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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Improvise with nachos for a variety of tastes

By Courtney Taylor
(Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger

Nachos are an easy snack for those weekend football get-togethers.

Gannett News Service

While nachos are a fairly recent concoction of Mexican ingredients, they have been adopted throughout the United States and abroad, giving way to improvisation. All versions are equally delicious and personal, which might explain why they have become the quintessential snack food — especially for those weekend football parties.

Nachos are a far cry from prissy finger foods that sit on your plate too pretty to eat. By contrast, nachos put on no airs.

In her book, "Cocina de la Familia," Marilyn Tausend (Fireside, $20) says that in Mexico, "Food is much more than just nourishment. It connects us. It isn't just served at a celebration, it is a celebration."

"It's hard to be pretentious with a mouthful of refried beans and chips in your hand," says Tex-Mex restaurateur Anna Watts.

Nachos are meant to be shared, she adds. "If a knife and fork are required, I think it loses its convivial appeal. Nachos should involve lots of friendly scraping and scooping."

Anyone who's worked in a restaurant knows good nachos are a sure seller.

"It's not just that they are great tasting and fun to share, they are the perfect food for guys to order with a beer," Watts says. "I had plenty of male customers who ate at the bar and ordered nachos for an entree — they aren't as filling as a burger, but they're still very macho. But on the other hand, a group of women can share a plate of nachos and enjoy a taste of those hearty flavors without feeling like they've eaten a big ol' burrito.

"Nachos lend themselves to all kinds of versions, but it is possible to mess them up."

She recommends following a few simple rules.

"Like any dish, the better and fresher the ingredients, the better the finished dish," she says. "With nachos, because the ingredients are only combined and then warmed, the cook really relies on the original quality of the ingredients."

She recommends starting with the thickest, best-tasting corn tortilla chips possible. Then top them with the best ingredients — homemade refried beans, homemade chili, fresh cilantro, sharp cheddar, monterey jack, freshly made salsa and chopped avocados. And it's important to use a decent cheese that melts well.

Be certain to add cold ingredients after cooking. "No one likes soggy lettuce," Watts says. "So bake the chips with beans, cheese, peppers and cheese, then top them with the avocados, crisp onions, lettuce and tomatoes."

Finally, serve them immediately. "They're best piping hot, when the cheese is just melted," she says.

Chicken nachos

  • 1/2 pound leftover roast chicken meat, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 bell peppers (preferably red and orange), finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 (15- to 16-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 ounces corn tortilla chips (not low-fat)
  • 2 cups grated jalapeno jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallion greens
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped pickled jalapeno
  • Tomato salsa, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Toss chicken with lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté bell peppers, stirring, until crisp-tender, about three minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in skillet over moderate heat and cook garlic, cumin, and oregano, stirring, one minute. Stir in beans and cook, stirring, until heated through, about one minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Make two layers each of corn chips, sauteed peppers, beans, chicken, cheese, scallions and cilantro in a three-quart shallow baking dish. Bake nachos in middle of oven until cheese is melted, six to 10 minutes.

Stir together sour cream and jalape–o to taste and serve on the side along with salsa.

Makes six to eight hors d'oeuvre servings.

Veggie nachos

  • 16 (7- to 8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup fat-free dairy sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon finely snipped fresh cilantro
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium red or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chili peppers, drained
  • 1/2 cup seeded and chopped tomato
  • 3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
  • Fresh cilantro, optional
  • Tomato salsa, optional

Cut flour tortillas into six wedges each. Arrange wedges in a single layer on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until dry and crisp.

In a small mixing bowl stir together the sour cream and finely snipped cilantro; cover and chill.

In a large skillet cook zucchini, onion, carrot and cumin in hot oil over medium heat for three to four minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in pinto beans.

Arrange tortilla chips on an 11- or 12-inch ovenproof platter or on a baking sheet. Spoon the bean mixture onto the chips. Sprinkle with chili peppers and tomato; top with cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for five to seven minutes or until cheese is melted.

To serve, transfer nachos to a serving platter. If desired, garnish with additional cilantro. Pass the sour cream mixture and, if desired, the salsa.

Makes eight servings.

Big Boy nachos

  • 1/2 pound bulk Italian turkey sausage or bulk hot Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped green or red sweet pepper
  • 1 (8-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup thick-and-chunky salsa
  • 6 cups tortilla chips
  • 2 cups shredded colby jack cheese
  • Guacamole dip, optional
  • Sliced ripe olives, optional

Combine sausage, onion and sweet pepper in a skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about seven minutes or until sausage is browned and vegetables are tender. Drain well. Stir in beans and salsa; cook until heated through.

Arrange half the chips on a 12-inch round microwave-safe platter. Spoon half the sausage mixture evenly over chips. Top with half the cheese. Microwave, uncovered, on 100 percent power (high) for one to two minutes or until cheese melts, giving the dish a half-turn once. Top with guacamole dip and sliced ripe olives, if desired. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve warm.

Makes 16 servings