Let's be honest — thinking of vegan cheese substitutes leaves something to be desired. Maybe you've taken a peek at the vegan cheese options in the grocery stores or even dabbled in coaxing a couple hunks of almond cheese to melt atop slices of bread under the broiler. In my experience, that stuff does not melt and will leave your cheese dreams hopelessly shattered.
So when coming up with a creamy vegan queso recipe, I wanted to make sure it was as good as the real thing! No shattered dreams here. We're dreaming big with veggies, cashews, and a ton of spices — and it's paying off by the chip-ful.
My husband came into the kitchen while I was prepping the veggies for the queso dip. He asked me what I was making, and when I said, "Um, I'm making queso," he gave me a quizzical glance and looked very skeptically at the piles of carrots and butternut squash I was chopping. "Where's the cheese?" he asked. I broke the news that there would be no cheese in this queso. Eventually he gave up on trying to understand my cheese-less antics, and left the kitchen.
As I cooked the veggies with plenty of spices, I heard his voice yelling from the living room, "Oh, gosh. That smells really good!" So I knew I was on the right track. The softened vegetables went into my Vitamix with green chiles, salsa, cashews, almond milk, and a bunch of nutritional yeast to give it that cheesy flavor. The results were mind-blowing. I dipped a spoon in the finished product, tasted it, and smirked a little bit, knowing that this dip could fool any cheese-lover.
I made up a party platter of vegan queso and chips, and called my husband in to the living room to help me "taste test." After the first bite, we both descended on the dip like a couple of famished hyenas — occasionally stopping to tell each other, with full mouths, how much this dip tasted like the real thing.
Vegan Queso Dip
Makes approximately 4 cups of dip
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, very finely chopped
1 cup of thinly sliced butternut squash
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup vegetable stock
1 (4-ounce) can of green chiles
1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain almond milk
1 cup of cashews, soaked for 30 minutes or up to overnight and then drained
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 cup chunky salsa
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Chunky salsa or Rotel
Chopped cherry tomatoes
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are soft and the garlic is fragrant.
Add the finely chopped carrots and finely sliced butternut squash. Stir together, and add 1 teaspoon of the salt along with the cumin, chili powder and black pepper. Allow this mixture to cook together for a couple of minutes, then add in the vegetable stock. Allow the mixture to simmer together, stirring frequently until the veggies are soft and tender. You want them to be soft enough to blend up in a blender without any problems.
Add the vegetables to a high-powered blender. Add the can of green chiles, almond milk, cashews, nutritional yeast, chunky salsa, apple cider vinegar, and the remaining salt. Blend together, scraping down the sides as needed. Continue processing until the mixture has reached a thick and creamy consistency.
Adjust the seasoning as needed. If it's cooled off, simply put it into a pan and gently warm it over low heat to desired temperature. Serve it in a bowl alongside tortilla chips and garnish it with your favorite toppings.
(Image credits: Gina Eykemans)