The Queso Whisperer: Art of the Nacho (All the Ways)
Cheese can make good food great. One of the foods it makes especially great is nachos. Melty, savory and loaded with bright flavors, nachos are a quick and easy American staple. Technically of Mexican origin, nachos were invented to satisfy American appetites 75 years ago.
According to various sources, including a recent article: The Real Inventor of Nachos the original creator of nachos was Ignacio Anaya. Anaya – nicknamed “Nacho” – was the maître’d of the Victory Club, a restaurant in the Mexican town of Piedras Negras, across the Rio Grand River from Fort Duncan in Texas.
So the story goes: one day Senor Anaya received a visit from a group of U.S. military wives and was unable to find the chef to make food for the hungry customers. So he fried up some tortilla chips, and topped them with shredded cheese and jalapeno peppers. The rest is history, delicious history. Bite by bite, nacho combinations are seemingly endless and inspired.
Nacho Philosophy: In Layers
Nachos are a layered food. A sturdy base of chips, topped with beans, meat, cheese, salsa and pickled veggies. It can be as simple or as sophisticated as desired. But why get attached to traditional combinations when there’s so much to choose from?
The Base: (Doesn’t Have to be) Corn Chips
Most nachos are made with a base of corn tortilla chips. But why stop there? Try using your favorite sturdy, starchy food for nacho base.
- Tortilla Corn chip base – go for crunchy and substantial with Que Pasa’s organic chips, handmade and ground with volcanic mill stones
- Potato Chips – make a crispy, corn-alternative hand-held treat with potato chips. From krinkle cut to thin, try: Kettle Chips Krinkle cut or Boulder Canyon Natural Food’s Avocado Oil chips.
- Pita chips or Naan bread base – use these hearty wheat breads as a neutral delivery vehicle. Experiment with Middle Eastern sauces with nacho garnishes.
- Sweet Potato or Potato Fries – cut your own or use pre-cut frozen fries to make a tasty, oven roasted base for nacho toppings.
- Beet, Carrot or Taro Chips – popularized by TERRA Vegetable Chips, these slightly sweet, earthy flavored crispy chips make a nice base for a non-traditional nacho. Try a combination of fresh goat cheese, chopped chives and crumbled smoked salmon.
- Tater Tots for “Tochos Supreme”, bake tater tots ahead, then add bean/meat/cheese toppings, and toast to melt. Quite difficult not to have bacon bits…
- Roasted Cauliflower – go paleo, vegan and gluten free and serve cauliflower as a tender, nutritious base for toppings that could include fresh chives, goat cheese and lime-avocado dressing.
- Greens: Kale or chard “chips” – roast superfood kale or chard leaves (without stems) in the oven at 350 F for 10-15 minutes. Let cool, then add toppings.
Consider the Queso
Melty cheese is synonymous with nachos. Some cheeses melt evenly. Some cheeses are tasty crumblers, but do not melt evenly. It’s science. And often the result of fat content and protein structures. Which is best for your nacho? Check out this (incomplete) guide to selecting suitable nacho queso:
Melty and Mild: searching for that stringy, pull apart gooey texture? Choose Monterey Jack, Cheddar, local Ferndale Farmstead’s Fontina or Smokey Scamorza, part skim Mozzarella, or Organic Valley’a pre-shredded Mexican blend.
Crumblers: salty, flavorful options that don’t melt too well, but retain good flavor and a chewy texture, such as: fresh farmer’s cheese, Queso Fresco, Beecher’s Curds, Feta or Cotija.
To shred or not to shred? It’s up to you, and your availabilty. Pre-shredded cheese is mighty convenient, but it can contain starches and stabilizers to prevent caking. Freshly shredded cheese can be labor-intensive, but is often worth it. Either way, choose quality cheese.
Top It Off
Nachos are a many splendored thing. The original nacho featured a holy trinity of tortillas, cheese, and jalapeños. Crunchy, creamy melty, and spicy. That’s great and all, but why stop there? Be flexible and you may discover flavor and texture combinations you won’t soon forget.
Load Up Those Veggies: add the crunchy tang of diced (green) onions, olives, tomatoes, pico de gallo salsa, silky guacamole or avocado slices, fresh cucumber and radishes. Add roasted squash, red pepper strips, and/or mushrooms. Garnish with diced cilantro, parsley or chives.
Bite Sized Protein: Nachos make a great party food or shared dish. Be sure to break down meat (and other toppings) into bite sized pieces. Shredded pork or chicken, ground beef or turkey, crumbled bacon, or sliced firm tofu all make terrific additions.
Read on for some complete nacho recipes, using the inspiration above. Have fun and get creative! A few favorite nacho combinations from Co-op staff include:
Carne Classico: ground beef, refried pinto beans, shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, black olives, sliced green onions, sour cream and salsa.
Asian Style: grilled chicken, sharp cheddar cheese, avocado, pineapple, sesame seeds, Sriracha sauce, teriyaki sauce and sliced green scallions.
Cubanos Nachos: pulled BBQ pork (or ham), black beans, melted cheddar cheese, pickled red onion, pickles, cilantro and hot sauce.
Horsey Philly Nachos: roast beef (or pastrami) slices torn into smaller pieces, shredded Yancy’s Horseradish cheddar, roasted red peppers, and sliced sweet onion.
Northwest Nachos: CURED Applewood smoked salmon, black beans, sour cream, sliced chives, lemon juice and capers.
Grilled Sweet Potato Nachos
Photo & Recipe adapted from pinchofyum.com
- 1 14-ounce can refried or black beans
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 oz. multigrain tortilla chips (to make single layer)
- 1 teaspoon each chili powder and cumin
- 1 cup frozen sweet corn
- diced cilantro, for topping
- crumbled Cotija cheese
For cheese sauce:
- 1/2 teaspoon butter
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese of choice
Grill the Sweet potatoes: Turn the grill on to medium high heat. Wash the sweet potatoes and pierce with a fork. Wrap potatoes in a paper towel and microwave on high for 4 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut sweet potatoes into wedges and toss with the olive oil, chili powder, and cumin (+ salt to taste). Transfer sweet potatoes to the hot grill and grill for a few minutes on each side until roasty and delicious.
Nacho assembly: Meanwhile, heat the beans on the stove or in the microwave until warmed through and roast the corn in a dry nonstick skillet until golden brown. On a large platter, arrange the chips in a single layer. Top with the sweet potato wedges, black beans, and corn.
Cheese sauce: melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup milk and heat until simmering. Whisk the remaining 3/4 cup milk with the flour; add to the saucepan and stir until smooth and thick. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and the cheese until melted. Drizzle the cheese sauce over the nachos and top with cilantro and Cotija cheese. Sauce will congeal as it sits, so drizzle immediately.
Classic Sheet Pan Nachos
With just one skillet and one sheet pan, you’ve got dinner, lunch, and/or snacks!
- 12 ounces ground beef
- 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion (from 1 small onion)
- 9 ounces corn tortilla chips
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 (15 oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 cups / 12 ounces shredded cheese blend
- 1/2 cup minced red onion
- 1/4 cup pickled jalapeño slices
- 1 medium-size ripe avocado, diced
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 cup jarred salsa
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- kosher salt, 1/2 tsp or to taste
- black pepper, 1/2 tsp or to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place ground chuck and onion in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Sprinkle with cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until meat crumbles and is no longer pink and onions are softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread chips across pan in a single layer with as little overlap as possible. Top chips evenly with meat mixture, beans, and cheese.
Bake in preheated oven until cheese melts and just begins to brown in places, about 8 minutes. Remove chips from oven, and top with onion, jalapeño, avocado, sour cream, and cilantro. Serve with salsa and lime wedges.