This veggie-heavy, no-nutritional-yeast, and nut-free sharp cheese sauce is almost too good to be true. It’s incredible how these healthy ingredients combine into something that tastes so cheesy and decadent. Nutritionally, this is a welcome far cry from the Velveeta-based “queso” (not pronounced as in Spanish but rather, k-so, with a Southern drawl if possible) I first tasted in Austin, but that American-style decadence is still there in flavor. I hope it makes your Tex-Mex dreams come true, but as the recipe title says, this also doubles as an awesome mac ’n’ cheese sauce.
To make the cooked veggie base, bring a medium-size pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1/2 cup carrot chunks (about 1 inch thick), 1/2 cup onion wedges (about 2 inches wide), and 1⁄3 cup red or yellow bell pepper strips (about 2 inches wide) and boil until very tender when pierced with a fork, about 7 minutes. Drain the vegetables through a colander, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid (you’ll use this in step 1 of the sauce recipe).
Combine the boiled potatoes and reserved Cooked Veggie Base liquid in a strong blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the optional tomatoes or salsa. Blend the ingredients on low and gradually increase to top speed until the mixture is completely smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
The sauce is ready to spoon over warm pasta or, if you’d like it really warm, heat it on the stovetop over low heat. Pour the excess sauce into a storage container.
For the Tex-Mex K-So, stir in the optional tomatoes, and it’s ready for dipping.
Store the mixture in a dry, covered container in the refrigerator and enjoy it within 1 week. To reheat, whisk 1 tablespoon water into the sauce as it warms in a saucepan. Stir thoroughly to make it smooth again.
FOR SHARP WHITE CREAMY MAC
Omit the tomato paste, bell pepper, paprika, and carrots.
In step 2, add to the blender:
½ cup cauliflower (boiled in chunks) or ½ cup cooked, drained white beans (cannellini, navy, or Great Northern)
2 tablespoons jalapeño brine
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
FOR CHARRED MAC
Omit the sweet paprika.
Extra prep: Instead of boiling the red pepper and onion, pan roast them in a very hot cast-iron skillet until you get some charred spots and the vegetables soften.
This can be done while the other veggies cook. Do not peel before blending.
In step 2, add to the blender:
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
For the potatoes (choose one):
1 cup yuca or cassava root (peeled or defrosted, boiled in chunks and cleaned of woody fibers)
1 cup cooked, drained white beans (cannellini, navy, or Great Northern)
2 tablespoons chia seeds, plus 1 cup cooked and well-drained cauliflower or peeled summer squash
For the vegetables in cooked veggie base (choose veggies equal to 1 1⁄3 cup):
Cauliflower, cooked and well-drained
Summer squash (zucchini, yellow crookneck), peeled, cooked, and well-drained
Winter squash (acorn or butternut), peeled and cooked
Sweet potatoes (white or orange), peeled and cooked
Turnips, peeled and cooked
For the Tahini paste (choose one):
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter, plus 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 cup cashew butter or any nut butter, plus 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder