To say that I love nachos would be an understatement. Corn chips are arguably the perfect snack food, and if you smother that deliciousness with refried beans, some good salsa, and a mountain of cheese, you’d be hard pressed to find anything I enjoy more.
I’ve tried many variations over the years, not only because they’re the epitome of good eatin’, but they were often the only meatless option on restaurant menus when I first became a vegetarian as a teen.
Thankfully, my family shares my affection for them, and nacho nights are now a weekly occurrence in our household. We’ll cue up a movie or our favourite show (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Outlander), and settle in for a big cheesy feast. Things got tricky when we all decided to give up dairy; so much so that the cheese on our nachos was the last thing to go when we made the transition.
We spent ages looking for the perfect substitute. Store-bought cheese shreds didn’t cut it, and several of the popular vegan queso recipes we tried left the chips soggy. I finally found the answer while flipping through one of my old Joanne Stepaniak cookbooks and spotted this recipe for cheddar sauce (her books were a godsend when I began dabbling with veganism 20 years ago – well worth picking up if you can find them!). I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit and we serve it warm, not cold, but it’s pretty close to the original.
You wouldn’t think that this combination of ingredients could come together to form anything even remotely resembling cheese sauce, but it does! The cashews give it a velvety, creamy texture; the sesame seeds add an oily richness (think tahini), and the peppers give it that important cheesy colour and cheddar tang. You might be tempted to leave out the dill seed and allspice, but trust me, you can’t taste them at all, and they only add to the complex flavour. The cumin is optional, so leave it out if you prefer.
The result is a rich, creamy, vibrant sauce, perfect for topping not only nachos, but also great for pouring over baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, or adding to burritos. In fact, we typically use only half a recipe to top a large baking sheet full of chips, and save the rest for my son’s favourite vegan pizza bowl (recipe coming soon). The best part is, it’s oil-free and made with unprocessed whole foods – but that’s beside the point – it tastes totally decadent.
Despite the fairly long ingredient list, everything comes together quickly. I usually make it while the rest of the gang is getting the chips and toppings assembled, and it’s done sometime after the chips go in the oven (the sauce goes on after baking, not before!).
We pile a tray of tortilla chips high with refried beans (we like Amy’s with green chilies), defrosted corn, sliced kalamata olives, and green onions (or chives). Pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes to heat everything up, then douse liberally with cheese sauce. While this won’t make your chips soggy right away, don’t pour it over the chips until you’re ready to eat. Serve it with salsa, some guacamole, and your favourite TV fix.
This recipe is such a hit with our family, that I’ve started growing peppers specifically for it. I char them on the barbecue, peel off the blackened skin, and freeze them flat on a baking tray before storing them in freezer bags. If you don’t grow your own peppers, you can find roasted red peppers in most grocery stores (I find them to be most affordable at my favourite Italian market).
Tangy Cheddar Sauce for Nachos
This dairy-free cheese sauce is vegan, gluten-free, and oil-free, but full of flavour!
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers
- 1/4 cup cashew pieces
- 1/4 cup raw sesame seeds (can use tahini)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp onion granules
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp garlic granules
- 1/4 tsp ground dill seed (I use whole seed, but slightly more)
- 1/8 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
Add everything directly to blender jar. Process for 2 minutes (or more if not using a high-speed blender).
Pour into small pot and whisk until thick and bubbling.
Use as desired.
We’re currently in between shows and looking for suggestions – if you’ve got some Netflix/movie recommendations for our nacho nights, we’d be most grateful!