Queso Sauce has always had a special place in my heart. It started in my youth with the classic American “queso” dip made with processed Velveeta cheese and Rotel, a canned blend of diced tomatoes and green chilies. At restaurants, queso sauce, and other Mexican-inspired cheese dips, became a standard order, and I even began experimenting with scratch-made queso sauces, using a roux and real cheese instead of melted Velveeta. But there’s something I love even more than a good bowl of spicy cheesy goodness and crispy corn tortilla chips, and that something is queso sauce and chips served with smoky, spicy chorizo sausage.
For the vegan version of this crowd-favorite I use a super simple “queso” sauce made from either cashews or sunflower seeds (take your pick). I flavor the sauce with lots of garlic, tex-mex-style spices and of course, diced tomatoes and green chilies. If you think that sounds good, just wait. I make my own chorizo crumbles out of “vital wheat gluten” and a boat-load of spices. Vital wheat gluten comes in a powder, it’s both easy to work with and affordable. When you add some liquid to the mix the powder transforms into stretchy crumbles. Simply pan fry and that’s it.
Of course it’s not required to eat the sauce with the chorizo. Use the chorizo as an enchilada stuffing and use the queso sauce on grilled veggie tacos. I made a Queso con Chorizo Burrito the other day with quinoa and pickled onions – it was top notch. Basically you’re getting two amazing recipes in one here, and they can each be used separately or together in a million diff ways. You’re welcome.
Vegan Queso con Chorizo
For the “Queso”
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional, for a smokey flavor)
1.5 cups raw cashews (see notes for nut-free option)
1 cup water (+ up to 3 tablespoons, just enough to blend until smooth)
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (I like fire-roasted)
1 4-oz can green chilies (mild or hot)
For the “Chorizo”
3/4 cup vital wheat gluten
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1.5 teaspoons paprika (sub 1/2 teaspoon for smoked paprika, optional)
1.5 teaspoons oregano
1.5 teaspoons granulated garlic granules or powder
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon onion granules or powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup water
3 tbs tamari or soy sauce (low sodium)
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons neutral oil
neutral, high-heat oil (like canola or avocado or sunflower seed)
Soak cashews if desired. Drain.
In a small sauce pan, heat olive oil and garlic cloves over low heat. Cook until golden, stirring and smashing the cloves occasionally, about 6 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Add chipotle powder and cumin to the warm oil. Allow to cool.
In a blender combine cashews, 1 cup water, nutritional yeast, 1.5 teaspoons salt and the garlic/spice mixture. Don’t clean out the garlic pan. Blend until super smooth, add 2-3 more tablespoons water if needed.
Add the tomatoes, green chilies and 1 teaspoon salt to the pot. Bring to a rolling simmer and reduce to low. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, turn off heat. Add the cashew “queso” to the tomatoes, stir to combine.
In a medium size mixing bowl, combine wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon salt and spices. Whisk or stir to fully mix. In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup water, tamari or soy sauce and maple syrup. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and mix to combine. The mixture will start to turn into a stretchy dough and will begin to separate. Use your fingers to continue mixing and breaking it up into pieces.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add enough neutral oil to fully coat the pan and add the crumbled chorizo. Spread the crumbles over the entire pan and press them down gently. Let them cook undisturbed between occasional stirring. Cook for about 8 minutes for well done. A bit of sticking to the pan is fine, but if the crumbles stick too much, you can add a splash of water.
Turn off heat and add 3-4 tablespoons water to the pan, just to help deglaze. Allow to cool slightly, the crumbles will firm up as they cool down.
Nut-Free – instead of cashews use 1 cup raw sunflower seed kernels and 1.25 cups water. You will likely need 2-4 tablespoons more water to allow for blending, but you’re trying to use as little as possible. For the sunflower seed version I like to add 2-3 teaspoons maple syrup or other sweetener, to balance the slightly bitter flavor of the seeds.
Soaking Cashews + Sunflower Seeds – cold soak by covering nuts/seeds in water and transferring to the fridge for 8 hours OR cover nuts/seeds in nearly boiling water and allow to sit until water is fully cooled, or about an hour.