pasta going. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When ready, add the spaghetti and cook according to package instructions.

In the meantime, start preparing the cream sauce. Put a large pan on medium heat and add the oil. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant (this should be pretty quick about 1 minute or two). Do not let the garlic brown, this makes it bitter.

Add the white wine, stir and let warm for a minute.

Turn down the heat to medium-low, add the cashew cream and nutritional yeast, and mix well. Salt to taste.

Now, this is the tricky part. You want to avoid the cream sauce getting too thick. You know you have the right consistency when the sauce coats the back of a spoon and is a little denser than pouring cream. To achieve this, you can add water to the sauce. I suggest you add it little by little, stirring after each addition, until you get the desired result. Note that you may not need water at all, it really depends on how thick your cashew cream was to begin with. Do not let the cream sauce simmer.

When the pasta is cooked, strain and return immediately to the pot. Add in the cream sauce and mix well.

Vegan carbonara 2

Throw in most of the bacon bits (keep a handful for decoration) and add some fresh ground pepper before mixing again.

Divide carbonara between plates, sprinkle with remaining bacon bits and add a couple grinds of fresh black pepper. Serve immediately.

Vegan carbonara 3

Bon appétit!

Vegan carbonara 4



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7 thoughts on “Vegan carbonara

  1. Hanin April 25, 2016 at 5:07 pm Reply

    Beth, this looks so tasty!!
    I must admit I am not a huge fan of carbonara in general (haven’t tried your dad’s though) because I find it too heavy.
    I am sure this version is lighter and it looks so so tasty!
    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Emily April 25, 2016 at 6:36 pm Reply

    Nicely done Beth! I love Dad’s cardiac carbonara- personally, I can’t do the dairy anymore, so the use of the cashew cream seems like the best option for me. Well done Beth- I can imagine you’ve been working on this for a while. Beautiful presentation, as always!

    • Emily April 25, 2016 at 6:40 pm Reply

      Oh and another thing- what a beautiful post. Truly stunning in execution- from the recipe, to the photos, to the presentation. An absolute pleasure to the eyes. Thank you!

      • Beth @ Culinary Correspondence April 26, 2016 at 9:36 am

        Thanks Emi, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It was a special one for me and I’m glad it turned out so well. You have to try it and tell me if you think it tastes like Dad’s 🙂

  3. Jan April 27, 2016 at 11:36 am Reply

    This is just plain beautiful, Beth. Sounds like all your experimentation has paid off. How long would you say it takes to make from setup to slurp? I will have to look around to get some of those ingredients when we’re back in France.

    • Beth @ Culinary Correspondence April 28, 2016 at 9:01 am Reply

      Assuming you’ve got some cashew cream on hand (I suggest making batches and freezing cup-size portions), the recipe will probably take 2 hours (including time for steaming + marinating the tempeh). Actual ‘active’ prep/cooking time is only about an hour. Let me know if you need help locating ingredients 🙂 Some may be simpler to order off of Amazon (liquid smoke and nutritional yeast).

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