Yeah, I would be skeptical of this cheese-less queso if I were you. Queso literally means “cheese” in Spanish, so this dip is a dairy-free, cheese-like fraud—a fraud that this dairy-eating queso lover thoroughly enjoys. That counts for something, right?
I was highly skeptical of vegan queso until Ali convinced me to give Füd’s vegan nachos a chance. She said they’re the best nachos in town, vegan or not, so I agreed to meet her there for lunch. While I would still argue that the world’s best nachos feature golden, bubbly, baked cheese (and are cooked to order at The Library Bar and Grill in Norman, Oklahoma), Füd’s nachos were pretty good.
They were good enough that I happily polished off my half of our heaping plate of nachos and left with a belly full of chips and “cheese,” like I would if presented with real cheese nachos, except this time I didn’t need a nap afterward. Bonus point for dairy-free queso.
Even after sampling those nachos and a couple other vegan “quesos” since, I had no intention of posting a recipe for one. Then I tried Ali Maffucci‘s (she’s another Ali) recipe for chipotle carrot mac and cheese in her new book, Inspiralized. I was hungry and the recipe sounded interesting and easy enough. It was really tasty, too. I got hooked on the creamy chipotle-carrot mixture and after playing around with it a few more time, realized it would make a great queso. I mean, “queso.”
If you’re going to give cashew-based queso a shot, you’ll need to adjust your expectations first. Beware that it won’t taste quite like cheese and it won’t have that cheesy stretch-and-pull effect to it. It will be creamy, however, thanks to the cashews, and cheese-like in flavor, due to nutritional yeast. Mine includes cooked carrots, which lend a golden color and a light sweetness that is balanced out by spicy, smoky chipotle peppers. Try it and let me know what you think!
- 3 large carrots (about 1/2 pound), peeled and chopped
- 1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours if not using a Vitamix or Blendtec blender (see notes for quicker alternatives)
- 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
- 3 to 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes, to taste
- 1 to 3 tablespoons adobo sauce (from canned chipotle peppers)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 small can green chilis, drained
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped pickled jalapeño peppers (optional, for a vinegary kick)
- Big handful cherry tomatoes, chopped
- Handful chopped fresh cilantro
- Warm the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the chopped carrots, onions and garlic and a dash of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender, around 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- In a blender, combine the cashews, vegetable broth and carrot-onion mixture. Add 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon adobo sauce, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Puree the mixture until it is completely smooth.
- Taste and adjust as necessary—add more nutritional yeast for more cheesy flavor and/or more adobo sauce for more heat. (I find that the heat mellows out with a short rest and that it tastes less intense on a corn chip than by the spoonful.) Season to taste with salt and black pepper and blend again.
- Next, warm the queso, either by using the soup function on your fancy-pants blender until it’s sufficiently heated or by pouring the queso back into the pot and warming it over medium heat, stirring frequently, until warmed through.
- Stir the drained green chilis and optional chopped jalapeños into the mixture. Pour it into a serving bowl and top with chopped cherry tomatoes, cilantro and more jalapeños, if you’d like. Dig in!
Where to buy chipotle peppers in adobo sauce: Look for small cans of chipotle peppers in the Mexican aisle of well-stocked grocery stores or specialty Mexican groceries. (You can freeze the leftovers of the can in a small freezer-safe bag for later!) If you can’t find canned chipotles, try seasoning the queso to taste with ground chipotle powder or a smoky/roasted/chipotle-flavored hot sauce.
About those cashews: Soaking the cashews makes them easier to blend and to digest, so that’s a good option albeit a time-consuming one. My Vitamix had no trouble blending the raw cashews as-is. If you don’t have time to soak the cashews and don’t have a fancy-pants blender, try this instead: Heat the broth on the stove until it’s pretty hot and pulse the dried cashews in the blender until they resemble a fine powder (stop before they turn into cashew butter). Then, pour the broth into the blender and blend until smooth (beware of hot steam escaping from the top of the blender). Proceed by adding the carrot mixture and spices as directed.