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Beyond nachos

Expand your repertoire of delicious Mexican melted cheese dishes.

Got chips? Try queso fundido with poblanos and cilantro. Got chips? Try queso fundido with poblanos and cilantro. (Photo by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty)
By Adam Ried
May 1, 2011

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Dishes don’t come much simpler, or more satisfying, than queso fundido. Spanish for “melted cheese,” that’s exactly what you get: cheese melted on its own or over various tasty tidbits – traditionally, crumbled chorizo or strips of roasted hot peppers – and scooped up with pieces of warm tortilla. Chile con queso, chilies with cheese, is a smooth, warm dip. Tex-Mex and Mexican versions of the dish are distinct, the former usually involving Velveeta melted with Ro-Tel, a canned mixture of diced tomatoes and green chilies, and the latter depending on natural, rather than processed, cheese. The recipe here is a nod to the Mexican style, with sauteed onions, roasted chili peppers, and tomato.

Queso Fundido With Roasted Poblano Peppers

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Serve the warm cheese and tortillas or chips with pico de gallo or your favorite salsa.

1½ teaspoons olive oil

½ medium onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

3 medium poblano peppers, charred, peeled, seeded, and cut into thin strips (about ½ cup)

6 ounces grated Monterey jack, pepper jack, Colby, or Colby jack cheese, or a combination (about 2 cups)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Warm tortillas or tortilla chips, for serving

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and poblano strips and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Adjust heat to low, scatter the cheese evenly in the skillet, cover, and cook until cheese melts, about 3 minutes (do not overcook or the cheese can become greasy). Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve at once with tortillas or chips.

Variations

Queso Fundido With Chorizo

Follow the recipe for Queso Fundido With Roasted Poblano Peppers, making the following changes:

1) Before cooking the onion, in a medium skillet over medium-high, heat the oil and cook 1 small chorizo (about 3 ounces; chopped if already cooked, squeezed from casing if fresh), stirring frequently until fat has rendered and sausage is lightly browned, 3 to 6 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the chorizo to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1½ teaspoons of fat from the skillet, place it over medium heat, and cook the onion.

2) Substitute ½ serrano chili pepper (or more, to taste), seeded if desired and minced, for the poblano peppers.

3) Before adding cheese, return most of the chorizo to the skillet.

4) Along with the cilantro, sprinkle the remaining chorizo on the queso fundido before serving.

Queso Fundido With Goat Cheese and Pecans

Follow the recipe for Queso Fundido With Roasted Poblano Peppers, making the following changes:

1) Substitute ½ serrano chili pepper (or more, to taste), seeded if desired and minced, for the poblano peppers.

2) Substitute 2 ounces of crumbled fresh goat cheese for 2 ounces of the Monterey jack, pepper jack, Colby, or Colby jack.

3) Substitute 3 tablespoons of chopped, lightly toasted pecans for the cilantro.

Queso Fundido With Bell Pepper and Spinach

Try using smoked gouda or cheddar or goat’s milk cheddar along with the Monterey jack.

Follow the recipe for Queso Fundido With Roasted Poblano Peppers, making the following changes:

1) Along with the onion cook ½ cup of thinly sliced red bell pepper until both are softened and beginning to brown, about 7 minutes.

2) Substitute ½ serrano chili pepper (or more, to taste), seeded if desired and minced, for the poblano peppers.

3) Add 2 cups roughly chopped fresh baby spinach to the skillet along with the garlic and serrano pepper, and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 1 minute.

Queso Fundido With Pickled Jalapenos and Tomatoes

Follow the recipe for Queso Fundido With Roasted Poblano Peppers, making the following changes:

1) Substitute 3 tablespoons sliced pickled jalapenos for the poblano peppers.

2) Add ½ cup chopped, seeded tomato to the skillet along with the garlic and pickled jalapenos, and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute.

Chile Con Queso, Mexican style

Serves 6 as an appetizer (makes a scant 3 cups)

A nonstick saucepan will make cleanup much easier.

6 ounces grated Monterey jack, pepper jack, Colby, or Colby jack cheese, or a combination (about 2 cups)

3 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)

2 teaspoons flour

1 tablespoon canola or safflower oil

1 medium onion, chopped

Salt and black pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon cayenne, or more, to taste

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2/3 cup milk

2/3 cup diced tomatoes, well drained, from 1 14½-ounce can

4 medium poblano peppers, charred, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 2/3 cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Tortilla chips, for serving

In a large bowl, toss the cheeses and flour to coat well, and set aside. In a medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, cayenne, and cumin and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the milk, tomatoes, and poblanos and bring to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Adjust heat to low and add the cheese, about ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly (but gently) and making sure that each addition is fully melted and incorporated before adding the next, about 6 minutes. Season with black pepper to taste, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve at once with the chips.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

When you’re melting cheese, it’s easy to end up with a globby, greasy mess instead of a silken sauce. Here are a few tips to help pave the way to success:

1) First, choose a cheese that melts well, such as mozzarella, Monterey jack, Colby, or cheddar.

2) Shred the cheese to maximize the surface area that will be exposed to the heat.

3) Allow the shredded cheese to come to room temperature before heating it.

4) Use low heat.

5) Add the cheese a little at a time, melting each addition fully before adding more.

6) Stir, but not too vigorously.