It may look like guac in the photo, but I promise you it's queso. And yes, that is a Texas-shaped bowl in the background.
I’m not as knowledgeable as some people in the Tex-Mex cuisine cannon, but eight years in Texas did teach me the importance of one thing: queso. (That’s pronounced KAY-so.)
Queso is basically a jazzed-up melted cheese sauce, consisting of Velveeta, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and maybe crumbly bits of ground beef. You eat it with tortilla chips. And beer. Preferably on game day. Or during happy hour. Ok, you pretty much eat it whenever the mood strikes.
I’d been hankering for some queso since we moved to Mexico, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Chili’s had it (score!) but then they took it off their menu (lame). Crayton and I suffered through our queso-less lives in silence until a few weekends ago when he said, “You know what sounds really good right now? Queso.” And I said, “Yeah, I agree. Why don’t I make some?”
Until that point, I hadn’t thought about making queso from scratch because it requires Velveeta. Velveeta is sold at Costco, and I couldn’t justify a $10 cab ride solely to buy processed cheese product.
But what if I used real cheese?
At that point, I think I might’ve heard the universe crackle.
I thought avoiding Velveeta was queso blasphemy, but it turns out there are a few real-cheese queso recipes on the Internet. I used a a Homesick Texan recipe as my inspiration, and piled together an assortment of items that I had in my fridge — Mexican manchego because it melted well, huauzontles because they’re vegetables and I like those; tomatoes, a jalapeño, carrots in escabeche.
My Mex-Tex queso was so good that I made it again the following weekend, this time for the Bears vs. Cowboys game. I added chorizo verde (pretty much because it rocks, and it kept the green theme) and I put the queso in our fondue pot to keep it saucy and hot. Alice and Nick, both of whom are Texans, came over. They practically swooned when the saw the pot of cheese.
We scooped it with homemade totopos, carrots, cucumbers. There wasn’t much talking going on.
You don’t need the huauzontles to make this dish a success — a pile of grated cheese will do that on its own.
However, the huauz did add a pleasant grit and chewiness, similar to a spinach-artichoke dip, or a broccoli-cheese soup. And I mean that in the most natural, comforting way possible, not in a chain-restaurant kind of way. I promise you, this stuff is good.
Mex-Tex queso with huauzontles and chorizo verde
Serves 4 as a game-day appetizer
Adapted from the Homesick Texan
I’m calling this “Mex-Tex” because it uses Mexican ingredients and is inspired by Texas. Chorizo verde is available at most markets and tianguis in Mexico City (and it’s so good, it deserves it’s own blog post), but if you can’t find it, regular chorizo would probably work fine.
A few notes: I only used 2 links of chorizo verde, but next time I’d probably go with an entire 250 grams worth. The meaty taste got lost amid the cheese. I’d also keep the carrots in escabeche, which I used in the first pot of queso and not the second, because they add heat and a slight tang. Lastly, I used a mix of Mexican manchego and añejo because I found all-manchego queso to be just a tad too sharp; however, next time I’d adjust my ratio to use just a handful of grated añejo. The version below was a bit too mild.
1 heaping cup huauzontles, soft flower-pod parts only, washed multiple times, boiled until tender and drained
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 heaping cup of chopped onion
1/4 cup diced jalapeño
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 roma tomatoes, diced
2 three-inch links of chorizo verde, cooked until crisp and crumbly
7 ounces Mexican manchego cheese, grated
3 ounces Mexican añejo cheese, grated
*Optional: carrots en escabeche, for more heat
Melt your butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and jalapeños and cook until the onion is translucent. Then add the garlic and cook for just about 30 seconds, until aromatic. Whisk in the flour, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until the mixture has dissolved and you don’t see any lumps. Whisk in the milk next, and turn up the heat a bit so the sauce can thicken. Keep stirring so it doesn’t burn.
Once the sauce is sufficiently thick, stir in the tomatoes and chorizo crumbles. Lower the flame back down to medium-low and — working just a small handful at a time — add your grated cheese, whisking the whole way, which will keep the queso nice and creamy. Serve the queso warm. It’s also helpful if you have a Texas-shaped bowl to serve your totopos.