Nachos, my low-brow delicacy of choice, bring back fond memories of my former jobs in food service. In high school, my first “real job” was working in a concessions stand at a little league baseball park with my best friends. After school and on weekends, we giggled and bumped hips as we poured glugs of processed cheese into plastic compartments.
We handed out countless nachos, microwaved hot dogs and Gatorades to hoards of hungry boys, taking breaks behind the corner to gleefully dip our own round and salty chips into that artificially orange cheese. We knew it was bad, but back then, our waistlines never expanded and we were far more focused on the cute field maintenance guys than on our consumption of trans fats. Those were the days.
Then in college (well, just after college), I got a job at my favorite bar. It was cozy on the inside, with just ten tables, and had a nice patio with lush landscaping that shielded the drinkers from views of campus. It was a little oasis with cheap well drinks, happy hour specials and the best nachos in town.
These nachos were a major step up from the concession stand nachos, considering that they were made with real cheese and vegetables, and then cooked to bubbling, golden perfection in a conveyor oven. We would often order ourselves nachos during our shifts, sneaking into the back room for a few moments of cheesy relief while those drunk, demanding college students waited for their next round of beers.
I learned a couple of things about nacho making during my tipsy after-hour experiments in that bar’s kitchen, namely that you can do no wrong as long as you use enough cheese. Now is not the time to skimp! While I love to dunk plain tortilla chips into dips, a naked tortilla chip plucked from a plate of nachos is a disappointing chip indeed. You can use more than one cheese for a more complex flavor, and be sure to cook the nachos long enough that the cheese gets bubbly and golden.
Pick a theme for the veggies, too. Go for standard Mexican nachos with fresh chopped tomatoes, jalapeños and onions, or put an Italian spin on them with mushrooms, olives and bell peppers (try adding some freshly minced garlic, too). Serve your nachos with mandatory sides of homemade guacamole made with creamy avocados from Mexico and salsa, and maybe some sour cream.
My version of nachos here doesn’t exactly qualify as a gourmet meal or a healthy one, but it could certainly be worse. Make these for a special occasion, like the Super Bowl, or when no amount of kale salad will satisfy your cravings for cheesy, salty goodness. If anyone asks why you’re eating nachos, you can blame me.
- Blue corn chips (I like Target’s Archer Farms organic chips)
- 1 1/2 cups shredded raw cheddar or Jack cheese
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 1/3 cup chopped roasted red pepper
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and membranes removed, finely chopped
- 2 ripe avocados from Mexico
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed through a garlic press
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (add more to taste)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 to 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
- 3 medium radishes, top and bottom ends removed and finely sliced (or chopped onion, see note)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place handfuls of chips on the baking sheet and distribute evenly, minimizing the gaps between chips.
- Sprinkle generously and evenly with shredded cheese. Sprinkle veggies over the cheese, then sprinkle on the feta. Repeat to build layers if you’re feeding a crowd. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 15 minutes for a single layer or 20 minutes for multiple layers. Serve immediately on a heat-safe surface (transfer the parchment paper to a serving platter or at minimum, warn eaters of the hot baking surface).
- While the nachos are baking, make the guacamole. Slice the avocados in half length-wise, running your knife around the pit. Twist the halves in opposite directions, then pull apart the halves. Dislodge the pits and use a large spoon to scoop the flesh into a medium bowl. Sprinkle with lime juice, then mash the avocado with a large fork or potato masher. Stir in the garlic, salt, cilantro, coriander, jalapeño (if using) and chopped radishes. Serve immediately.
- Guacamole recipe adapted from Rick Bayless via Food and Wine.
- If you’re making nachos for a crowd: pile up the chips, cheese and toppings in layers on the baking sheet. The quantities given for the guacamole yield a modest amount, enough for two to four people. Multiply the quantities as necessary.
- If you want your nachos to stay warm for a while after baking, you might have better luck baking them in a large stoneware baking dish, oven-safe serving plate or cast iron pan. Cookie sheets don't retain heat for long.
- I used radishes for some pungent heat in this guacamole, but you could substitute finely chopped white onion if you prefer. Rick Bayless recommends finely chopping 1/4 of a small white onion, then rinsing the chopped onion under water to mellow the flavor. Shake the onions well to get rid of excess water before mixing it into the avocado.
- To store the guacamole for later: press plastic wrap over the surface to help prevent oxidation. Guacamole is best eaten sooner rather than later.
Disclaimer: This is a working partnership with Avocados from Mexico and Muy Bueno Cookbook and I was compensated for recipe development. Opinions expressed are my own, always. The truth is I love avocados!