October 25, 2012

Homemade nachos — what is "healthy?"

According to Wikipedia:  "Nachos may have originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas,or in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, at a restaurant called the Victory Club, owned by Rodolfo De Los Santos. In 1943, the wives of ten to twelve U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had closed for the day. The maître d'hôtel, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese sauce. Anaya cut the tortillas into triangles, added shredded cheddar cheese, quickly heated them, added sliced jalapeño peppers and served them.

When asked what the dish was called, he answered, "Nacho's especiales". As word of the dish traveled, the apostrophe was lost, and Nacho's "specials" became "special nachos"."

True story or not, nachos are extremely popular. And why wouldn't they be? A plateful of corn chips covered with cheese and salsa has all the right addictive qualities of delicious fatty and salty flavors. Up until last week, though, nachos were not part of my diet — I've tried taco salad and more recently, taco pizza — but never nachos. I know, right? Ms. Healthy just never thought of corn chips and melted "cheese" as real food. Duh. But then I ordered nachos at The Veggie Grill last week, and I wanted them again — just like everyone else.  Of course, being possessed of the gene that causes me to try to make everything I eat "more healthy," I had to make my nacho dinner "more healthy," too.

Now I want to be clear that "more healthy" may not be the same as "healthy," so before you rush off to make a big plate of nachos for dinner, keep that in mind. So, how do you make nachos "more healthy"? Well ... you could add a side of kale. (and, yes, I did that!) And you could start with "healthier" chips. I think the healthiest chips would be if you took whole grain, additive-free non-GMO corn tortillas, cut them into triangles, sprayed them very lightly with oil and baked them until crispy. Or you could compromise like I did and use Food Should Taste Good sweet potato tortilla chips. They are non-GMO, vegan and gluten-free. They are not especially low fat (6g per 1-oz.), but are lower in fat than many brands, and much lower in salt than most brands, yet still have a pleasantly salty/slightly sweet taste. One serving has 3g of fiber, 20% of your daily dose of  vitamin A and 2g of protein. They taste great — a little like sweet potato fries — and as an occasional food, they aren't so bad. For a healthier base, you could use oven-baked sweet potato fries.


On top of the chips I added canned pinto beans that I heated with chipotle in adobo, garlic and various herbs. The healthiest version would be dried beans you soak and cook yourself. The worst might be commercial beans filled with salt and preservatives and packed in a can leaking BPA. Or, you could choose a brand of low-or no-salt beans, organic or not, that is sold in cans that don't contain BPA/BPS.  (Lots of controversy as you'll see if you follow and read the link, then read the comments.) For the cheese topping, I made a cashew cheese in the Vitamix. I didn't use a recipe, just blended cashews and water, then added stuff I thought would give me the flavor I was after. This included nutritional yeast, chopped kalamata olives, red pepper flakes, truffle salt, liquid smoke, basil, garlic, turmeric, a small amount of tapioca starch to thicken it when it was cooked, and who knows what else. It tasted great and didn't contain any added oil — just the fat from the cashews. If you didn't want to make your own sauce, you could use a prepared product like Nacheez or Food for Lovers Queso. On top of the cheese sauce I put Frontera chipotle salsa, and chopped fresh tomatoes from the garden. If I'd had cilantro, ripe avocado and jalapenos, I would have added those, too.

This was a very fast and delicious dinner — satisfying my craving for nachos. It tasted great, but, was it healthy? Maybe not by some people's standards, but it was more healthy than the nachos I could get at the bar around the corner, or probably even The Veggie Grill. It's all relative. As I've said in the past, everyone has a different opinion and standard for what they consider healthy. Or more healthy. Or healthy enough. If you're used to eating a plate of greasy, dairy-cheese nachos every weekend, moving towards a version like I've described might be a step towards a better diet. If you eat only whole, organic foods and would never dream of eating nachos, it might be a step backwards!

The whole food health and safety issue is so convoluted and confusing that sometimes I think nothing we do matters, and we can just eat anything we wish (not animal products, of course). Then I recover my sense of trying to choose the healthiest products I can find and do the best I can with the information I have. I will probably continue to buy and prepare  whole, organic food most of the time, and canned and jarred foods that are what I believe to be high quality in content and packaging, when I need speed and convenience. We all make choices and compromises based on our preferences and situations, but I think it's possible to keep learning and making better choices for ourselves, the animals and the planet.

25 comments:

  1. i love veggie nachos! i like whole grain chips and i top them with tomatoes, avocado, soy crumbles, salsa and a bit of cheese. mmm!

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    1. Ah. Next time I'll add soy curls. Thanks!

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  2. Are you kidding me that you had never had nachos til your birthday dinner this year?! That is crazy! I grew up eating nachos, lol! As a vegetarian, they were the one thing I could make myself before I could really "cook," and like you said, what is not to like about a big plate of cheesey deliciousness?!? It has been many, many (many many!) years since I have had nachos (it is harder as a vegan), but your post has me craving them. This weekend I am making "healthier" nachos! Thank you!

    Courtney

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    1. I know. I'm embarrassed to admit it but it's true. Maybe I can make up for lost time. :) I wasn't a vegetarian until I could already cook, and for some reason nachos just never came up. I can't imagine why, since I've had plenty of Mexican food. Maybe it's because nachos isn't genuinely Mexican. :)

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    2. You definitely need to make up for lost time! Lots and lots of nachos :-)

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  3. Growing up, we used to grate cheddar over a plate of chips and nuke 'em until melted and then eat with red jarred salsa. Yours looks much much much better. I personally am a fan of non BPA contaminated nachos. I'm gearing up to make a big vessel of sauce for our day of the dead party. We're having a nacho bar!

    xo
    kittee

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    1. I don't how this happened, but I've never had nachos before this month. Neither has my husband. Obviously we were deprived.

      I can't wait to see a photo of the nacho bar — the whole party, actually!

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  4. There are lots of different versions of healthy, aren't there? These look SO good to me :D

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    1. Yes there are.

      The nachos were really good — some would probably dismiss them as "too healthy," and some would find them too unhealthy to eat. :)

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  5. Looks great. I am not a big nacho person--I never buy them--yet strangely, if they are in front of me, I will eat the whole plate

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    1. I wasn't a nacho person before, but they remind me of tacos on a plate instead of in a shell, and I kind of like them!

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  6. Oh my I've been having a huge nacho craving today! This post is killing me! Looks good and healthy enough to me. ;-)

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    1. If it's healthy enough for you then it's healthy enough for me! :)

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  7. What do you live under a taco rock you crazy Libra you? I am glad you are no longer a nacho virgin. This is was the perfect dish for your second time.

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    1. Bring on the nachos. You can't stop me now.

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  8. I adore nachos! When I was a teenager, nachos were practically their own food group in my diet. They were far from healthy by any definition of the word. My favorite restaurant deep-fried all of their own nacho chips there, which were made from bread dough and finished puffy. They were crazy, crazy good. Anyway, I think my nacho guilt stems from those days, because I rarely make them now.

    But when I think about it, how different is crunchy corn chips with taco toppings versus a hard corn shell taco? It's pretty much just a different form of the same thing. Nachos could be called Tacos Deconstructed. Plus, nowadays the cheese is either made with cauliflower & white beans or is basically a nutritional yeast gravy. All in all, not bad! At my favorite raw restaurant in LA, Suncafe, they make nachos with jicama slices instead of chips and then the cheese is nut based. There's something about nachos that feels decadent, even when they're not. Anyway, I'm glad you've gotten on the nacho train at last!

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    1. The puffy chips sound delicious, if not exactly healthy. I think the same thing about taco shells. I think we stopped eating tacos because of the shells. But we buy corn tortillas and toast them ourselves and they taste great. And I'm not opposed to the chips I posted about on occasion. :)

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  9. So many thoughts! I think it's really easy to rest on our laurels and say "oh, because the nachos are vegan, they're healthy" - when that's not the case. They may be a lot more ethical, but putting a bunch of processed stuff on top isn't doing our health any favours. And to be honest, most of those processed things don't taste great, so we're not doing The Pursuit of Good Food and favours ;). Yours look good - and I like that you took the time to think about how you were gonna do it. I too love nachos - but despite fat not bothering me in other things - the super fatty corn chips put me off...

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    1. I want food to taste good, but I also want it to be healthy. And whenever I say that, I have to figure out what healthy is. Everyone has a different opinion about it.

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  10. I think that last paragraph makes an awful lot of sense. Avoiding any animal products, making things yourself and eating healthily where you can, and using high-quality ready made stuff when you need to - yep, I'm with you all the way. If you can do all that and still get nachos, you're doing something right.

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    1. I think you summed it up better than I did.

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  11. I'll take some nachos! Deprivation is no fun, and I will gladly treat myself to something that might not be too healthy if my body demands it. It is so true that it can be difficult to decide what is healthy and what isn't. It seems like every day there is a new study that claims that a certain food is the work of the devil, and then the next day another study comes out saying that it's the healthiest thing you could eat! Whatever. I just try to eat nutritious and healthful foods mostly, and treat myself to the "junkier" stuff occasionally. Right? Right! :D

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    1. You mean like chocolate? One day it's all theobromine and the next it's all antioxidents.

      Right!

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