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.”
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