Most of us are content to scoop up a chipful of creamy, spicy chile con queso without giving much thought as to where it came from, but not Lisa Fain. The author of two popular “Homesick Texan” cookbooks and an award-winning food blog, Fain traced the origins of the Tex-Mex staple and documented dozens of regional and historical variations for her latest cookbook, “Queso!”
Fain will be in Galveston to sign copies of her books at the Kitchen Chick on November 13 from 5:30 until 7 p.m. “There were several reasons I wanted to write the book,” Fain explained. “There were no cookbooks covering it, like there are for almost every other Tex-Mex dish, whether it’s enchiladas, tacos or chili. Even worse, a man in Arkansas was saying chile con queso was from Arkansas, and that’s just not right!”
The dive into queso was also inspired by a trip to El Paso, where she first encountered regional variations on the melted cheese-and-chiles formula. Fain describes it as “more Mexican than Texan, as the strings of white cheese and thick strips of roasted green chilies call for tortillas rather than chips.”
Fain’s search for the origins of chile con queso took her back in time as well as throughout the Southwest. References to the dish appear in Mexican literature in 1816 and 1865, and recipes for “Mexican rarebit,” served over toast, popped up in America in the early 1900s. Fain considers the publication of a San Antonio women’s club cookbook in the 1920s to be a turning point. “It was the first chile con queso recipe to call specifically for American cheese,” she writes. “A truly American queso in both name and style had arrived.”
Other key dates in Fain’s chronology are 1939, when the first queso recipe calling for Velveeta was published, and 1949, when Ro-Tel published a recipe pairing a can of their spicy tomatoes with melted cheese. “A Tex-Mex classic was born,” Fain writes.
More than 50 recipes for chile con queso are collected in the cookbook, along with detailed instructions on selecting ingredients and serving. Fain warns against using pre-grated cheese, which is coated with a powder to prevent clumping but also prevents melting into a silky texture.
Actually, an inability to make even the simplest of queso dips was a major impetus to Fain becoming not just another homesick Texan but the internet’s Homesick Texan. “My journey began when I moved to New York City,” she said. “I couldn’t find Velveeta or Ro-Tel to make queso, and you couldn’t find chile con queso in a restaurant at all.”
The Houston native will be loading up on queso during a two-week string of book signings in Texas that includes an appearance at the Texas Book Festival. Following her Galveston book signing, Kitchen Chick owner Alicia Cahill has organized a “queso crawl,” so that queso fans can stop in for queso at several downtown Galveston restaurants.
“You can show up for the book signing, meet Lisa, eat some queso in the store and then head out for more queso,” Cahill said. Yaga’s, the Gypsy Joynt and Taquilo’s will be stops on the queso crawl.