Queso! I adore it, but I always overdo it, and waddle out of Mexican restaurants with a belly full of cheese. Unfortunately, my queso-digesting powers seem to be diminishing rather than improving with age. So, I decided to come up with a dairy-free version to rival my favorite restaurant’s.
This stuff is remarkably queso-like. You can serve it in a bowl or drizzle it over nachos, burritos, or maybe even French fries. I won’t judge. I aimed to create the tastiest vegan queso, not the absolute quickest queso, which usually just consists of cashews blended with spices. For mine, you’ll build flavor on the stovetop, then transfer everything to a blender. It’s totally worth the effort.
Let’s talk about the ingredients inside my queso. It starts with sautéed onion, like all delivious savory recipes. Then, russet potato comes into play, which has a magical tendency to become silky smooth, creamy and a little stretchy once blended. I grated the potato, which is faster than chopping it, and it cooks very quickly that way.
Fresh garlic and dried spices offer some complexity and familiar queso flavor. I included onion powder and garlic powder, which might seem redundant, but the combo makes this sauce taste irresistible—that’s a little trick I learned from Serious Eats, along with the potato factor.
Then, add raw cashews for more body and creaminess, and some water, which finishes cooking the potatoes and softens the cashews so they blend more easily. Once cooked, transfer everything to a blender (my Vitamix handles this queso like a champ).
Nutritional yeast offers some umami and “cheesy” flavor/color, and sun-dried tomatoes provide another little umami boost. Vinegar, hot sauce and salt round it out. Once blended to creamy oblivion, stir in some fire-roasted tomatoes, which are infinitely better than Ro-Tel.
Voilà (or the Spanish equivalent)! You have the best vegan queso, which is so good that my cheese-eating girls’ night crew couldn’t stop going back for more. My best friend from childhood is coming to town soon and I’m going to make her some, too. We’ve eaten a lot of queso in our years together, but she has realized that dairy doesn’t agree with her skin, so this queso will be the perfect alternative.
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 cup peeled and grated russet potato (4 ounces, about 1 small or 1/2 medium potato), preferably organic
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- 1 cup (5 ounces) raw cashews*
- 1 1/2 cups water, more as necessary
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon rinsed oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons hot sauce (I used Chipotle)
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar
- 2/3 cup well-drained fire-roasted tomatoes (I recommend Muir Glen brand) or chunky salsa
- 2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeños, optional
- Optional toppings: additional fire-roasted tomatoes or salsa or chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro, thinly sliced fresh jalapeños or pickled jalapeños, and/or finely chopped red onion
- In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender and turning translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the grated potato, garlic, paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and salt. Stir to combine, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes to enhance their flavors.
- Add the cashews and water, and stir to combine. Let the mixture come to a simmer. Continue simmering, stirring frequently and reducing heat as necessary to avoid a rapid boil, until the potatoes are completely tender and cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes.
- Carefully pour the mixture into a blender, but keep the pot handy for later. Add the nutritional yeast, sun-dried tomatoes, hot sauce and vinegar. Blend until the mixture is completely smooth, about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides if necessary. If the mixture won't blend easily or if you would prefer a thinner consistency, add water in 1/4 cup increments, blending after each one.
- Taste, and blend in additional salt until the queso is utterly irresistible (I typically add about 1/2 teaspoon more). Pour the mixture back into the pot and add the tomatoes or salsa and jalapeños, if using. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very warm.
- To serve it as a dip, transfer to a serving bowl and top with any garnishes you'd like. Or to make nachos, drizzle it generously over a bed of tortilla chips and garnish as desired. Serve immediately. Leftovers taste even better the next day! Store cooled leftover queso in a bowl, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Gently reheat on the stove or in the microwave, stirring frequently, until warmed throughout.
*Raw cashew notes: Most recipes like this suggest soaking the cashews for 4 hours in advance to make them easier to blend and to digest. I honestly never soak mine since I have a powerful Vitamix that blends them right up. The cashews in this recipe are cooked in hot liquid, so they're softer and even easier to blend. However, if you don't have a great blender or if you're concerned about the digestibility factor, go ahead and soak them in advance.