It always happens. Just as I’m about to drift off to sleep at night, a recipe idea zings into my brain out of nowhere. This time, for vegan queso.
Origins of Queso
Queso, also called chile con queso, is a melty, cheesy dip that’s typically served alongside tortilla chips. It’s believed to have originated in Texas in the early 1900s (source).
Though you may find chile con queso at some Mexican restaurants in the US, it’s much different than the authentic Mexican queso (called queso fundido) that likely inspired it. While queso fundido is typically made with soft white cheeses, chile con queso is usually made with more processed American cheeses. You can learn more about the history and differences here.
Our plant-based version is not traditional, but is inspired by the creaminess and heat of chile con queso!
Eggplant Vegan Queso
I’ve tried vegan cheese based with cashews. It’s good, and it’s the first way I learned to mock cheese texture and flavor without using dairy. But I knew there had to be a better way.
I mean, not that I’m into counting calories, but cashews are very high in calories and fat and you can detect them in sauces unless you really build up the flavor from spices and otherwise.
So, the thought was, “What else is creamy but neutral and would make a good base for cheese sauce?”
The zinger I got at midnight whilst falling asleep: EGGPLANT!
Eggplant is amazingly versatile, especially once roasted. I enjoy it in pastas, whirled into baba ganoush or even roasted and layered into a hearty veggie sandwich. I adore the creaminess of baba ganoush and suspected its eggplant base would make an excellent base for vegan queso.
DING DING DING. I was correct.
This sauce starts with roasted eggplant. I speed up the process by slicing it into thin rounds and broiling. A little steam in foil and then you can pull away the skin with ease. Then, just throw it into a blender with almond milk, nutritional yeast and a handful of spices and you’re good to go.
Look at that creamy queso goodness.
A little cornstarch in the mix helps it thicken up once heated in a saucepan for serving. This is an optional step but I recommend it for that ultimate luxurious cheesy texture. (If you don’t use cornstarch, try another thickener, such as arrowroot powder.)
All that’s left to do is add in a few Tbsp of slightly drained Rotel (just like real queso dip!) or your favorite chunky salsa. This really sends the texture and flavor over the top to mock the real thing.
Oh. My. Word.
You’re not gonna believe how delicious this is. And guess what? HUSBAND APPROVED!
John tried it, and he doesn’t like cashew sauces, and he really liked this dip! We agreed that it was ridiculous how close it was to real queso dip. Seriously amazing!
So what does it taste like?
Begging to be added to all your favorite dishes
Don’t worry. I have a few recipes in the works utilizing this dreamy dip! And another bonus: It reheats extremely well! If you’ve ever made cashew cheese you know it doesn’t exactly reheat well. But with this, you can just pop it in the microwave or put it back in a saucepan and it’s just as good!
Yet ANOTHER bonus? This dip is cashew-, soy-, dairy-, and gluten-free!
And did I mention it’s way lighter in fat and calories than nut- and dairy-based quesos? Just 55 calories and 3.5 grams of (healthy) fat per serving! What’s not to love? Make this dip! And if you do, take a picture and tag it #minimalistbaker on Instagram so I can see! Cheers!
Cashew-Less Vegan Queso
- 7-9 rounds of eggplant (sliced 1/4-inch thick // half of a medium eggplant yields 7-9 rounds)
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups unsweetened original almond milk
- 2-3 Tbsp nutritional yeast (see instructions)
- 1/4 tsp finely minced fresh garlic (I used crushed garlic from Trader Joe’s)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp cornstarch (optional for thickening // sub another thickener if desired)
- 1/4 cup chunky medium salsa (slightly drained // OR 1/4 10-ounce can of Rotel original diced tomatoes and green chilies)
- Smoked paprika and hot sauce (optional // for added color and flavor upon serving)
- Slice your eggplant into thin rounds just under 1/2 inch (not quite 1/4 inch). Then sprinkle both sides of the flesh with a little sea salt and arrange in a colander to help draw out some of the moisture and bitterness. Let set for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse with cool water and thoroughly pat dry between two clean towels.
- Preheat oven to high broil and place an oven rack near the top of the oven. Arrange the dried eggplant rounds on a baking sheet lightly spritzed with non-stick spray and drizzle both sides of the eggplant with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with a very small amount of salt.
- Broil on high for 4-5 minutes on each side, watching carefully as to not let them burn. Flip at the halfway point to ensure even cooking. Once the eggplant appears tender and both sides have golden brown color, remove from the oven and wrap loosely in foil to steam.
- After a few minutes, unwrap and peel the eggplant skin away. It should come right off. If you pack your roasted eggplant into a 1-cup measuring cup, it will be almost 1 cup (amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size).
- Place eggplant in a blender with almond milk (starting with the lesser amount), nutritional yeast (starting with the lesser amount), minced garlic, cumin, chili powder and cornstarch and blend on high until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. I added a pinch more sea salt and a little more nutritional yeast. To thin, add more almond milk.
- Transfer to a small saucepan and warm over medium to medium-high heat until slightly thickened and bubbly – about 5 minutes. The longer you go the thicker it will become.
- NOTE: If it isn’t looking as thick as you want, thicken with a slurry of cornstarch by adding an additional 1 tsp cornstarch to a small bowl with a little almond milk and 2-3 Tbsp of the cheese mixture (amounts as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size). Whisk to combine and then stir back into the pot. This should thicken it right up.
- Once hot and thickened, remove from heat and stir in DRAINED salsa or Rotel. Don’t put the liquid in or it will make it runny. Pour into a serving dish and top with a little smoked paprika and hot sauce for flavor/color.
- Serve with chips, crackers or veggies. Keep warm in a mini crockpot or over a tea light warmer if you have one. Microwaves well.
- NOTE: When this dip sits out for a long time it loses its orange hue. It doesn’t affect the flavor but it doesn’t look as appetizing, so it’s really best when fresh!
- Refrigerate and cover leftovers. Reheats extremely well in the microwave or in a saucepan. Will keep for up to a few days, but best when fresh.