Vegan Mexican ‘Queso’ Sauce
For nachos, tacos, lasagne, pasta, legumes, veg, fish or chicken
Makes 1½ cups
(Vegan; no gluten, dairy, tomato, soy or other legumes)
The original Mexican queso sauce (KAY-zo: meaning cheese) and the American versions are basically cooked or raw vegetables (usually tomato, onion and chilli) mixed with melted cheese and served warm. Traditionally this is poured over nachos, used as a filling for tacos or warm tortillas, or used as a dip. Some US recipes use almost 1 kilo of cheese – mostly processed!
Beautifully red-orange in hue this flavourful version looks and tastes as if it has tomato and cheese. Make it mild or spicy and use in tacos or lasagne; drape over heated corn chips, pasta, tofu, fish, chicken, roast or steamed veg; or as a surround to stuffed eggplant, courgette, onion or mushroom caps (fill with breadcrumbs or mashed legumes, chopped walnuts, garlic, onion, parsley, salt; with avocado, tahini or beaten egg to bind). Extra sauce can be made and frozen if preferred. All cooks need a quick but healthy option for extra busy days.
Pureeing or cooking down vegetables (tomato for example) to achieve a thick, flavourful sauce without lots of fat, dairy or flour has long been the provenance of the cuisines of Latin America and India before adoption by nouvelle European chefs. Flaky savoury yeast – also called nutritional yeast or food yeast – adds to the cheesy flavour impact and nutrition and is available from health stores and some supermarkets. It is similar to (bitter) brewers yeast but nuttier and more palatable. This is the yeast used to make Marmite, not for baking bread. It looks like pale brown chocolate flakes – but there the similarity ends. It is high in protein, B vitamins, hard-to-obtain Chromium (see website TIPS), other minerals, and one of the 5 core tastes: umami, meaning savoury. Vegetarian meals benefit from the grounding grunt this flavour provides which is attributed to meat, fish, aged cheese, cooked tomato, soy sauce, seaweed, mushroom, miso, truffles – as well as MSG (TIPS), hence its popularity with the food industry. Use yeast flakes to make my popular Dynamite spread (see The Shape Diet).
No one whole food suits everyone. Some people do not fully breakdown an alkaloid in tomatoes which then impairs calcium metabolism (contact this office for an allergy test). This can weaken bones, joints, muscles, nerves and stimulates pain (see TIPS: Aches and Pains).
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil*
1 large red pepper, sliced or chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp sweet smoky Spanish paprika*
¼ tsp turmeric
dried chilli flakes (1/8 tsp will give medium heat; ¼ tsp for hot),
or chopped fresh chilli (optional)
1 cup finely chopped pumpkin
¼ cup cashews
½ cup water
¼ cup apple cider vinegar or other mild vinegar
3 Tbsp flaky savoury yeast*
1 tsp sea salt with kelp*
1 Tbsp rice flour*
In a small to medium saucepan over low heat cook the oil, peppers and garlic for about 5 minutes until softened – do not brown. Add the paprika, turmeric and optional chilli and cook 2 minutes or more to release flavour from the spices. Add the pumpkin, cashews, water, vinegar, yeast and salt. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.
Use a fork or small whisk and slowly sprinkle in the rice flour to thicken. Cook 1 minute. Puree with a stick blender or in a food processor. Serve, or reheat when ready; or chill or freeze for future use.
Shopping and Preparation Tips*
• Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil is achieved by using cold mechanical pressure rather than the high heat and chemical solvents typical to most supermarket oils. These practices damage oils and the people who eat them. For information on which fats to choose for which purpose and why, see my article on the TIPS page: The Fats of Life.
• Paprika: Only use top quality smoky, sweet Spanish paprika such as La Chinata. This is usually sold in small decorative tins in the supermarket. Ordinary paprika is usually stale, pale and without the punchy vigour this contributes to dishes.
• Rice flour: for baking use finely ground (can be called ‘zentrofan’) whole rice. Results will not be the same with coarse, gritty flour; or Asian rice flour (from starch only; looks sticky like cornflour*). Use brown rice flour (finely milled; not gritty). Or mix ½ brown rice flour (for increased nutrients); ½ white rice flour (for increased lightness) as preferred. For sauces 2-3 Tbsp thickens 1 cup liquid.
• Sea salt: is sea water dehydrated by sun. When mixed with seaweed (containing iodine and other minerals low in our soil) it is ideal in terms of flavour (interesting but not too strong) and mineral balance. Try Pacific Harvest or Malcolm Harker brands; both in health and gourmet stores. Ordinary salt is taken from mines or sea and so highly refined over extreme heat that it contains nothing but sodium chloride. All other minerals are stripped away, such as potassium and magnesium which help regulate fluid balance and blood pressure. Bleach as a whitener and chemicals to prevent clumping may be added to table salt.
• Yeast, flaky savoury: this is the yeast used to make Marmite and similar spreads; not the yeast used for bread making. It looks like pale brown chocolate flakes – but there the similarity ends. High in protein, B vitamins, hard-to-obtain chromium and other minerals. High in one of the 5 core tastes: umami, meaning savoury. Imparts a nutty, cheesy flavour. Buy from health stores and some supermarkets.