healthy vegan queso cheese dip with cashews and jalapeno

While certainly not a Super Bowl-specific food, queso will surely show up on lots of tables this Sunday. If you have an urge to make the classic cheese dip a little healthier, there are several ways to go about it without losing flavor.

The most popular recipe is probably the one involving a whole brick of plasticky orange Velveeta, which is admittedly delicious when melted to its perfectly gooey, salty state, especially if there’s a can of Ro-Tel involved. But if you have misgivings about highly processed foods, or if you’re trying to stick to a plan of healthier eating in general, or if you can’t eat any dairy at all, there are several other appealing options to satisfy your queso craving. Let us count the ways.

1. Use real cheese.

real cheese queso dip

Texas Queso Dip from Chowhound

While a bowl full of various dairy products may not be the healthiest thing ever, if you’d rather avoid preservatives and additives, make high-falutin’ queso with high-quality cheese and whole milk, organic by all means. Just keep stirring and you will eventually achieve the smooth texture you’re after. Get our Texas Queso Dip recipe.

2. Use lighter cheese (and other dairy).

There are plenty of “skinny queso” recipes out there, usually involving things like low-fat cheese and skim milk, or even a combo of almond milk and non-fat Greek yogurt. If you’re willing to subvert your expectations, you could try this creamy Chilled Chile con Queso Dip recipe made with cottage cheese and diced avocado. Okay, so it’s not the ooey-gooey, lift-a-chip-three-feet-in-the-air-to-watch-the-cheese-stretch-forever queso you may dream of, but it is an interesting, relatively healthy choice with plenty of flavor from jalapeños, onion, garlic, cilantro, and cumin.

3. Call on cauliflower.

Paleo Cauliflower Nacho Cheese

Paleo Cauliflower Nacho Cheese from What Grandma Ate

It can do so much, from standing in for wings (as in our Buffalo Cauliflower with Blue Cheese Dip recipe) to serving as rice—it should be no surprise that people have figured out how to make dip with it too. This paleo version combines blended cauliflower with coconut milk, nutritional yeast, and seasonings, for a perfectly creamy dip you can serve warmed up or at room temp. Feel free to add more spices if you like things hotter. Get the recipe.

4. Substitute sweet potatoes.

three cheese sweet potato queso

Three Cheese Sweet Potato Queso from The Gourmet RD

You can either add puréed sweet potatoes to the usual cheese for a slightly lighter and more nutritionally dense dip (pictured above), or you can make a vegan version with sweet poatoes and zero dairy (in which case, you don’t get quite that same oozy texture). You can also make vegan queso with regular potatoes, plus “nooch” (cheesy-tasting nutritional yeast) and non-dairy milk.

5. Choose cashews.

roasted jalapeno vegan queso dip

Roasted Jalapeño Vegan Queso from Minimalist Baker

Cashew nuts commonly replace cream cheese in vegan cheesecakes, and it turns out they can also make a killer vegan queso. It’s just a matter of soaking them until soft, then blending them really well with a few other ingredients, including jalapeños, nutritional yeast (there’s a good reason it’s in so many “cheesy” vegan dishes), and spices. Creamy, cheesy-tasting, and a lovely yellow-gold, this one’s a clear winner. Get the recipe. (Or you can do cashew queso blanco if you prefer.)

6. Add veggies to the dip itself.

spinach queso blanco cheese dip

Spinach Queso Blanco from Chowhound

If you have your heart set on a truly cheesy dip, you can still add some vegetables to the mix, like in this Spinach Queso Blanco recipe. Baby spinach is sautéed with garlic and roasted Anaheim chiles, then stirred into a warm, smooth, gooey blend of white American cheese and whole milk. Feel free to double the amount of greens, so you have something more akin to Tex-Mex warm spinach dip—because nobody doesn’t like warm spinach dip. Adding fresh pico de gallo bumps the vegetable content even higher, so you can feel a little more virtuous even as you’re scraping the bottom of the bowl. If you’re not a spinach fan, consider stirring in other stuff, from corn kernels to diced sautéed bell peppers and onions.

7. Serve it with healthier chips (and chip replacements).

vegan salsa con queso

Vegan Salsa con Queso from Cotter Crunch

Greasy, crunchy tortilla chips are a perfect partner to queso, but it’s alarmingly easy to eat about five times the recommended serving size. Choose healthier chips at the store (whole grain, for instance, or black bean chips for your gluten-free folks), but also offer a vibrant assortment of raw vegetables—anything crunchy, from carrots and bell peppers to broccoli and cauliflower. If you’re doing the Whole30 thing, you can also bake homemade plantain or sweet potato chips to go with your legitimately delicious dairy-free queso.

Header image courtesy of Minimalist Baker.

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