This is an easy, hearty one-pot vegetarian dinner the whole family will love. It's a meatless hamburger helper of the boxed version that many of us grew up with, that uses vegan ground beef.
The pasta cooks in the sauce, and there's almost no meal prep required. This is a perfect week-night meal on busy nights, and if you have kids, they will LOVE it.Jump to Recipe
Want to make this recipe perfectly the first time? I want to help with that. So, check out this Table of Contents to see which sections of this post will help you the most.
The best vegetarian dinners that even my meat eaters love, are ones that are modeled from meaty childhood favorites. Like vegan sloppy joes and burgers. Bonus points for comfort food. So I knew when I first made this vegetarian hamburger helper, I would strike gold. And I did.
🤷♀️ What is Hamburger Helper?
Hamburger Helper became popular in the 1970's as a boxed dinner of pasta and seasonings that you added ground beef, and sometimes milk, to. There were a variety of dinners to choose from, and it became iconic as a 70's family dinner.
❤️ Why you'll love this recipe
- One-pot meal. Everything cooks in the same skillet, even the pasta!
- Easy. This recipe requires very little meal prep and only one pan to clean.
- Fast. This recipe takes about 30 minutes to make from start to finish, making it ideal for busy weeknights.
- Flexible. Add seasonings to your choice, use a different cheese, or make it vegan.
- Comfort food. This dish defines comfort food with the creamy cheesy sauce and pasta. If you have kids at the table, this is a must-make recipe.
🧅 Main Ingredients + Notes
The secret to faster and easier meals often lies in the ingredients. For example, store-bought items and ingredients you make ahead and store in the refrigerator (or freezer) can turn a 60-minute recipe into a 30-minutes meal or less.
For the all of the ingredients, measurements and directions, go to the Recipe Card at the bottom of this post.
- Yellow onion
- Vegan ground beef alternative - such as Impossible Beef or Beyond Meat
- Corn starch
- Spices - I use chili powder, dried oregano, and paprika.
- Milk - I use whole milk, but low fat, almond or oat milks work fine in this recipe.
- Better Than Bouillon - or other vegetable broth.
- Uncooked pasta - I use rotini, a spiral-shaped pasta, or use another pasta shape you prefer. Elbow macaroni was the traditional shape in the boxed version.
- Marinara sauce - I use Rao's Marinara, but use your favorite.
- Cheddar cheese - Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack are other great cheeses to use in this dish. It needs to be a melty cheese. Or use a vegan cheese.
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📝 Instructions Overview with Tips
Detailed instructions for making this vegetarian hamburger helper are in the recipe card below, but here's an overview with some tips!
Meal prep. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Whisk the spices and herbs together with the corn starch in a small bowl. Yep, that's the only meal prep you need to do!
Sauté. Sauté the onions over medium heat in a large skillet until softened, and add the garlic. Once you can smell the garlic, it won't take long, add the vegan ground meat. Break it up with a wooden spoon.
Once the vegan ground beef is broken up into little pieces, don't move it around much. This allows it to brown more quickly, and develop a little crust.
Make the sauce. Sprinkle the cornstarch and spices over the mixture in the pan, and stir to coat. Stir in the milk, broth and marinara sauce, and bring to a simmer.
If the sauce is already simmering when you add the pasta, the pasta will cook more evenly.
Add the pasta. Add the pasta, and push it around to submerge it all into the sauce. Cover with a lid, and simmer until the pasta is al dente, or to your preference.
I check it a couple times, if only to push pasta down into the sauce.
Finish and serve. Stir in the cheese for a cheesy pasta dish, and top with chopped parsley, if desired. Serve warm.
💡Ideas for Possible Variations
- In addition to the cheese variations suggested in the Ingredients section, add some cream cheese or sour cream with the cheddar cheese for a more creamy sauce. Use a vegan cream cheese or vegan sour cream if you want to make this dish vegan.
- If you don't have any marinara sauce on hand, use tomato sauce or tomato paste, and bump up the dried oregano. If you use tomato paste, don't use much, and add a little more broth if the sauce becomes too thick.
- If you like a little heat, add some red pepper flakes or a couple dashes of hot sauce.
- If you prefer not to use a vegan meat substitute, use brown lentils in place of it.
🥬 Make it Vegan
Since this vegetarian hamburger helper recipe already uses vegan ground meat, you're more than half-way to making a vegan version. Next you need to replace the dairy in the dish.
- Use a plant-based milk, such as soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk or oat milk. For a different flavor approach, use coconut milk.
- Use a vegan cheese. If you're wondering which one to use, read this comparison of plant-based cheeses.
🤷♀️ Vegetarian Hamburger Helper FAQ
Can I use a different pan to make this recipe?
Yes. You can use a large pot that has a heavy bottom, such as a Dutch oven.
Can I make this dish ahead?
Yes. Be sure to completely cool the finished recipe before you slide it into the refrigerator. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave in a microwave-safe dish with a little extra water.
The pasta will continue to absorb liquid when refrigerated, and without a little extra water added, the sauce will be a little dry.
Alternatively, reheat on the stovetop over medium heat.
Don't have time to run to the grocery store? Order the ingredients for this recipe using Instacart (affiliate link). Just click on the Instacart button in the recipe card below, and the ingredients will all be organized for you on their site. Plug in your zip code, choose the store you prefer, and select the ingredients you want delivered to your home.
Vegetarian Hamburger Helper
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion about ½ of a large onion
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt or ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound Impossible Beef * see Ingredient Notes for substitutions
- 1 ½ cups whole milk * see Ingredient Notes for substitutions
- 1 ½ cups Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Bouillon Paste, or vegetable broth
- ½ cup marinara sauce * see Variations for substitutions
- 2 cups rotini pasta noodles uncooked
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese * see Ingredient Notes for substitutions
Optional Finishing Touches
- 2 dashes hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley to serve
- Meal prep. Dice the onion, mince the garlic, and set aside. Whisk together the corn starch with the chili powder, dried oregano, paprika, salt, pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Sauté. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the diced onions. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, until it's fragrant. Add the vegan meat, and break it up using a wooden spoon. Once it's broken up, brown the meat substitute cooking for 5 - 6 minutes, only occasionally turning it over with the onion. Sprinkle the cornstarch and spice mixture over the mixture in the skillet, and stir to coat everything
- Make the sauce. Stir in the milk, broth and marinara sauce, and bring to a simmer.
- Add the pasta. Add the pasta to the pan, and push it into the sauce. Cover the pan, and lower the heat maintain a simmer for 10 - 12 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Pro tip: Be sure to check the pasta a couple of times while it cooks to ensure the pasta is submerged as much as possible. I stir it a little to move things around. This helps the pasta to cook evenly.
- Finish and serve. Remove the lid and stir in the cheese until melted. Add a couple dashes of hot sauce if you like a little heat. Serve topped with chopped parsley.