As a special Memorial Day holiday weekend treat, last night I made chicken nachos. You don’t really need a recipe for nachos. It’s more of an assemblage of tasty things you like to eat on top of an extremely unhealthy mound of tortilla chips.
This time, I made chicken nachos. I used rotisserie chicken purchased already cooked from the grocery store. I pulled off the skin, shredded the meat and tossed it with some barbecue sauce, a little bit of apple cider vinegar and a tiny bit of Tabasco. (I didn’t use all the chicken, so the rest I’ll eat in sandwiches and salads throughout the week).
I spread the chips out on a baking sheet and piled the chicken mixture on top. I then added my favorite nacho fixings: pickled jalapenos, diced tomatoes and lots of cheese, including cheddar, Monterey Jack and queso. Heat in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the chips, then pile onto a platter. I garnished these nachos with scallions and served freshly made guacamole on the side in place of sour cream.
As you can see, nachos are an infinitely adaptable recipe, and the kind you make at home are every bit as good as the appetizers you get in restaurants. Even better, because you choose what goes on top. Some other ideas we had for topping nachos include refried beans, corn, ground meat cooking with taco seasonings, chopped onions and sour cream.
It’s not the healthiest dinner, I’ll admit, but for a once-in-a-while treat, nothing could be easier.
When you think about it, there’s really not much difference between a burrito, an enchilada, a taco and a tostada. The main differences are presentation and heating method. But you can essentially use the same fillings for all of these (and other tasty Mexican-style dishes). That’s why I always keep a pack of tortillas in the fridge. Using them, I can put together a quick dinner with pretty much what I have on hand, and I can mix it up many different ways to keep things interesting.
Here are what I see as the essential building blocks:
- The tortillas: I prefer the small flour tortillas, which are the most versatile, but you might like the larger burrito size, corn tortillas or hard taco shells. If I buy a lot, I freeze the extras.
- The filling: You can choose something very simple, such as browned ground meat or chopped onion, or pile it on. I like to use up leftovers, such as rice, beans or bean dip, cooked meats and grilled or roasted vegetables. Fried or scrambled eggs also work nicely.
- The cheese: Always required. I usually have something appropriate on hand, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack or even goat cheese.
- The sauce: Salsa will work. So will bottled or homemade enchilada sauce or chili sauce. Even barbecue sauce will do in a pinch.
- The garnishes: These are the finishing touches. Lettuce, tomato and sour cream are naturals. Also think pickled jalapenos, guacamole, raw onion or whatever you like.
Now here’s how you put it all together, from simplest to more complex:
- Tacos: Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and warm them for 10 minutes or so in a 400-degree oven while you’re preparing the rest of the ingredients. Let everyone assemble their own at the table.
- Tostadas: Toast the tortillas individually in a dry nonstick skillet for a few minutes per side. Serve open-faced and just pile it on.
- Burritos: Spoon the filling in a thick line down the bottom of the tortilla. Top with cheese and sauce. Fold in the sides to partially cover the filling, then fold the bottom over part of the filling and roll up. Bake seam-side-down in an oiled casserole dish at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbly. Garnish after cooking.
- Enchiladas: Traditionally, enchiladas are made with fewer filling ingredients than burritos, so they are rolled thinner. Prepare as for burritos, except top with more sauce and cheese before baking.
- Chilaquiles: Cut the tortillas into wedges and fry in a small amount of hot oil until crisped and browned. Layer the wedges in a baking dish with the filling ingredients, cheese and sauce, like a Mexican lasagna. Make three layers, ending with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly. Garnish.
- Nachos: Spread tortilla chips on a baking sheet and top with the filling ingredients, sauce and cheese. Broil until the cheese melts. Garnish to serve.
Quick and Easy Enchilada Sauce
Time to make: 15 minutes
Yields: 2 cups
- 1 sm. onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1-2 chiles, chopped (optional)
- 1 tbsp. oregano
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 2 tbsp. Mexican or Southwestern seasoning mix (optional)
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium until the onion turns translucent. (Also add the chiles, if using). Stir in all of the seasonings and cook another minute or so. Add the tomatoes. Simmer until the sauce is no longer liquidy. Let cool and puree before using.