Easy, Healthy, Vegan Queso
With just a handful of pantry ingredients, you can whip up a batch of oil-free, healthy, vegan queso. Best of all? It’s stretchy, lip-smacking delicious, and sure to please even the most devoted cheese lover.
My Grandpa, who was also my childhood hero, was a dairy farmer. Thanks to him, I developed an early passion for cheese. I love cheese in all its forms, colours, and flavours. So, when health challenges obliged me to adopt a vegan diet, I knew that the most difficult food for me to abandon would be cheese.
Needless to say, I worked up my courage and bought a variety of supermarket vegan cheeses almost immediately. My first experiences with commercial vegan cheeses left much to be desired. They were bland. They also didn’t melt or stretch. In short, most of the vegan cheeses I tried were both expensive and disappointing. So, I started researching various recipes online and in books to try to recreate the cheesy goodness I grew up with.
First on my list was queso. That ubiquitous orange topping for chips, fries, hot dogs, and beans is generally highly processed and terribly unhealthy. However, it’s also deliciously addictive! So, queso is a fast food treat that could definitely be improved upon — provided the flavour was right.
Fortunately, the first recipe I tried wasn’t too bad. The ingredients were surprisingly healthy. It tasted good, and the texture worked. However, it really didn’t hit the right flavour notes.
So, my search continued. As I learnt more about vegan cheeses, and began experimenting with various recipes, I developed new theories about how I might improve that original queso recipe.
Clearly I wasn’t an expert yet, because my second attempt was a disaster! Nonetheless, like all disasters, this one was constructive. I figured out which tweaks did not work — notably apple cider vinegar and chilli powder. The vinegar was overly acidic and its flavour dominated the “cheese”, while the chilli powder turned it an unappealing brown colour.
Fortunately, on the third attempt, I hit pay dirt. This vegan queso hit all the right flavour notes, contained no added fat, and reminded me of my favourite unhealthy treat! Best of all? You can make this tasty cheese with every day pantry ingredients. So — in my books — it’s the perfect lockdown treat!
About this Recipe
This is a very easy recipe. Nonetheless, I have a few tips to help you get optimal results.
Can I make queso without a high speed blender?
Yes you can. I confess I used a high speed blender (NutriBullet Rx) to get a very smooth purée. Unfortunately, I no longer have a “normal” blender. So, I was unable to test with one. However, you will certainly want to blend a bit longer to get the mixture very smooth. Two other tips for success are:
- Pre-soak the cashew nuts in water for at least four hours. Drain the water and add them to the blender. This will enable the nuts to break down and blend more easily.
- Pass the purée through a fine mesh strainer before cooking in order to remove any small lumps.
Can I Use Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilies in this recipe?
Absolutely! If you live in a place where Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chiles are available in the supermarket, please use them. There is nothing like their authentic flavour for a good queso (in my opinion). Simply substitute one 10 oz tin of Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilies for the tinned diced tomatoes and minced pickled jalapeños in the final step of the recipe.
Why use tapioca starch?
The tapioca starch in this recipe is what gives this vegan queso its stretchy, cheese-like quality. For it to work effectively, the starch must be cooked — which is why this recipe is finished on the stove. Stir continuously as you cook the queso (2 to 5 minutes), and remove it from the heat once the queso reaches the level of stretch you’re looking for. The longer you cook the queso, the thicker and stretchier it will become.
Most of all, I hope you enjoy this healthy, oil free queso every bit as much as my family does. Bon appétit!