That Soft Cheese Tacos are an item, a Dallas specialty, had escaped me until I read about them in Lisa Fain’s cookbook, “Queso! Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip” (Penguin Random House). The lactose-intolerant and eaters of healthful weeknight meals must turn away: This is unapologetic, almost-evil, cheese-on-cheese action. (In truth, I was expecting the accompanying nutritional analysis to be worse than it is.)
Fain, author of the Homesick Texan blog and a couple of cookbooks, knows how to build a good queso and explains why these are called tacos instead of what they look like. An enchilada sauce or gravy is chile-based, in short. Otherwise, the corn tortillas rolled with straight-up Colby Jack inside and draped with a smooth blend of American cheese, milk, cornstarch, seasonings and tomato-onion-chile pepper come together pretty much like enchiladas.
You will have enough queso left over to warm up and dip into a few nights later, and for that you will be grateful.
Soft Cheese Tacos
4 to 6 servings (makes about 5 cups of queso)
Serve with a crisp salad.
Make ahead: You may have queso left over, which can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
– Adapted from “Queso! Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile Cheese-Dip,” by Lisa Fain (Penguin Random House, 2017)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion
2 to 4 medium jalapeños (may substitute 1 poblano pepper)
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound yellow American cheese
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or more as needed
12 6-inch corn tortillas
12 ounces shredded Colby Jack cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pour the oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Cut the onion into small dice. Stem and seed the jalapeños (to taste), then mince. Mince the garlic. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the diced onion and jalapeños; cook for about 5 minutes or until just softened.
Meanwhile, shred or cut up the American cheese.
Stir the garlic into the saucepan and cook for 30 seconds.
Whisk together the cornstarch, milk and water in a tall liquid measuring cup, until well incorporated, then pour into the saucepan. Increase the heat to medium; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, to thicken the mixture.
Add the American cheese and reduce the heat to low; cook for about 6 minutes or until the cheese has melted, stirring a few times, then add the tomatoes, salt, cumin and cayenne pepper, stirring until well incorporated. Taste and add more salt and/or cayenne, as needed. Turn off the heat. The yield is about 5 cups.
While the queso is cooking, place the tortillas in the baking dish and turn over to coat with the oil on both sides; it’s OK if they overlap. Warm through (middle oven rack) for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the baking dish to the stove top (off the heat).
Working with one at a time, place a now-flexible tortilla on a nearby cutting board. Add about 1/4 cup of the Colby Jack cheese down the center, then roll up the tortilla and return to the baking dish, seam side down. Once they’re all done, cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 10 minutes. While they are in the oven, reheat the queso over low heat, stirring a few times.
To serve, uncover the tacos and pour 2 or 3 cups of the warm queso over them. Serve right away.
• Nutrition per serving (based on 6, using 3 cups queso): 530 calories, 26 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 36 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar