The Chile con Queso We All Crave
Who doesn’t like to dip a tortilla chip into a spicy mixture of melted cheese — the Chile (or Chili) con Queso that’s a staple on most Tex-Mex menus?
Queso is Spanish for cheese. Chile is Spanish for chile peppers. And that’s what this recipe is all about: cheese and chile flavor.
OK, so the “queso” here is Velveeta. Giggle if you want. But this dish is quick, fun, and highly tasty. It’s also a party natural. With the Super Bowl coming up, what better time to try it?
Recipe: Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip
Traditional Chile con Queso consists of melted Cheddar (or sometimes a mild white cheese like Monterey Jack) mixed with chunks of tomato and green chiles. Pretty simple.
But you can make an even simpler version with Velveeta, which melts faster than Cheddar. And why bother to chop your tomatoes and green chilies when you can buy them already diced in a can or bottle?
An early “Chile con Velveeta” recipe featured RO*TEL, which provided the requisite “Mexican” flavor. This version of the recipe is on the official Kraft Velveeta webpage. It seems that by the late 1970s or early 80s, Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip made with RO*TEL had become a big party food throughout much of the USA.
In fact, I always made my “Chile con Whatever” with RO*TEL until I moved to the Northeast in the mid-1980s. At the time, RO*TEL (which originated in Texas) was sometimes hard to find outside the Southwest and Midwest. Because my favorite supermarket didn’t carry it, I substituted Mexican-style Picante Sauce (or Salsa) — and never looked back. I think Salsa or Picante provides a better flavor than RO*TEL, and it’s an ingredient I always have on hand.
In the recipe that follows, I provide measurements for the ingredients, but they’re just loose guidelines. This is a case where you have to taste it as you make it to achieve the flavor you find satisfying. Same deal with the cooking (i.e., microwaving) times. All you’re doing is melting the cheese and heating the other ingredients, so you’ll have to judge when it’s done.
This recipe makes enough for a decent-sized bag of tortilla chips. It’s easy to double. And well-covered leftovers keep in the refrigerator for a day or two. Total preparation and cooking time is 6 - 8 minutes.
- 16 ounces of Velveeta, cut into cubes of an inch or so
- ~ 1 cup Salsa or Picante sauce (to taste; I use the Pace brand for this dish)
- dried chile powder to taste; or you may substitute chili powder (there’s a difference between chile and chili powder – see Notes)
- optional hot sauce to taste
- optional garnish of sliced jalapeño peppers
- Roughly chop Velveeta cheese into cubes, and place in a microwave-safe dish, preferably with a cover (a 2-quart Corning Ware dish is perfect).
- Microwave on high for 2 minutes.
- Remove from microwave, stir the partially melted cheese, and microwave for another minute or two (until the Velveeta is almost, but not completely, melted).
- At this point, stir in Salsa or Picante Sauce and chile (or chili) powder to taste. Unsure how much to use? Start with ¾ cup of Salsa or Picante, and a teaspoon of chile (chili) powder.
- Microwave for another minute or two until cheese is nicely melted. Taste and add more flavorings if desired. If necessary, microwave again for a minute until mixture is warm and oozy.
- Serve with tortilla chips. For extra heat, sprinkle some jalapeño pepper slices on top of the dip.
- Salsa and Picante Sauce are made from the same ingredients: tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices. In Salsa, the ingredients are roughly chopped so the final texture is chunky. In Picante Sauce, the ingredients are pureed, so it has a smoother texture. Use whichever you prefer in this dish.
- You could also use homemade Pico de Gallo. This is similar to Salsa, but it’s typically freshly made and spicier.
- The original RO*TEL was just chopped tomatoes and (mildish) green chilies. Today, they’ve extended their product line, and you can buy some versions that are quite spicy.
- I like Pace-brand Salsa and Picante Sauce, so that’s what I buy. Pace Pace originated in Texas in 1947, and for much of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s it had street cred as the “real thing”— unlike the brands that dominated supermarket shelves at the time. Since Campbell’s purchased Pace in 1995, the brand has lost some of its cachet, but it’s still a mighty good product.
- There are now “boutique” brand salsas and picantes on the market. Their flavor is noticeably superior when taken neat (as a dip for chips). But in this cheese dip, the flavor nuances are largely lost, so I’d use a more prosaic (i.e., cheaper) brand.
- You can use either “chile” or “chili” powder to flavor this dish; the final flavor difference will be minimal. Chile powder is dried chile peppers turned into powder. Chili powder is a spice blend that starts with dried chile powder but also adds herbs and spices like oregano, cumin, coriander, and salt (it’s often used when making the dish called “Chili”). For more information, check out my post on Chili Basics.
- Youcan omit the chile (or chili) powder if you wish, although the dish will have a little less kick. But maybe that’s what you want.
- Velveeta now offers a Mexican blend that includes jalapeño peppers. But the flavor is pretty wimpy, IMO. So I just use the regular Velveeta, and add more salsa and chile powder to get the heat level I prefer.
- Over the years, Velveeta has billed itself as processed cheese food, processed cheese product, and processed cheese spread. But it’s all the same thing.
- The official Velveeta history webpage informs us that in 1931, Velveeta was “the first cheese product to gain the American Medical Association’s seal of approval.” Does that mean Velveeta is a health food?
- Actually, no. But it is lower in fat and calories than real cheddar cheese. Take that for what it’s worth.
Other Velveeta Recipes You’ll Want To Try (or Not)
The Kitchen Riffs household has a larger-than-typical assortment of cookbooks. I’m afraid to count, but it’s probably in the neighborhood of 300. Included in our collection is a classic that we received as a (joke) gift: the 1990 edition of Velveeta Creative Cooking. I’ve never cooked from it (or even read it, actually), but I pulled it out when working on this post. As you can guess, each recipe requires Velveeta — and usually one or more additional fine products marketed by Kraft.
“Wow, look at some of these recipes!” I said to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs while leafing through the cookbook:
- Spicy Bean Toss
- Cheesy Chili Taters
- Chicken Puff Bravo
- Saucy Stuffed Chicken Breast
- Muffin Divan
- Cowboy Pocket Sandwiches
“That means you have to actually taste them, you know,” said Mrs. K R.
I glanced at the list of ingredients for Tuna Lasagna, and suddenly felt slightly queasy.
“Good point,” I replied, re-shelving the book. ”I’ll stick to the dip.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
California Clam Dip
Homemade Chex Mix
Frito Pie with Chili
Best Chocolate Drop Cookie Ever
Ha! I'm not giggling, I'm snorting knowing how the food police lift their noses at the very idea of Velveeta. Given the REST of what we put in our mouths, Velveeta seems pretty innocuous.
This looks great -- people must LOVE it.
Hi Alanna, yup, some people do have a thing about Velveeta. I'm not huge on processed foods, but sometimes they're just the right thing. And this does taste great! Thanks for commenting.
We have a similar recipe Connor made on Sunday. I couldn't find Velveeta at Schnucks, so I got Mexico Queso melting cheese - looks sorta like white Velveeta???, added a little chorizo too. This dip should be labeled crack. It's completely addictive.
Really, 300 cookbooks? I'm afraid to count.
This looks like the perfect Super Bowl snack! I am shocked that Velveeta is "healthier" than cheddar - who knew? Great retro recipe :-)
@Denise, all Chile con Queso is more or less the same (IMO) - you just choose your ingredients. The end result might taste a bit different - chorizo is a terrific idea - but dip is dip. You bring up a good point regarding finding Velveeta in supermarkets - they can stock in in the weirdest places. I've seen it stocked close to pasta (why, I have no idea); or close to boxed convenience meals (like Hamburger Helper); or in the dairy section but not at all close to cheese (which is where it is in my Schnuck's). And yes, I really do have about 300 cookbooks - they're everywhere!
@Katherine, it is perfect for the Super Bowl! And the news that the AMA endorsed Velveeta is a little odd, I agree. But at the time there probably wasn't much "low fat" cheese, so in comparison this probably looked like a nutritional powerhouse!
@both, thanks for taking time to comment.
Mmm, this would be a perfect accompaniment to my Spanish rice. Thanks for clearing up the confusion between chile and chili powder...I always wondered how they were different!
Hi CulinarilyCourtney, that would be a nice accompaniment. Happy to help with the difference between chile & chili powder! Thanks for stopping by.
Creamy and cheesy, everything you want from a dip. Yummy!!!
Hi Asmita, yup, it's rich and awfully good. Hard to stop eating it once you start. Thanks for your comment.
Im drooling. That picture on black with the jalapeno melted goodness is so beautiful! Take Care, BAM
Hi Bam's Kitchen, this dip is definitely drool-worthy! Thanks for the compliment about the picture! And thanks for commenting.
I have tried velveeta mixed in with salsa. Yes, it is so good with tortilla chips. Although I don't eat velveeta that much these days, but can't resist if someone brings it to party. Thanks for your info on the difference of chile vs chili powder.
Yum, I love this stuff!!!
@beyondkimchee, I don't eat Velveeta either except in this recipe - and in this recipe it's killer. Glad to help with the chile/chili thing.
@Kelly, good, isn't it? Too good - hard to stop eating it!
@both, thanks for taking time to comment.
This looks absolutely delicious. Would love for you to share your gorgeous pictures with us at foodepix.com.
Hi, FoodEpix, thanks for the kind words, and for stopping by.
This looks like a great Super Bowl snack. I'm not sure about using Velveeta, but I love the idea of the Velveeta cookbook! Chicken Puff Bravo ... the mind reels.
@Beth, I know what you mean about Velveeta - when you take it neat (I don't recommend this!), the first taste sensation is - SALT! And then you discern some flavor (which isn't bad, once you get past the salt). But melted with other ingredients? It seems to work. Anyway, this dip is good. And the Velveeta cookbook is a hoot! Love those recipe titles. When I grow up, I want to get the job writing them.
@Jay, tempting indeed! Lay in your supplies now for Sunday's big game!
@both, thanks for stopping by.
This is perfect football food, isn't it? Creamy, spicy and delicious!
Hi MotherRimmy, I agree that it's perfect football food! I'll need to make some for today's big game. Thanks for your comment.
I'm watching the Super Bowl 'as we speak' and I can only wish I had a bowl of that dip in front of me. haha. Oh, well. Next time I'll plan ahead.
Hi zenchef, it's really great! Totally junk food, but sometimes that's exactly what you want. Thanks for commenting.
This is also one of my favorites but this year, we made the California Dip. OMG! Now, this is our go to dip. My next get together, I will do both. As always thanks for sharing and you have great pics
Hi Cooking Lady, isn't the California Clamp Dip great? Glad you enjoyed it. Hard to decide between that and the Velveeta dip - making both is an excellent compromise! Thanks for the kind words. And thank you for taking time to comment.
I remember eating RoTel dip at our family Christmas parties in Tx, dating at least back to the early 70's. My aunt imported it to Maine (had us send it by the case) and got my cousins and her co-workers hooked on the stuff. She was delighted when RoTel went national instead of regional. It may be the quintessential "redneck" cheese dip, but it is the best.
Hi Stovemaven, imported Rotel! That's terrific! This recipe is totally junky but totally wonderful. Thanks for sharing memories, and also for stopping by.
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