Vegan Butternut Nacho “Cheese” Sauce

Created by Laura Wright
5 from 1 vote

Vegan butternut nacho "cheese" sauce is creamy, thick, and remarkably savoury. Perfect with nachos, but also over roasted vegetables!


On the surface, this glow-y orange sauce is a more indulgent outing than we’re all used to here, but a craving’s a craving and wow. This one turned out pretty great. This extremely vegan interpretation of nacho cheese itself is really wholesome.  The first thing you have to do when you fix up a vegan butternut nacho cheese-y situation, is let go of any pre-conceived notions that your creation will taste like a bowl of traditional dairy. Combining vegetables and health food store staples and hoping for genuine cheese flavour is setting yourself up for disappointment. I have been there!

I’ve had entirely cashew-based versions of vegan nacho cheese before and loved it every time, but I do find it rich. A cashew-based anything is really tasty, but the fattiness sometimes makes for a flat-seeming overall flavour. Then I thought of butternut squash pasta sauce and how naturally creamy it is (and also how undeniably orange it is). And then I went into the backyard to check on my gnarly and twisted up butternut vines. The little squashes still aren’t ready, but they are steadily making a mess in a hidden corner of my vegetable garden. I wound up buying one at the store solely for this purpose. Anyway!

My point with vegan nacho cheese-making: people obsess over cheese because of umami characteristics (among other reasons)–the fifth taste that hints at a crucial presence of satisfying glutamates in foods. It’s pleasantly savoury in a way that may not be immediately apparent. Also, addicting. Before you even begin to replicate a food like nacho cheese with vegan considerations, you’ve got to strategize on how to make it really work. It’s key to remember that all-out replication might not be an appropriate end goal. I was just aiming for a squash-y, lightly cheese-y and spicy sauce to eat with chips. My vegan butternut squash risotto has a shockingly similar flavour profile!

I roast the butternut squash to get some caramelization, but not too much. You need the moisture for a lush consistency. I sauté shallots and jalapeño down to almost paste-like consistency, just to fully develop the sugars in the shallots and to tame the bite of the jalapeño. Then I went in with some of my pantry stock, more specifically items that had natural umami qualities: tamari, miso, and dijon mustard. These add-ins help to strike out the predominantly sweet flavour of the squash. The broth I used to thin the mixture was rich with shiiitake mushrooms–another savoury pal of ours. The nutritional yeast is the more obviously cheese-y flavoured component. If you’re hesitant to buy it only for this, I urge you to try it sprinkled over popcorn. A final addition of finely minced pickled jalapeños really balanced everything out for me.

From here, you can go all deluxe nacho with the salty toppings like me, or you could sensibly pour it over some roasted vegetables and brown rice. Or whatever you like! I’m trying leftovers on roasted cauliflower tomorrow.

Vegan Butternut Nacho “Cheese” Sauce

Vegan butternut nacho "cheese" sauce is creamy, thick, and remarkably savoury. Perfect with nachos, but also over roasted vegetables!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 large shallot, small dice
  • 1 small jalapeño, small dice (use seeds if you like it hot)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ¼ cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon tamari soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon light miso
  • vegetable stock to get the blender going
  • squeeze of lime juice OR splash of pickled jalapeño brine
  • ¼ cup minced pickled jalapeños

Notes

  • All the little add-ins like dijon, garlic, cumin, and hot pepper can easily be adjusted for quantities that suit your taste–I did a lot of adjusting and re-blending before I got mine the way I wanted it. Just make sure you salt the mix adequately and definitely use the nutritional yeast!
  • Also, a tip if you forget to soak the nuts/seeds: simmer them in a small pot of water for 10 minutes to speed up the softening.

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • Cut the squash down the middle, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Rub the flesh of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place squash halves, cut side down, onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Slide the tray into the oven and roast until squash is tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes. Let squash cool slightly.
  • While squash roasts, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Pour a good bit of oil into the pan and add the diced shallots. Stir them about and cook until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced jalapeno and cumin to the pan and stir. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are very soft and have taken on a sort of dry-paste consistency, about 7-10 minutes, lowering heat if necessary. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Scoop the cooked squash flesh into a blender pitcher. Discard squash peels. To the blender, add the soaked nuts/seeds, garlic, nutritional yeast, dijon, tamari, miso, a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add enough vegetable stock to the blender to get everything moving. Gradually bring the blender speed to high and blend the mixture until you have a smooth purée. If you need to add more stock at this point, also make sure to add another little splash of olive oil as well (this helps with the lush texture). Add the sauteed mixture of shallots and jalapeno to the blender and blend mixture until smooth again. Taste the nacho cheese at this point and re-season, add lime juice/jalapeno brine etc. to your liking. You can also add vegetable stock/more olive oil to achieve your desired viscosity.
  • To serve, heat the vegan nacho cheese in a small saucepan over medium. Once you get some bubbles coming through, serve it up nacho-style, over roasted vegetables, with pasta, or any other way you can dream up.


24/09/2014 (Last Updated 24/07/2024)
Posted in: appetizer, autumn, cashews, creamy, gluten free, grain-free, refined sugar-free, salty, snack, spicy, sweet, vegan, winter

55 comments

5 from 1 vote

Recipe Rating




  • Jae

    5 stars
    As an omnivores who’s trying to find healthier, plant-based versions of staple dishes, has to be one of my favorite vegan recipes. For the sake of time, I simmered the raw cashews and subbed some steam-in-bag sweet potatoes for the butternut squash, but I could sense no impact on the flavor and richness. The crucial parts of the recipe are indeed the nutritional yeast AND the picked jalapeños; I used some sweet heat jarred jalapeño slices from Trader Joe’s, which gave just the right amount of kick. I think the component that sets this recipe apart from the rest is sautéeing the shallots, garlic, and jalapeños before adding them in the second round of blending. This develops a lot of flavor and richness that makes this a standout recipe.

  • Maura

    I am really surprised by how good this is. I am not a vegan but cheese is so expensive!! I am very happy I only used half of my squash (I guess they grow them bigger here in Israel), this made a lot of sauce! Next time I am not going to add the miso, for some reason it is all I taste, but I can tell without the miso it would be pretty darn close to queso. Great stuff! How long will this keep and does it reheat?

  • Laura

    Hello Laura, this looks delicious!

    Quick question, if I already have sunflower seed butter on hand, how much should I use? also 1/4 cup or less?

    Thank you!

    • Laura

      Hi Laura!
      I would start with 2 tablespoons and see how you like it. Then yu can always add more to the blender if you want it to be more rich.
      -L

  • Cristina

    I wonder if you could use this sauce in a sort of enchilada recipe?

  • LSF in the PNW

    This looks absolutley fab! I am making htis TODAY… cashews are soaking. Question: ‘One Small Butternut Squash’ is a bit subjective; do you think you could add in the directions (after roasting) a comment such as “Scoop the cooked squash flesh into a blender pitcher, you should have roughly 3 cups.” or something similar? Thanks!

  • Kimberly FALLON

    How well does this keep? Being the only one in my house willing to give faux cheese a go, I’m likely to have leftovers. Has anyone made and had success reheating?

  • Beverley

    I have made soooo many vegan queso’s from bloggers recipes and they’ve all been fine enough, and I though, oh well, a sacrifice has to be made in the name of veganism. But it turns out: no sacrifice necessary. This queso is beyond awesome. Better than the cheese version. Here in London we’re going to be having this every single day from now on! Wow, thanks for sharing.

  • jaime / the briny

    laura! i finally got around to trying this, having kept it in the back of my mind since you first posted it: OMG is right. i’m still short on words from the euphoria blast these flavors gave me. i had to make some minor changes (no broth, so a combo of water, jalapeno brine, and a splash of lime at the end, etc.) and i had to add a lot more liquid than i had imagined, but i was so content to travel on this recipe adventure train despite any uncertainty. i put the queso on nachos with spanish green olives, crumbly sunflower seed cheese, crispy-fried cuminy mung beans, quick pickled onions, and fresh jalapeno slices and cilantro. it was magic. i’m so glad there’s a big jar of it left and i’m so so so glad you shared this recipe, you brilliant creature!

  • Cecile

    Thank you thank you thank you, it’s amazingly good! I used Espelette pepper instead of jalapeños because… well… I’m in France but it works pretty well. Did I mention thank you?

  • Ursula

    Finally got to making this, it’s as delicious as it looks! It’s perfect. Thanks!

  • juyne

    Holy Yum with a capital Y!!!! This recipe is so delicious I did not think it was going to make it to the table. I had to make it non spicy for my daughter and it still was amazing!!!

  • Audrey

    So – I tried making this and felt like I followed the recipe to the T, but it just didn’t come out well. From your pictures, it looked like a melted cheese gooey mixture which is what I wanted, but no matter how much i cooked it or added more veggie broth, it was still a mashed butternut squash type of texture (a little creamier maybe). Not sure what I did wrong…

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Audrey,
      I’m sorry this recipe didn’t work out for you! Were you using a food processor or blender to purée the squash? I used a powerful blender so that might have accounted for the ultra smooth texture. Although, I know some people have already made this with a more typical blender and had no problems, so I’m not sure. If you found you were adding more liquid to the processor/blender, it’s also important to use a bit of extra oil in the mix as well to get that lush texture. Perhaps your squash was a bit bigger than mine and this could have accounted for the need to add more liquid? Either way, your notes are very helpful and I’ll be making some adjustments for this recipe. I hope it doesn’t discourage you from trying again!
      -L

  • Elizabeth

    Made this tonight for vegan nachos and it was AMAZING. I used the juice of 1 lime plus a fair bit of water to keep our (lousy) blender going, since I had no veggie stock. I didn’t see the minced pickled jalepenos mentioned in the instructions so I forgot them. But it was perfect! Seriously, this is one of my favorite things I’ve ever eaten. Thanks for a fantastic recipe! :]

    • Laura Wright

      Hey Elizabeth! Glad you liked the b’nut queso and I’ll fix up that pickled jalapeno error right now. So sorry about that!
      -L

  • Lora

    This looks like a great recipe and I am going to give it a try tomorrow. Question though… what do you mean by trash?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Lora, I think when I said “trashy” I was just recalling those crazy movie theatre/baseball game nachos with the radioactive-looking cheese goo on top. Nothing too serious ;)
      -L

  • michelle

    Soley upon your recommendation, I bought Green Kitchen Travels. The photos are in fact gorgeous and the food does look delicious. But in my opinion, your food is even more elevated and interesting. The flavor combinations and mix of ingredients in your work is just downright fantastic. I have made a ton of your recipes and every one has been delicious. You have opened up door to food I would have never tried be it for your recipes. We need more awesome female chefs. Especially those cooking vegan and whole foods. I sincerely hope that you will follow up on your obvious talents. Open a restaurant, start a kickstarter to create a food truck…Here in NYC there is always a line down the block at the Cinnamon Snail food truck. Laura, go for it!

  • angela brown

    Oh my gosh, this is genius! Such an awesome idea. I plan to eat a (giant) batch of this over the weekend! Thanks for sharing. Also, beautiful pics! – angela :)

  • Steve Lassoff

    These look so good! We will share these on Pinterest.

  • Kris

    This is totally my dinner on Friday night. OMG can’t wait!

  • Meredith

    Your pictures are always so beautiful!!! I will certainly have to try this soon now that the temperature is dropping a little. Have fun in PA!

  • Kate @ ¡Hola! Jalapeño

    This is no joke!! Brilliant idea!

  • Shelly @ Vegetarian 'Ventures

    Uh – you are a genius! Seriously – your creativity with both your recipes and photographs blow me away every time! PS Have a great tip! Looks like a blast!

  • Elenore

    Yeeeeessss! I love a good butternut mac’n cheese but this?! I mean yeah. OMG!

  • Baby June

    Yessss! That looks incredible! I will definitely have to try this sometime this season, love love love that it is vegan :)

  • Emily @ Sweets and Beets

    That’s awesome. What a great idea!!

  • SouthernSpoon

    Delicious~ yet another use for butternut, love it. My lactose-intolerant sister-in-law is going to flip over these.

  • Karishma

    being lactose intolerant, i always love tasty alternatives! this looks so gooood!

  • Christine

    I can’t wait to make this – queso dip is one of those recurring cravings that I haven’t really satisfied since switching to a dairy-free diet. And with all the nacho fixings? Amazing!

  • renee (will frolic for food)

    holy mother of nacho cheese. the vegan cheese gods obviously shone down on your butternut squash baking brain because THIS. good god. me and fiancee (both dairy intolerant and all about the nooch) are going to be trashy nacho-fying this butternut queso recipe all the way. pile it up baby!!! thanks for developing this beauty!

  • Heather

    This looks amazing! Reminds me I need to post the tex-mex hummus I make that keeps me from craving queso dip!

  • Pat

    Valentina, what about trying pickled pepperoncini peppers?

  • kristie @ birchandwild.com

    Oh.my. this sauce looks amazing. and these nachos remind me of a 27 ingredient nacho i had at a vegetarian restaurant in banff. they were amazing, but they didn’t have an amazingly colorful sauce like this!

  • Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence

    Uhhhh, this looks pretty incredible. I’m not vegan, buuuuut I really want to try this recipe out. So creative!

  • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    Not sure what kind of sorcery and magic is at your disposal but I think you just convinced me to buy nutritional yeast O_O

  • jaime // the briny

    Laura, I so admire the way you communicate, both through word and through your beautiful photographs. your idea + recipe is brilliant, and I love all this talk about umami; it makes me really think about how I can pair tastes and play with flavors and ingredients in general. you are an inspiration!

  • michelle

    Laura, pretty please open a vegan restaurant!!!!
    Another inventive, healthy and gorgeous recipe.

  • Sophie

    OH ho hohoho. This is so bitchin, Laura! Look at that consistency! That color! I love how you considered all the flavor profiles and how to achieve them, it must be insanely delicious. Dang! Although I do eat cheese, I am definitely going to try this — for health, and for my vegan/DF pals. What a treat! I LOVE YOU FOR THIS. And for all the gifs today!

  • Millie l Add A Little

    This looks ridiculously tasty Laura!!! Yummy!

  • Lindsey

    i always notice the butternut mac & cheese recipes out there and think how would you cut the sweetness?! salt on its own can’t do it, so the fifth taste makes so much sense, laura! a perfect way i’m sure to make it all come together like a proper cheesy dish! have fun in PA!

  • lynsey

    OMG yes… I love that this doesn’t have cashews. Not that I don’t love cashews, but they are kind of in a lot of things like this and this switch up is so wonderful. The colour too….. just one more OMG. xo

  • Nik@ABrownTable

    You’re a genius! The texture and color look perfect, I’m going to give this a shot soon, I know a few people that would love to try this.

  • Caitlin

    love your eloquent write up on this omg butternut squash cheese. it looks like everything and more a vegan cheese should be. also, you are queen of the gifs. ps- where in pennsylvania are you staying? i live near philly.

    • Laura Wright

      Hey Caitlin! We’re going to be in the area of Bethlehem Pennsylvania. I have no clue what the geographical relation to Philly is there–just a point B programmed into my GPS at this point ;) Wish I was going to be around longer so we could have a little coffee hang.
      -L

  • Isadora @ She Likes Food

    Oh my gosh, you just combined two of my favorite things: butternut squash and nachos!! These nachos and that sauce look so amazing and I want to put that sauce on all the things :)

  • Abby @ The Frosted Vegan

    Ohhh lawd I am allll over this!! You are a genius Laura!

  • Amy @ Parsley In My Teeth

    If this tastes anywhere near as good as it looks, it’s a winner. I haven’t been able to make a vegan cheese successfully yet, so I definitely want to give recipe a try!

  • Dillon

    OMG is right. This is creative genius right here. Can’t wait to try…

  • Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

    Looks insane (the good kind), but it was the stellar .gif placement that won me over.

  • Katie @ Whole Nourishment

    Butternut squash queso!! Wow, I love it. I’ve had a pasta cheese sauce based on butternut so I can imagine this is delicious. And though I’ve had some good cashew-based sauces, I completely agree they can be flat sometimes, and that’s why this sounds like the best reinvention, ever!

  • valentina - sweet kabocha

    This seems so much delicious! Are pickled jalapeños essential? In Italy we haven’t this kind of products :)

    • Laura Wright

      Hey Valentina! I wouldn’t say it’s totally necessary. Maybe if you make it, just try to find a bigger jalapeño pepper and use a bit of extra lime juice when you’re blending it all up.
      xo Laura

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

    This queso is straight up dreamy!! So creative!