Lunchbreak: Jalapeno cheese dip

Chef Eddie Hernandez author of Turnip Greens & Tortillas


Taqueria Del Sol Jalapeño-Cheese Dip

Makes 2½ cups

People love our velvety cheese dip and are always asking us for the secret to how we make it. They can’t believe how easy it is when we share the recipe. The key is in using the right cheese, and here is where it can get a little tricky. We use Land O’Lakes Extra Melt White American Cheese, the product most respectable Tex-Mex restaurants choose for achieving the smooth texture that’s just the right consistency for dipping a chip into. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find retail, but other white pasteurized process American cheeses from the deli case, such as Boar’s Head, can come very close. Velveeta is good for queso dips that are loaded with strong flavors like tomatoes and sausages, but because there are so few ingredients in this recipe, there’s nothing to mask those artificial flavors that keep it shelf stable. And don’t be tempted to use a more expensive, natural cheese—the sharper the cheese, the grainier it will be. Be sure to grate the cheese yourself just before using so it doesn’t dry out— commercially pre-grated cheese contains cornstarch or some other non-clumping ingredient that prevents it from melting smoothly.

Besides being a great dip, this also makes a delicious sauce for ground-beef tacos and enchiladas.

1 cup whole milk

1 pound (about 4 cups) freshly grated white pasteurized process American cheese (such as Land O’Lakes or Boar’s Head; see headnote)

2 to 4 tablespoons diced pickled jalapeños

Diced fresh jalapeños for garnish

Tortilla chips

Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from
the heat. Stir in the grated cheese and pickled jalapeños. Whisk until smooth, about 5 minutes. Garnish with the fresh jalapeños. Transfer to a fondue pot or small slow cooker if you have one, or serve straight out of the pot if you don’t. Serve with the chips. The dip will keep for up to 1 week, covered and refrigerated. Reheat for a minute or two in a microwave.

Ancho Chile Pralines

Makes 15 to 20 pralines

The U.S. produces about 75 percent of the world’s pecans, and Mexico comes in second. Pecans are the key ingredient in pralines, the creamy, caramel-like confections sold in candy stores and restaurants all over New Orleans and much of the rest of the South, including Texas, where I first tried them. I have added a hint of smoky, tingly heat to them with a spoonful of ground ancho chile. Even big spice companies like McCormick now sell ground ancho chile, but I prefer the flavor of freshly ground.

14 ounces light brown sugar (about 2 cups packed)

⅔ cup evaporated milk

2 cups chopped pecan halves

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

1½ teaspoons ground ancho chile

  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Combine the brown sugar and milk in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 235 to 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 4 minutes.
  3. Stir in the pecans, butter, vanilla, and ground chile and continue cooking, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside for 2 minutes.
  4. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets. Set aside until firm, 15 to 20 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.


Tequila-Mango Smoothie

Makes 1 drink

This is similar to a frozen margarita, with a tropical twist. I like to dip the rim in a mixture of salt and chile de árbol first so the salt and the spiciness contrast with the fruit.

½ lemon or lime wedge

Chile Sea Salt (below)

1 cup diced mango

1½ ounces gold tequila

1½ ounces Lemon Syrup (below)

6 ounces ice cubes

  1. Rub the rim of a margarita glass with the lemon wedge. Pour the chile salt onto a small plate and dip the rim into the salt.
  2. Puree the mango, tequila, lemon syrup, and ice cubes in a blender until smooth. Pour into the glass and serve.


Chile Sea Salt

Makes ½ cup

½ cup sea salt

2 tablespoons ground chile de árbol or cayenne pepper

  1. Mix together the salt and chile de árbol. Store at room temperature in a covered container for up to 3 months.


Lemon Syrup

Makes 1½ cups

1 cup sugar

¾ cup water

½ cup lemon juice

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small container and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cover and store in the refrigerator up to 1 week.


Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


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