My dad’s side of the family lives in El Paso, Texas. We've visited every couple of years for as long as I can remember. There isn’t much in El Paso but it’s proximity to Juarez means it has some pretty excellent Mexican food. We've been going to one particular family-runned restaurant called Avila’s for decades. I have such fond memories of going there with my immediate family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. As a kid, I remember staring in wonder when my dad told me his mole had chocolate in it. I remember thinking chocolate steak, gross!
As a kid (and who am I kidding, as an adult too) our favorite was always the sopapillas, these puffy, deep-fried hollowed Mexican doughnuts. We’d poke a hole in the corner and pour in as much honey as possible. It was always a delicious mess. The last time I went they began offering cinnamon sugar covered sopapillas, but I still prefer the original. Every meal ended with sopapillas, a dessert we never seemed to be able to find after we headed back to southern California. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had even heard of them, which to my brothers and I, made them feel even more exclusive and special. They were our best kept secret.
Every meal ended with sopapillas but every meal also began with chile con queso. Sharp white melted cheddar with soft roasted green chilies. We’d slather it on tortillas and eat it with chips. Most of the time we ate so much chile con queso that we were full before the meal got there, but that didn’t matter because everyone knew it was the best part anyway. And as delicious as it was, this queso is nothing like that.
The first time I made this queso over Super Bowl weekend, I promptly texted my dad and his siblings “vegan queso!”. My dad's side of the family is hispanic and they know a thing or two about good Mexican food. I got a range of reactions and even some suggestions from my chile obsessed Uncle Mike. So I applied said changes and the result is something even my Texas family members could appreciate. It’s creamy and spicy and full of green chiles and fresh pico de gallo, and although you’d never know it, it’s completely vegan. Trust me, you won’t miss the cheese one bit, or even be able to tell it’s missing.
Makes about 3 cups
Adapted from: Food52
1 large tomato, seeded & diced
1 jalapeño, seeded & diced
1/4 large red onion, diced
1 small handful cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 4 hours
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see notes)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 4-ounce can diced green chilis
Notes: 1/4 teaspoon cayenne makes this dish mild, 1/2 teaspoon makes it pretty spicy. I recommend starting with 1/4 teaspoon and adjusting from there.
Make the pico de gallo, in a small bowl toss the tomato, jalapeño, red onion, cilantro, and green onions with 1 tablespoon lime juice and set aside.
In the bowl of a blender blend the remaining tablespoon of lime juice, cashews, chili powder, paprika, nutritional yeast, water, salt, cayenne, and tomato paste until completely smooth. Adjust to taste, adding more lime/cayenne if needed.
Reserve a scant 1/4 cup of the pico de gallo. Stir the remaining pico de gallo and the green chilies into the queso and top with the reserved 1/4 cup.