Many of you have been loving my cauliflower mac and cheese recipe. I know that was only a couple of weeks ago, but I JUST remembered the Super Bowl is coming up (as you can see, I excel at planning ahead). So I spent a day earlier this week furiously testing this vegan cauliflower queso recipe. Made from silky smooth cauliflower and creamy cashews cooked with familiar nacho cheese flavors, this is my best vegan nacho cheese yet.
As you may recall, I’ve never fully embraced the vegan potato carrot cheese because of the strange and sweet carrot flavor. Someone pointed out on my previous recipe that cauliflower has a slight sweetness to it too. (But importantly, still no weird carrot taste). I think that works fine for cheezy pasta but I wanted this cauliflower queso to be extra funky and tangy. So I tempered that mild sweet flavor with a fairly aggressive amount of pickled jalapeno juice and hot sauce. Not to worry – if you have kids or others with sensitive taste buds, you can swap in some vinegar for less heat.
I’m trying to eat as many different plants per day as I can right now. (I was inspired after seeing a talk by Jeff Leach about the human gut microbiome). We have a whiteboard on the fridge where we’re writing every unique plant that we eat in a nontrivial amount. So I’m pretty stoked that I can eat nachos while also adding another veggie to my list. Sometimes I get a little down on myself if I’m not eating “healthy enough” and this easy type of food tracking is great for both encouragement and feeling a sense of achievement. And for making room for vegan nachos 🙂
Anyway, I’ve seen many queso recipes call for Rotel. That’s cool too, but I kept things thematic and added a little bit of salsa to my cauliflower queso, as well as amping it up with sauteed onion, garlic and jalapeno. The rest of the jar of salsa went on my nachos (recipe coming soon… hopefully). Don’t have salsa? Tomato paste will do! There’s just a little bit of nutritional yeast and miso here for umami flavor too.
A few steps and dishes are needed to turn cauliflower and cashews into this delicious vegan queso dip, but I find with proper mise en place this recipe is actually quite easy! Something really delights me about not needing to mince the garlic. Thinly slicing it instead saves maybe 2 minutes of time, but judging by my emotions you’d think it was 30.
While I was getting ready to publish this I found some old photos from 2015 when I was testing a disgusting sweet potato queso. I’m so happy that I discovered vegan nacho cheese made from cauliflower, as it’s unimaginably better looking and tasting than that old one. This recipe seriously, sort of, almost, slightly tastes like dairy based nacho cheese that I used to eat a long time ago :). You can use it as a dip, or thin it out a little bit more and drizzle it on nachos, in burritos, and more.
I know folks will ask if this vegan cauliflower queso can be made in the Instant Pot or another pressure cooker. I haven’t gotten around to testing this yet but I imagine that 5 minutes under pressure would do the trick, so you can perhaps reduce the total cooking time of this recipe from 30 minutes to 20 once you factor in reaching pressure and the natural release time. Again – *not tested*. Let me know if you do this!
Vegan Cauliflower Queso
- 2 tbsp refined coconut oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1/2 jalapeno thinly sliced
- 1 small yellow or white onion sliced
- 1/4 tsp turmeric (optional, for color)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp ground mustard
- 2 tbsp red salsa of choice
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Other cauliflower queso ingredients:
- 3 cups plain, unsweetened non-dairy milk (add another 1/2 cup if using as a sauce rather than a dip)
- 3 tbsp white or yellow miso
- 4 cups raw cauliflower florets (15 oz.)
- 2/3 cup raw cashews
- 1/4 cup liquid from a can or jar of pickled jalapenos (plus to taste)
- 1 tbsp hot sauce of choice (plus to taste)
- 2 tbsp red salsa of choice
- Heat the oils in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic, jalapeno and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, measure everything for the seasoning mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
- Add the seasoning mixture. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and starting to sizzle, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the non-dairy milk, scraping the bottom of the pan as you stir it in. Bring to a steady simmer.
- Add the miso, cauliflower, and cashews to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and partially cover the pan. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to your blender (working in batches if needed). Add the jalapeno pickling liquid and hot sauce, and blend until completely smooth. If you don't have a high-powered blender this may take a few minutes to break down the cashews. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed.
- Rinse out the saucepan and return the blended cauliflower queso to your pan over low heat. Stir in the additional 2 tbsp of salsa, and add other seasonings (more jalapeno juice, hot sauce, salsa, or salt) to taste. You can also add a little more non-dairy milk to thin out the mixture now, depending on how you will be using it.
- Serve hot. Best served fresh, but leftovers keep well; the cauliflower queso will thicken more after cooling so you may need to thin it out with some added liquid when reheating.
Also adapted from America’s Test Kitchen and Serious Eats.
Other cheezy sauce recipes from the site:
Paula alkire says
Can you use rice milk ?
Can this recipe be frozen?
Just tried this. I didn’t have any miso so substituted soy sauce. Really love the flavor, and will make it again. Thanks!
I really want to try this recipe, but am allergic to cashews. Suggestions?
Shannon @ Yup, it's Vegan says
Raw macadamia nuts are the best substitute for cashews, if that’s not in your budget then you can try using a cubed, peeled russet potato and increasing the oil slightly.
This queso recipe is so good I don’t think I’ll ever try making one of the many others I’ve seen across the internet.
This week I made a triple batch and served it to 30+ mostly non-vegan college students as part of a nacho bar dinner (chips, queso, refried beans, lentil/mushroom taco crumbles, shredded red cabbage, diced red onion, scallions, cilantro, salsa, and jalapeño slices).
It was huge hit! They couldn’t believe the main ingredient of the queso is cauliflower! I got so many requests for the recipe that I’m sending it out to the entire group.
I usually reduce or entirely cut out the oil, and I simplify by using water instead of dairy-free milk – it is still just as creamy and delicious!
EVA L says
Is coconut oil essential, or could you substitute?
Shannon @ Yup, it's Vegan says
Hey Eva, I tried this recently substituting vegetable oil for all of the coconut oil and found that it still worked well.
Second year in a row making this for the Super Bowl and lots of times in between! Such a wonderful recipe, I make a double batch and freeze 3/4 of it (we are only a house of 2).
I hate/despise/abhor based queso. I can’t understand why people like it to be honest. So I had very high expectations for this vegan queso version using cauliflower and it did not disappoint. I made it twice since I found this recipe and used it for nachos, tacos, or just as a dip, etc. The process of making it is a little involved for somebody like me who’s not a proficient cook, but it makes a huge batch, so I can divide it into smaller portions and freeze it. Whenever I want to use it, I just leave one portion out in the fridge for a day, and microwave it before using it. Highly recommended!
I’ve made this a few times now, but couldn’t find any fresh cauliflower for another batch this week. I ended up using frozen cauliflower and it turned out just as great!
My partner and I are absolutely obsessed with this recipe. We’ve probably been making it twice a month for a while now. I double it and freeze the rest in tupperwares. I always add extra jalapeno liquid.
Larry Harmon says
This is great! I substituted a can of green chili’s for the jalapeño for my wife, but put jalapeño slices on my servings.
I agree with Shannon that this beats the potato and carrot version, which I liked until this one.
Still feel guilty about having chips, but at least I’m eating cauliflower, right?
Thank you Shannon
Yummy ! Great idea for a recipe! We might have to give this a try!
This recipe was really amazing. The best cheese recipe I’ve tried!! I made it mild letting each person add some heat if they wanted, and the whole family enjoyed it. It was really easy too. Thank you!