Vegan Nacho Cheese Made From … Eggplant? Well, not exactly, But it’s Good Anyway!

I have been so intrigued by all of the different ways that vegan cheeses are made and from a list of wildly different ingredients! Not only is Eggplant on that list but also cashews and other nuts, tofu and other forms of soy, tahini, wheat gluten, tapioca, rice and rice flour, avocado, potatoes, coconut cream, and the list goes on and on. It is truly amazing how many different plant based foods can be used to create the same taste and textures as dairy based cheeses.

So I decided to dive right in and try to make a vegan cheese with one of my favorite vegetables, Eggplant, in the starring role. To my surprise there are a large number of Eggplant based nacho cheese recipes out there (I look on Pinterest a lot) but I found that many of them traced back to a recipe first published by another old favorite of mine, the Minimalist Baker. Let me stop here for a moment and put in a recommendation for the Minimalist Baker — this is a great source for anyone who is very busy, often short of time but still wants to create healthy plant based foods and meals. Here is MB’s self description:

Minimalist Baker is a place for recipes requiring 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. All eaters are welcome.

MB has a repertoire of recipes that almost seems endless — but right now my fascination is with their eggplant based Cashew-Less Vegan Queso, which I reprint in full below this article.

First of all I was delighted to see that I actually had all of the items on the ingredient list and shouldn’t need to make substitutions (all except for the “unsweetened original almond milk.” Mine had vanilla in it, but I used it anyway.) So I plunged right in and sliced up my eggplant and did my best to dry it and process it as instructed.

But — oops — the eggplant skin did not peel away as they said it would in the instructions. So I decided to put it in the food processor as is and just go with it. And then this happened: The mixture became a thick, slightly lumpy puree, brownish in color with little purple flecks through out. Uh-oh. And I could never get it any smoother or creamier than that no matter how I pulsed and pulsed the food processor.

Even after I put the mixture into the saucepan and heated it for a while it still looked brownish and flecky and nothing like nacho cheese. So next I bravely took a spoonful to taste whatever it was I had created and — GLORY BE! It was wonderful tasting, with just the right notes of garlic, cumin, paprika and the tumeric I added… But nothing like nacho cheese!

I found that what I had accidentally come up with is a delicious pureed Eggplant Soup, very thick and “al dente” and I have already discovered it is as good to eat cold or cooled, maybe more so than heated up. So what I have clumsily discovered is a great summer time soup which is cool, filling and energizing. I absolutely love it.

This what I am calling “Summer Eggplant Pureed Soup”

And now (I claim) I have created “Summer Eggplant Pureed Soup” which I will surely make again using the same basic recipe below with these differences:

  • Slice and dry the Eggplant slices only to about half the dryness specified below — use lemon juice over all to remove bitterness.
  • Do not peel the skins off before placing in food processor
  • Do not add rotel, pico, or any other salsa elements — this eggplant soup does not need them.
  • Add turmeric to the existing list of spices

Do your best to follow this sort of backwards recipe and you will be rewarded with a wonderful summer soup, although it is not particularly cheese-like or Mexican in flavor. (I also skipped the chili powder and did not add any peppers).

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t come up with the queso that is beautifully pictured below, but I am awfully pleased with my new summer soup — so I still want to say it: Ole!

Tortilla chips and a bowl of homemade Vegan Queso made without cashews
This is what “Cashew-Less Vegan Queso” from Minimalist Baker is supposed to look like

CASHEW-LESS VEGAN QUESO

Easy vegan queso made cashew-, dairy-, soy-, and gluten-free! Eggplant keeps the flavor neutral and the texture creamy! The perfect dairy-free queso!Author:Minimalist BakerPREP TIME30 minutesCOOK TIME15 minutesTOTAL TIME45 minutesServings:6Category: Appetizer, Dip, SauceCuisine: Gluten-Free, VeganFreezer Friendly 1 Month (in small jars)Does it keep? 3-4 Days

Ingredients

  • 7-9 rounds of eggplant (sliced 1/4-inch thick // half of a medium eggplant yields 7-9 rounds)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups unsweetened original almond milk
  • 2-3 Tbsp nutritional yeast (see instructions)
  • 1/4 tsp finely minced fresh garlic (I used crushed garlic from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cornstarch (optional for thickening // sub another thickener if desired)
  • 1/4 cup chunky medium salsa (slightly drained // OR 1/4 10-ounce can of Rotel original diced tomatoes and green chilies)
  • Smoked paprika and hot sauce (optional // for added color and flavor upon serving)

Instructions

  1. Slice your eggplant into thin rounds just under 1/2 inch (not quite 1/4 inch). Then sprinkle both sides of the flesh with a little sea salt and arrange in a colander to help draw out some of the moisture and bitterness. Let set for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse with cool water and thoroughly pat dry between two clean towels.
  2. Preheat oven to high broil and place an oven rack near the top of the oven. Arrange the dried eggplant rounds on a baking sheet lightly spritzed with non-stick spray and drizzle both sides of the eggplant with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with a very small amount of salt.
  3. Broil on high for 4-5 minutes on each side, watching carefully as to not let them burn. Flip at the halfway point to ensure even cooking. Once the eggplant appears tender and both sides have golden brown color, remove from the oven and wrap loosely in foil to steam.
  4. After a few minutes, unwrap and peel the eggplant skin away. It should come right off. If you pack your roasted eggplant into a 1-cup measuring cup, it will be almost 1 cup (amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size).
  5. Place eggplant in a blender with almond milk (starting with the lesser amount), nutritional yeast (starting with the lesser amount), minced garlic, cumin, chili powder and cornstarch and blend on high until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. I added a pinch more sea salt and a little more nutritional yeast. To thin, add more almond milk.
  6. Transfer to a small saucepan and warm over medium to medium-high heat until slightly thickened and bubbly – about 5 minutes. The longer you go the thicker it will become.
  7. NOTE: If it isn’t looking as thick as you want, thicken with a slurry of cornstarch by adding an additional 1 tsp cornstarch to a small bowl with a little almond milk and 2-3 Tbsp of the cheese mixture (amounts as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size). Whisk to combine and then stir back into the pot. This should thicken it right up.
  8. Once hot and thickened, remove from heat and stir in DRAINED salsa or Rotel. Don’t put the liquid in or it will make it runny. Pour into a serving dish and top with a little smoked paprika and hot sauce for flavor/color.
  9. Serve with chips, crackers or veggies. Keep warm in a mini crockpot or over a tea light warmer if you have one. Microwaves well.
  10. NOTE: When this dip sits out for a long time it loses its orange hue. It doesn’t affect the flavor but it doesn’t look as appetizing, so it’s really best when fresh!
  11. Refrigerate and cover leftovers. Reheats extremely well in the microwave or in a saucepan. Will keep for up to a few days, but best when fresh.

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