Serious, serious subject here: nachos. They’re the topic of big debate in our household. And it’s not like we kick back on the couch eating nachos and drinking beer every night, but on the odd occasion they’re required. Like Oscar night, The Bachelor After The Final Rose, or Friday night Ultimate Fighting (which is clearly not my preference, but as we all know, marriage occasionally involves compromise).
Like the Gestalt notion that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, nachos can be transcendental, but only when the piece parts are systematically thought through.
And here’s where Rodney and I argue. I won’t go into detail about our nacho discussions, but a few major categories we tackle on a regular basis include:
1. Fake cheese or real cheese (you will be very surprised to find out which side of the debate I fall on there). OK, I won’t hold out on you. FAKE! Yes, I love it, in certain situations. Not all the time. In fact I’m disgusted by it most of the time, but in the case of nachos, it’s essential.
Fake cheese works best here because it melts, and stays melted. So, long after the nachos have cooled off, the cheese is still gooey. Unlike shredded cheddar, which tends to clump. And we all know the result here. Several highly covetable compound nachos that are stuck together with the bulk of the toppings. You pretend that you’re not interested, you play hard to get, but really, you only have eyes for those welded clumps and silently curse your nacho eating partner when he (and it’s always a he) takes those first. Leaving the dry chip fragments at the bottom whose only hope is to be scraped against the salsa/sour cream blob that is now starting to harden on the side of the platter.
2. Style of tortilla chip, again critical. I prefer to buy organic white corn (they somehow go best with aforementioned fake cheese), but Rodney likes the big GMO-based restaurant-style Tostitos. He thinks they’re a perfect match for his favorite Tostitos salsa. To me that stuff tastes like chunky tomato sauce and would make my post-nacho digestion experience even more nauseating than usual. I generally try to convince him that the jar in the fridge is unuseable. Like I found a shard of glass in it. Or it’s got some kind of spore growing on the surface. Usually that’s enough to convince him, although ever since he came home drunk 10 years ago and ate a full jar of moldy salsa without consequence, he’s been less deterred by the second reason.
A nice alternative to jarred salsa is to make your own, Mexican style. Just dice up a few tomatoes, some onion and cilantro and sprinkle on top of the gooey mess. Yes, it is like dusting a triple-fudge salted caramel sundae with powdered sugar, but who cares, we’re not trying to win Top Chef here.
3. Size of the dish (incredibly, we do argue about this point- whether to make a massive vat, or a more manageable size). My opinion is that if you’re going to proceed with the fake cheese extravaganza, go all out. Make the nachos in a gigantic roasting dish – the kind with handles that you use once a year for your Thanksgiving turkey. It should be so heavy that you let out an unexpected grunt when you pull them out of the oven.
Rodney on the other hand feels that such an approach feels too “industrial”, like we’re serving hospital patients on the 4th of July and have special permission to throw a party in the visitor’s lounge. I guess here, I could go either way, as I like my nachos in smaller proportions too. Big or small, I like them all. And I’m rhyming now, watch out people, you may get a nachos Haiku by the end of this post.
Despite much argument this week, we managed to pull together something that appeals to both of us. My fake cheese sauce went on the side and ended up being a perfect place to dunk those sad little chip fragments. Hard to believe we’ve come close to finding our perfect solution. I can’t imagine life without nacho arguments, but maybe we’ll start debating lobster rolls, which would be a more productive use of time. So happy 4th everyone. Enjoy some nachos. Or lobster rolls. Or flag cake. Or whatever deliciously bad food is on the docket for Thursday. It’s always worth the extra calories.
(And PS, Happy Canada Day to my Canadian brethren. Hats off to poutine, Canadian bacon, pancakes & maple syrup, or whatever else might be up your sleeve for this special day.)
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium white onion, chopped and divided
- ½ lb ground beef
- 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
- ½ Tablespoon chili powder
- 1 Teaspoon of oregano
- 1 can black beans, drained
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
- Handful of cilantro, chopped
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Juice of 1 lime, divided
- 1 bag white corn tortillas (approximately 9oz)
- 2 cups shredded cheddar
- 1 avocado, diced and squeezed with half the lime juice
- 2-3 Tablespoons of sour cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large sautee pan on medium-high heat, add the oil. When hot, add half of the chopped onion and fry for a few minutes, until starting to look translucent.
- Add the ground beef, and stir, breaking up the meat until it no longer looks pink.
- Add the cumin, chili powder, oregano and salt & pepper, and cook for 1 more minute.
- Add the black beans, and mix until heated through. Put to the side.
- In a separate small bowl, mix together the tomatoes, cilantro, and the remaining half of the chopped onion. Toss together, add a teaspoon of olive oil, and the juice of the remaining half lime. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- In a large heatproof dish, start layering your nachos. I like to do this in 2 layers. Start with half the bag of chips, add half your beef and beans, and a cup of shredded cheddar. Repeat one more time, ending with your cheddar.
- Place the dish in the oven, and bake until the cheddar is bubbly, about 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on it so that your chips don’t over toast.
- When the nachos are done, remove them from the oven. Add the salsa you've just made, avocado, and sour cream and serve.