Vegan Queso Recipe

Vegan Queso | pamela salzman

My oldest daughter is a freshman in college, if you can believe it.  I totally cannot believe because I feel like I was just in college!  She’s going to school in Texas where she is enjoying a lot of (shocking, I’m sure) Tex-Mex food.  When we went to visit over Parents’ Weekend, our first meal was at Torchy’s Tacos and the first thing my daughter ordered was two quesos.

cook the vegetables

Normally my daughter is a pretty healthful eater, but I know she has a weakness for Sprinkles cupcakes and melted cheese, although let’s assume not in the same bite.  Not that “queso” is actually cheese, even though that’s exactly what it means in Spanish.  “Queso” in a Tex-Mex restaurant is basically doctored up melted Velveeta or a Land O’Lakes product called Extra Melt. Uh, that to me isn’t real cheese.  And even if it were real cheese, pasteurized cow dairy is not awesome for you.  Small amounts, ok.  Fermented or cultured, a little better.  Sheep or goat dairy, I’m in.

other ingredients for the queso

So I said to my daughter, “I can make a vegan version of this that I think is even better and won’t give you zits in the morning.”

“Whaaaat???  Since when?  You’ve been holding out on me!”

Maybe so.  In the meantime, I passed on the so called “queso.”


I did teach this vegan queso-type dip in my classes last year, and I figured it would be perfect to share before the Super Bowl.  This recipe is actually a twist on my vegan mac and cheese recipe, jazzed up with jalapeño, black or pinto beans, and my new favorite product, Whole Foods organic frozen fire-roasted corn.  If you haven’t made the mac and cheese, I am in love with it.  Delicious and mostly veggies – no fake cheese, no nutritional yeast but still crazily resembles cheese sauce.  And this version is a Tex-Mex-healthy-not-cheese-party that I am in love with, too.

back into the pot

This vegan “queso” I have used on nachos for the kids, on baked potatoes with salsa, on breakfast tacos and on spaghetti squash.  Love it!  I will come clean and tell you I much prefer it with butter over Earth Balance. Updated: Miyoko’s vegan butter works perfectly. If you absolutely cannot have butter, use the Earth Balance or Miyoko’s.  If you have a choice, use the butter.  I always use butter.  Because it’s better.  And then this isn’t vegan, but it’s cheese sauce made out of vegetables!!

add jalapeño, black beans and fire roasted corn

This queso can be made a day or two ahead and reheated.  It does not freeze well.  Updated: it will be fine frozen, but you have to reblend it after defrosting it.  But you won’t need to freeze it because you’re going to eat it ALL!!  I don’t even care who wins the game on Sunday.  Just give me a super bowl of queso!

vegan queso | pamela salzman

vegan queso | pamela salzman

2.06.21 I am updating the recipe to reflect the fact that some salts may be “saltier” than others.  

5.0 from 3 reviews
Vegan Queso
Serves: 4-6
I often serve this with no add-ins. So feel free to leave out the jalapeno, corn and beans if you like.
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1 cup (about 7 ounces) chopped Yukon gold potatoes (you can leave the peel on)
  • ¼ cup chopped carrots (about 1 small carrot)
  • ⅓ cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup raw cashews (soaked for 1-5 hours and drained if your blender is weak)*
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter (not vegan) or Miyoko's or organic Earth Balance (both vegan)**
  • 1½ - 2 teaspoons sea salt (use less if using vegan butter or if you've never made this before)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic, minced (about 1 medium clove)
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional, but add it if you have it)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeds discarded, diced (about 3 Tablespoons)
  • ½ cup frozen fire-roasted corn, defrosted
  • ¾ cup cooked pinto or black beans, rinsed and drained if using canned
  • Accompaniments: tortilla chips, sweet potato chips, baked sweet potato wedges, baked fingerling potato halves
  1. In a medium saucepan, add the shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion and water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.
  2. Place the cashews, butter, salt, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, and cayenne in a blender or food processor. Add the softened vegetables and cooking water to the blender or food processor and process until perfectly smooth. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning if needed.
  3. Pour sauce back into pot, and add the jalapeno, corn, and beans. Warm over medium-low heat for 4-6 minutes. Can be made ahead and reheated.
*Options here: to save the step of soaking cashews, cook the cashews with the vegetables. OR use the same amount of RAW cashew butter or JOI almond butter base (it's blanched and raw and has no flavor) or cooked white beans if you are nut-free.
**only use Earth Balance if you can't use Miyoko's vegan butter or can’t or won’t tolerate butter. The dip turns out better with Miyoko's or dairy butter, in my opinion.



Zucchini-gruyere tart

Do you remember the first cookbook you ever bought?  Not counting the Calling All Girls Party Book in second grade, I bought my first cookbook with my own money in 1987, the year I graduated from high school.  My Aunt Maria drove me out to one of her favorite gourmet food shops in the Hamptons on Long Island.  Loaves and Fishes was a darling little shingled cottage in Sagaponack and run by a mother-daughter team named Anna and Sybille Pump.  All these years I thought I was their biggest fan, but apparently I’m not the only Loaves and Fishes admirer.  The famous Ina Garten has adapted a recipe or two (or more) from Anna and even dedicated one of her cookbooks to her.

I basically taught myself how to cook from Loaves and Fishes. When The Loaves and Fishes Party Cookbook came out, I scooped it up and read it cover to cover.  Anna Pump taught me how to entertain with ease and it was from this book that I learned what I could prep in advance, an education that still serves me today.  Loaves and Fishes is still around.  I actually visited the cook shop in Bridgehampton last summer.  I wouldn’t say that the recipes in the book are the most healthful or that I even use many of them today, but this recipe for zucchini-gruyere tart from the first book is my hands-down favorite hors d’oeuvre ever.  It should be in the Hors D’oeuvre Hall of Fame.  I have been making it for 24 years and it has never failed me (even when I’ve used  zucchini from (shhhh!) Mexico when they’re out of season here.)  I have also made it with heirloom tomatoes instead of zucchini and it’s always a showstopper.

Manhattan Beach has the potluck thing down.  Last weekend my friends Kristy and Sarah hosted a lovely “small plates night” at Sarah’s home.  You MUST do this sometime.  Everyone brings an appetizer or a bottle of wine and has a fabulous time catching up and watching the sun set over the ocean (it helps that Sarah lives right in front of the Pacific.)  I brought the zucchini tart which I cut into 64 slightly-bigger-than-bite-size pieces and it vanished faster than the chardonnay, which is saying something.

Please don’t be intimidated by the pastry crust — if you’ve rolled out sugar cookie dough, you can do this.  But if you don’t want to, just buy 2 premade pastry crusts and fit it to the baking sheet.  Puff pastry would be another option here.  Every time I make it, I apply the tips I learned from my first books and I blind bake the crust the day before and leave it at room temperature.  Also the day before I shred the cheese, slice the zucchini, make the herb oil and refrigerate them all separately.  After working (i.e. cooking) all day and shuttling kids to their activities, all I needed to do before the party was assemble the tart and freshen up while it baked in the oven.  Now, go find an excuse to make this and then thank Anna Pump.

Zucchini-Gruyere Tart
Serves: yields approximately 100 1-by-2-inch pieces (I usually cut them larger to yield 64-72 pieces)
  • CRUST:
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or use all regular white flour)
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 small egg yolks
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 4 medium zucchini, about 1 ½ pounds
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¾ pound Gruyere cheese, grated
  • ⅓ cup finely grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
  1. To make the crust, place the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse 5 times. Add the egg yolks and pulse 2 more times. With the motor running, and the water through the feed tube. Process only until the dough begins to stick together. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and quickly form it into a ball. Wrap the dough in parchment and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Cut the zucchini diagonally into ⅛- inch slices and place them in a large bowl. (A mandoline makes this task very easy. You can do this the day before and refrigerate, covered.)
  4. Put the parsley, garlic, basil, and thyme in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Sprinkle with the pepper and salt and process until the herbs are chopped fine. With the motor still running, add the olive oil through the feed tube. (You can dot his the day before and keep refrigerated in an airtight container.) Pour the herb mixture over the zucchini slices and mix well.
  5. Roll out the pastry dough to a ⅛-inch thickness. Fit it into a 18-by-12-by-1-inch pan. Cover the pastry with parchment paper, including the corners. Pour pie weights over the parchment paper, filling the pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove parchment and weights and bake the tart pastry for 5 minutes more. *
  6. Spread the mustard over the bottom of the crust. Distribute the cheeses over that. Arrange the zucchini in overlapping rows, covering the cheese. Pour whatever herb mixture is left in the bowl over the zucchini.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake the tart for 30 minutes more.
The tart pastry can be blind-baked up to the day before, cooled and left covered at room temperature until ready to fill and bake.