Cashew cream is the key in so many recipes for richness and a velvety-smooth texture without using butter, cream, or milk. It's so easy to make, too! I made this "queso" for a New Year's Eve party and served it to kids, and you know what? They couldn't get enough. First they dunked tortilla chips in it, then we poured it all over chili nachos for that cheesy movie-theater vibe. So good!
Place the cashews in a blender and add water to just cover, about 1 cup. Set aside at least 20 minutes or up to a few hours to soak (soaking softens the cashews--the longer they soak, the silkier the cashew cream will be).
Place the kabocha squash in a microwave steamer or a stovetop steamer basket and steam until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, then add it (or the squash puree) to the blender, along with the nutritional yeast and salt. Puree the sauce until very smooth, about 30 seconds. If it is very thick, add a few more tablespoons of water (don't make it too thin--it will thin out once you add the salsa!).
Add the salsa and blend until smooth, or for a chunkier sauce, transfer the "queso" to a bowl and stir in the salsa. Serve with chips and crudites on the side.
Chef's Notes: The "queso" will keep, in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.
Kabocha squash is very dense and sweet and gives the queso its orange-y cheesy color. If you use fresh or canned butternut squash puree instead, use another 1/3 cup of cashews to thicken the queso. For an even deeper orange color, add 1/8 teaspoon of ground turmeric.