In my senior year of college, I studied abroad for six months in Sinaloa, Mexico. I adore Mexican cuisine, which has much more variety and nuance than you'll find at a typical Mexican restaurant in the U.S. It was there I discovered delicious nopales, which are fleshy cactus leaves that were available fresh in the grocery store whole with needles, whole without needles, chopped, and chopped and cooked. I had the good fortune of living with an awesome Mexican roommate whose father happened to own a cheese distribution business, so I got to eat some delicious cheeses. One of the cheeses that was new to me was called queso fresco. Its about as firm as extra firm tofu and its crumbly, salty, and has a mild but addictive flavor. The closest food store sold queso fresco made by nearby farmers, and I loved it
Obviously once becoming vegan, queso of any kind was no longer in the cards for me. I hadn't ever tried to replicate this cheese with vegan ingredients until Jon's Mom sent me a bag of pepitas (among other things) for my birthday. I googled pepitas to see what I could make with them, and found a recipe that included queso fresco. I looked at recipes to see how I could recreate queso fresco, but when it came time to actually make it, I realized our recent power-outage-induced fridge cleaning meant I didn't have a lot of my staples handy.
After a little cabinet digging, I found some preserved lemons we'd received from Jon's sister in law (and brother, but who we kiddin'?). Since we hadn't figured out what to do with them yet, I figured now was as good a time as any to experiment. After some neighborly jar-opening assistance (Jon was out of the house), I de-seeded one lemon and added it whole to the food processor along with one of the red chilies in the jar. I was too busy to press the tofu, but you really should, because this came out as a thick cream which was too wet to mimic the texture of queso fresco. Who cares? It was yummy!
I even drew you a little picture of the jar of preserved lemons. Why didn't I pursue my clearly innate artistic ability? Well, that is a question for another blog post.
1 whole de-seeded preserved lemon
1 preserved red chili
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 block extra firm tofu (I used Whole Foods brand), squeezed a bit to shake off excess water
1/8 tsp white pepper
Directions: Throw everything in the food processor and press the on button. Wait till you can't really see any lemon bits larger than a small fleck. Chill and serve.
So far we've used some in a salad, I dipped Salsitas (insanely delicious spicy tortilla chips) in the queso, and I'm on the fence if I should use the rest in a 7-layer dip, or make quesadillas. Quesadillas are so darn easy...I think they may win.