One of my favorite easy comfort food meals is quesadillas, and since my Vegan Buffalo Chickpea Quesadillas, are probably the most popular recipe on my blog, I figured it was time to share another quesadilla recipe.
Enter these Vegan Quesadillas with Smoky Cheese and Refried Beans, which are made with exclusively pantry ingredients!
Why you’re going to like this recipe
Pantry staples. And all the ingredients, from the cheese to the onions to the beans are made with pantry ingredients (i.e., you might already have all the required ingredients in your pantry).
Pure comfort food. Smoky cashew cheese, spiced refried beans, and sticky sweet onions get wrapped in tortillas and pan-fried until crispy and browned. It’s truly an epic comfort food meal!
Spreadable vegan cheese. I love making vegan cheese sauces (this one is my favorite, along with the vegan queso in my cookbook), but sometimes you want a vegan cheese that’s spreadable. And since I’m not venturing into grocery stores nilly willy (as of today (April 14), I haven’t been to a grocery store in a month, which is certainly a record for me), I can’t just go buy some spreadable vegan cheese. So, I decided to make make my own!
Packed with flavor. Despite being a pantry meal, these quesadillas are heavy on flavor. The refried beans are packed with spices and garlic; the onions are sticky and sweet, and the cashew cheese is smoky and so satisfying.
Spreadable Cashew Cheese
I consulted some of my past cheese sauce recipes, and merged them into one pantry-only recipe, and then decided to make the cheese spreadable. Because spreading cheese on a tortilla for a quesadilla is very satisfying.
The base of the cashew cheese is cashews (obviously) and plant-based milk, and it gets flavored with nutritional yeast for cheesiness and spices for flavor (garlic or garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika for a little smokiness). The thickener in this recipe that converts this from cheese sauce recipe to spreadable cheese is the tapioca flour.
Once you blend everything in a high-powered blender or food processor, you’ll have a pourable consistency. Pour the sauce into a saucepan and heat on the stove for a few minutes, whisking constantly. Thanks to the tapioca flour, you’ll notice that it quickly thickens and eventually firms up and turns almost stringy. Once you have a thick spreadable consistency, take it off the heat immediately (otherwise, it can turn somewhat gummy).
If you don’t have tapioca flour, you can use arrowroot powder or cornstarch. Since I’m trying to conserve ingredients, I haven’t tested out those substitutes myself, but based on similar recipes, I’m pretty sure they will work.
If you don’t have tapioca/arrowroot/cornstarch, and/or if you prefer a cheese sauce consistency, here’s what you need to do:
Omit the tapioca/arrowroot/cornstarch. If you leave this ingredient in the sauce and don’t cook the sauce on the stove, it will just taste chalky and not good at all.
Reduce the amount of plant-based milk. When I blended the sauce, it was a bit too thin for my liking as a cheese sauce, but it thickens up a lot when cooked. If using just as a sauce, however, I’d start with half the amount of plant-milk called for in the recipe, adding more as needed along the way.
Easy Refried Beans
One of the great things about stocking up on canned beans is that it’s so easy (and tasty) to make homemade refried beans. All you need is a can of pinto beans or black beans, a few aromatics, and a mashing instrument.
Tip: You’ll need some liquid to mash the beans, and the recipe calls for vegetable broth or water. You can also use some or all of the liquid that the canned beans come in. Contrary to popular belief, this goopy liquid is safe to consume – it’s just water, salt, and the starch released from the beans.
That said, some varieties of canned beans taste better than others, so some bean liquid will taste better than others. If you use the canned bean liquid, you might need to supplement with a bit of broth or water, as there might not be quite enough liquid as the recipe calls for.
PS: If you want something meatier to add to your quesadillas, my Chipotle copycat Sofritas are a fantastic alternative.
These onions aren’t quite caramelized, but they do get nicely browned, slightly sticky, soft, and sweet. To get there, cook them in shimmering oil over medium-high heat and generously season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes until a fond appears on the surface of the pan, then start deglazing the pan with a bit of water to prevent burning.
How to assemble quesadillas
The recipe calls for 4 -8 flour tortillas. There’s a range because (1) flour tortilla sizes vary in size, from 6 inches (15 cm) on the small end to 12 inches (30 cm) on the larger end, and (2) there are two different ways to make a quesadilla.
One method, the stacked method, involves using 2 tortillas. Spread the cheese and dollop the beans/onions onto the whole surface of one tortilla (leaving a small empty border along the edges), then top this with a second tortilla. Add to a large skillet and cook until crispy and browned on one side; flip and cook until golden-brown on the other side. I like to press the quesadilla down with a smaller skillet to ensure the tortilla gets crispy, not soggy.
The second method, the folded method, involves using just 1 tortilla. Spread the cheese sauce, beans and onions on only half of the tortilla, careful to not overfill it. Fold the side without the toppings over into a half-moon shape. Add to a skillet and cook until crispy and browned on one side; flip and cook until golden-brown on the other side.
If you’re using the folded method, you can also bake these quesadillas instead of pan-frying them. The directions below include both methods. Whichever method you choose, I guarantee these quesadillas will be delicious!
Other tips for making this recipe
1. Remember to soak your cashews! If you don’t have a high-powered blender, I recommend soaking them in cool water overnight, or the next best option is in boiling water for one hour. If you do have a powerful blender like a Vitamix, you can soak them in boiling water for as little as 15 minutes, but I like to give them a full one-hour soak.
2. For cheese sauce tips, see the previous section on “Spreadable Cashew Cheese.”
3. To make things efficient, cook the onions and refried beans in separate pans at the same time. Set them aside, and then cook your cheese sauce on the stove for a few minutes.
That’s all you need to know about these Vegan Quesadillas with Smoky Cheese and Refried Beans. If you give this recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and please comment with your feedback below!
- 4 to 8 flour tortillas or tortillas of choice*
- Oil of choice for frying/baking the quesadillas
- Smoky Cashew Cheese (recipe below)
- Refried Beans (recipe below)
- Sautéed Onions (recipe below)
Smoky Cashew Cheese**
- 1 cup (140g) raw cashews, soaked in water overnight, or in boiling water for 1 hour
- 1/3 cup (~25g) nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder (optional but adds a nice sharp tangy flavor)
- 4 garlic cloves (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt + more to taste
- 2 1/2 tablespoons tapioca flour (see notes above on “spreadable cashew cheese” for substitutes and tips)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup (240 mL) creamy, unsweetened plant-based milk, such as oat milk, “lite” coconut milk, or soy milk
- 2-4 tablespoons pickled jalapeños with brine (optional)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or a neutral cooking oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 (15-ounce / 440g) can pinto beans or black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2/3 - 1 cup (160-240 mL) water, vegetable broth, or canned bean liquid
- Kosher salt or sea salt to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (if you don’t have lime, sub lemon juice or half the amount of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
- 1 small handful of cilantro (optional), chopped
- 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons oil of choice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Water, as needed
- Make the Smoky Cashew Cheese, Refried Beans, and Sautéed Onions.
- Assemble the quesadillas using the Folded Method. Spread a bit of the cheese onto only one half of a tortilla. Top with a bit of the beans and onions on the same side (don’t overfill). Fold the side without the toppings over into a half-moon shape.
- If using this method, you can either pan-fry the quesadillas or bake them.
- Or, assemble the quesadillas using the Stacked Method. Spread a generous layer of the cheese onto one tortilla. Arrange some of the refried beans and the sautéed onions on top. Place another tortilla on top to cover.
- To pan-fry the quesadillas (either stacked or folded), lightly grease a large skillet with a bit of oil (not too much) and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the prepared quesadilla to the skillet. Place a smaller skillet on top of the quesadilla so that it presses down on the quesadilla, resulting in a nice crispy exterior.
- Cook the quesadillas for 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook another 1-2 minutes, or until both sides are crispy and nicely browned. Repeat with the remaining cheese, beans, onions, and tortillas.
- To bake folded quesadillas, preheat the oven to 425°F/218°C. Brush a baking sheet with a bit of oil. Add the folded quesadilla and brush a tiny bit of oil on the top side. Bake for 8 minutes, then carefully flip and bake for 6-8 minutes more.
Smoky Cashew Cheese Directions
- Drain the soaked cashews.
- Add all of the ingredients to a high-powered blender or food processor. Blend until the sauce is completely smooth and creamy, about 2-3 minutes for a high-powered blender, or 4-5 minutes in a food processor, scraping down the sides with a silicone spatula as needed. Taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly, adding more salt as needed or more lemon juice for more acidity.1. NOTE: the tapioca flour will make it taste chalky, but that will go away once it’s cooked on the stove.
- Transfer the cheese sauce to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high. Whisk almost constantly, until the sauce is very thick and almost stringy and you have a spreadable consistency, about 3-4 minutes. Take off the heat immediately.
Refried Beans Directions
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown
- Add the oregano, chili powder, and cumin and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add in the drained beans, bay leaves, and broth or water. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the beans are warmed through. Remove the bay leaves.
- Using an immersion blender or a potato masher, mash most of the beans, but leave some beans whole for texture. If the beans appear dry, add more broth or water as needed to moisten. Continue to cook the beans, stirring often, for 2-4 more minutes.
- Season the beans with salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, and stir in the lime juice and cilantro, if using.
Sautéed Onions Directions
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the oil. Once shimmering, add the onions and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until a light brown fond starts form on the surface of the pan, about 4-5 minutes. Add a few spoons of water to deglaze the pan, and continue cooking until the onions are softened and browned, about 9-10 minutes total.