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.”

blend

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
Author: 
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.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.
Notes
*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.

 

 

Thai (Grass-fed) Steak Salad Recipe (or with Chicken)

 

Thai Steak (or Chicken or Salmon) Salad Recipe | Pamela Salzman

 

Oh people.  We are on the brink of my favorite time of year.  A time of backyard barbeques, picnics at the beach, sand between my toes, fresh tomatoes and basil, peach pie, and long nights under starry skies.  Ahhhh, summer.  Beyond better weather and my favorite produce, life is just easier when the kids are out of school.  No homework, tests or book reports.  Sure, two out of my three have a summer reading list, but they always wait until the last week of summer to crack those books open, so it’s smooth sailing until then.

Because we live at the beach, we entertain most weekends in the summer, starting with Memorial Day which, being the East Coaster that I am, is the unofficial start of “the season.”  One of my favorite things to do right about now is start planning a few menus that I can rotate during the summer.  Whenever I am thinking of the ideal food to prepare — make ahead, room temperature and easy all come to mind.  Very often, we’ll go to the beach for the afternoon, come back to the house to freshen up before lingering over dinner in the backyard.  This doesn’t give me too much time to cook for a crowd, so I look for recipes which allow me to prep in the morning or the night before so I can do more assembling than cooking.

This Thai Steak Salad has never appeared on any of my summer menus since I just taught it a few months ago in my classes, but it will definitely be a regular this season.  There are so many reasons I love this salad — it’s light, I can vary it with chicken or tofu (even shrimp) and change up the vegetables according to what looks good, and there’s lots of prep in advance that I can do.  Oh, forgot to mention that my family loves it, too!  The first time I told my kids and husband they were eating “Thai” steak salad, I saw a bunch of sad faces.  “We don’t like Thai food.  It’s too spicy.  Or sour.”  “Guess what?  You’ve never had Thai food in your life!”  I only call this a “Thai” Steak Salad because of the combination of sweet, sour and sort of spicy in the marinade/dressing, plus the addition of cilantro and/or mint.  I have a feeling I am taking a lot of liberties with the word “Thai.”  I could probably get away with it if I added some fish sauce to the marinade.  Next time.  However, if I were to rename this recipe, I would call it Yummy, Fresh, Tangy, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Vegan-adaptable, Paleo-friendly, Perfect for Summer Salad.  If you’re debating whether or not to veer from the standard burger fare this holiday, I have two words for you:  Pink Slime.

 

If you’ve been hanging out with me for the last year, you probably remember my post on how to reduce carcinogens when you grill.  Now’s a good time for a refresher.  Whereas you can definitely grill the steak or chicken here (I did grill the chicken), I prefer a more healthful way to cook the steak.  It’s a method I picked up from Cook’s Illustrated and it’s especially good for cooking grass-fed beef, which can get dried out if you’re not careful.  The only downside is that it takes a few minutes longer than grilling, but it’s a really tasty result and likely less carcinogenic.  No matter how you make this salad, it will surely be a delicious way to welcome in summer!

 

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Thai Steak Salad Recipe
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • Marinade/Dressing:
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ cup unrefined olive oil, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons shoyu (or gluten-free tamari)
  • 6 Tablespoons packed fresh cilantro or mint leaves, chopped (or a combo)
  • 1-2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes or ½ teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon raw honey
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ pounds grass-fed top sirloin or flank steak, about 1-inch thick
  • sea salt to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon unrefined coconut oil or olive oil
  • 8 heaping cups salad greens, about 6-7 ounces
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • a few handfuls of seasonal veggies*: thinly sliced cucumber or sweet bell pepper, sprouts, julienned carrots, fresh mint leaves, fresh Thai basil leaves
Instructions
  1. Combine lime juice, 6 Tablespoons oil, shoyu, cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, honey, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Whisk together and set aside.
  2. If steak is thicker than 1 inch, place between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound on both sides. Remove wrap and place meat in a shallow nonreactive dish that is just small enough to hold the meat. Pour HALF the marinade (about ⅔ cup) over the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours (longer is better). Take the reserved marinade in the bowl and add 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Set this aside as your salad dressing.
  3. Pull the steak from the refrigerator about 30-60 minutes before cooking it. Preheat oven to 275 degrees or preheat a grill.
  4. Insert a wire rack inside a baking sheet and place the meat on top of the rack and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Bake for 20-30 minutes for medium to medium-well.
  5. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat. Transfer the steak to the skillet and sear for 2-3 minutes on each side for medium to medium-well. Alternatively, grill over medium heat for about 10 minutes for medium doneness.
  6. Transfer meat to a carving board and allow to rest for 10 minutes, covered.
  7. Assemble the salad greens on a platter and drizzle with half the dressing (about ⅓ cup), tossing to coat. Drizzle the shallots and vegetables with half the remaining dressing (about 2 ½ Tablespoons). Toss to coat and arrange on top of the salad. Taste for salt and add as needed.
  8. Slice meat thinly against the grain on a diagonal. Arrange slices of meat on top of the greens and drizzle with remaining dressing.
Notes
* I used 1 whole red bell pepper and 2 Persian cucumbers.

To prep in advance, marinate steak or chicken the night before. Keep dressing refrigerated. Wash and cut all vegetables and keep refrigerated until ready to assemble.

 

 

My favorite tuna salad

Well people, sandwich season is upon us and I’m proposing that we branch out and see if we can avoid making peanut butter and jelly everyday.  In fact, I know many of you are in nut-free schools and can’t rely on the old standby at all.  On the other hand, luncheon meats freak me out a bit — and not for any scientific reason.  I just can’t get past the idea that this turkey was cooked who knows when and squished and reformed into this new product with lots of “natural flavors.”  I’d rather poach or grill organic chicken breasts and give the kids chicken sandwiches, which is exactly what I do and I save a little money while I’m at it.

As for me, I’m not much of a sandwich eater, mostly because I prefer to eat quinoa over bread.  But if I had to pick a sandwich for my last supper, it would be tuna salad with lettuce, tomato and avocado on whole grain bread.  If there happen to be some grilled onions lying around, I would add those in, too.  But this wouldn’t be just any tuna salad, it would be this one right here, which my kids also love — hooray!

I found the canned tuna of my dreams at Vital Choice — cooked once, BPA-free cans, minimal mercury and absolutely the best tasting tuna ever.   (It’s also one of the most expensive tunas out there.  Drat!)  Tuna is high in Omega-3 fatty acids (very anti-inflammatory and you’re probably not getting enough of them) and high in protein (so important when the kids are at school).  I mix it with some of the expected like a little mayo (I like soy-free Vegenaise), celery, diced shallot (I hate cutting 2 tablespoons of onion and then wrapping the cut onion in the fridge), a little lemon juice to brighten everything up and a touch of Dijon mustard to give it some zing.  But don’t get mad when I tell you I have a random secret ingredient.  My friend Daisy introduced me to Herbamare, an organic herb and salt seasoning, several years ago and my tuna salad peaked.  It just adds the perfect flavor to complement the tuna.  I buy it at Whole Foods, but you can also find it on amazon.com.  Otherwise, just use some sea salt to taste.

You can make your tuna salad the night before to make your morning easier.  Mr. Picky doesn’t like sandwiches (hard to believe, right?), so he takes his tuna in a (BPA-free) container with a spoon.  My teenage girls would please like a breath freshener in their lunch bags on tuna day, and that does NOT mean a sprig of parsley.  Got it.  Look out for more lunch ideas in a future post!

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
My Favorite Tuna Salad
Author: 
Serves: serves about 3
 
Ingredients
  • 1 6-ounce can water-packed tuna, drained
  • ¼ of a lemon
  • 1 stalk celery, diced, about ½ cup
  • 1 small shallot, diced, about 2 Tablespoons
  • 2-3 Tablespoons mayonnaise (I like soy-free Vegenaise) or half Greek yogurt and half mayo
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • ⅜ teaspoon Herbamare or sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Right in the can, flake the tuna with a fork over a medium bowl, at the same time allowing the tuna to fall into the bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the tuna.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix well. Taste for seasoning.
Notes
Notes: other additions can include diced apple, diced sweet bell pepper, sliced manzanilla olives (the ones stuffed with pimentos), chopped nuts, chopped water chestnuts, fresh dill