Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nachissimo!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the many wonders of home-made pizza (thanks for the idea, Marian). The ease and variety and deliciousness of making your very own pizza got me to pondering on other quick and easy snack food dishes that can be made into gourmet treats in your very own kitchen.

And since last Thursday, Sept. 16, was Mexican Independence Day, it’s appropriate that I share a few thoughts about one of them. I speak of nachos.

When you buy nachos at a Mexican restaurant, or someplace like Taco Bell, what you’ll get is a big pile of corn chips smothered in greasy melted cheese, some chopped tomatoes, a squirt of liquid sour cream, and maybe beans, onions, a jalapeno pepper slice or two. In a fancy place, you might get some seasoned ground beef or pulled pork.

I’m not saying that boatloads of melted cheddar isn’t tasty, but when you make nachos at home, why clog your arteries and blow your diet on something you could buy in an eatery? Why not tart it up and make something unique and even mind blowing?

One of my biggest objections to restaurant nachos is that all the goodies are on the top of the pile, and if you’re sharing, you’d better grab fast or you’ll end up eating nothing but the bare chips from the bottom. So Rule One for making nachos at home is to spread the chips out in a single layer over the bottom of a cookie sheet or large baking dish, so that every delectable morsel is covered in topping.

And when it comes to creating that topping, let yourself go. I’ve always found that some of the best creations come about when you raid the fridge and use whatever you have at hand. Combinations occur that you never would have thought of. Nor is there any reason to stick with traditional Mexican or Mex-Am ingredients. Why not Indian-themed toppings? Nachos Vindaloo, anyone? Greek nachos are wonderful, with garlic and mizithra, tomatoes and cukes, olives, rosemary, a sprinkle of feta to finish. Even if you’re a nacho traditionalist, you can use black beans or lentils instead of brown beans, chicken, lamb, prosciutto or sausage instead of beef, Goat cheese or a good Spanish or Basque sheep cheese - even something like Emmentaler or smoked provolone. And don’t forget the herbs. My faves are fresh lemon thyme and cilantro.

Why not desert nachos? Cook them up with peaches, sugar and cinnamon, then top with whipped cream. I love them with melted bar chocolate, maybe some cinnamon and a dash of chile powder (try it!) Put them under the broiler for a few seconds until the chocolate is melted and bubbly, then serve them up hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or if you’re celebrating Mexican Independence Day, add a drizzle of caramel and a scoop of Dulce de Leche ice cream.

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