End of Summer Nachos
Crispy, creamy, and spicy...
What is not to love about eating nachos? By their very nature they allow for a layering of bright flavors, and this version does not disappoint. Each bite combines sharp, gooey jack and cheddar cheeses, pico de gallo made with stunning heirloom tomatoes, the sweetest grilled summer corn, spicy chicken, pickled onions, and creamy avocado poblano salsa. And the best part about making nachos at home is that you can be sure to layer the chips and toppings evenly to avoid the dreaded empty-chip bottom. In my opinion there is no better way to celebrate the end of summer than spending time outside with friends, sharing a plate of nachos and perhaps toasting to the end of the season with margaritas.
While the below recipe does outline a bit of advance prep work, you can also choose to skip those additional steps and save time by buying pre-made ingredients instead (no shame!). I opted to make homemade chips (which are surprisingly easy), pico de gallo, crema, and pickled onions, all of which are outlined in the recipe below. This dish can either be a fun afternoon of cooking and D.I.Y-ing it all, or more of a quick throw-together. Choose your own adventure!
Making these nachos before the summer tomatoes and corn are gone from the farmers market will make this dish extra special, but they can be modified for any time of the year. Not only are we lucky enough to have access to out of season produce year round, you could also opt for regular tomatoes and good quality frozen corn charred in a cast iron pan. And for my fellow New Yorkers who do not have the luxury of a backyard or a grill, use a Lodge Cast Iron grill pan to make the best grilled food year round.
The beauty of nachos is also that they are completely customizable. Have a vegetarian cousin joining the party? Make grilled portobellos in place of chicken. Want to make sure your vegan friend can partake? Sub in your favorite dairy-free cheese alternatives and swap the sour cream for a dollop of Kite Hill spread.
And speaking of dairy free, the avocado poblano salsa these nachos are served with is worth the extra 10 minutes it takes to whip up. Even if you opt for store-bought chips, pico and sour cream, this salsa is not to be missed. Put a scoop on top and serve the extra on the side for dipping. It's addictive (I won't tell if you eat the whole bowl yourself, I promise.)
End of Summer Nachos
18 small corn tortillas (or 1 large bag of corn tortilla chips if you aren't making chips - I like Xochitl brand)
1 block pepper jack cheese
2 fresh corn cobs (ideally when in season)
2 jalapeños (or 1 jalapeño if you aren't making pico de gallo)
2 heirloom tomatoes to make your own pico de gallo (or 1 container pre-made pico de gallo)
6 limes (or 4 limes if you aren't making pico de gallo and chips)
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 poblano pepper
1 long red pepper
1 ripe avocado
1 large red onion
8 oz. container Sour Cream (or 1 container Kite Hill spread for vegan nachos)
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast (or 2/3 large portobello mushrooms for vegetarian nachos)
1 can black beans (I prefer Brad's Organic but any will do)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Optional: Cotija or queso fresco for shaving on finished nachos, red radishes, tany other nacho toppings you love
** If you are feeling ambitious, make the home-made versions of the chips, crema, pickled onions and heirloom pico de gallo in advance. Recipes for all four are at the bottom of this page, and should be prepared ahead of the following steps. If you are short on time, buy them pre-made and start here:
First thing to do is make the poblano salsa. If you are grilling, you can put your poblano on the grill and allow the pepper to blister evenly all over. If not, use your oven and put it on a high broil setting. Place the clean poblano pepper on a baking sheet on the top shelf. You will need to monitor the pepper, leaving it up to 8 minutes or until it starts to blister and the skin starts to char. Then turn to the other side, and again watch for blistering, 5-8 minutes. Once the pepper is blistered evenly on all sides, remove from the oven.
Do not touch the pepper as there will be very hot steam underneath the blistered skin, so remove carefully. Set aside and let cool to room temperature. Once cool to the touch, cut off the top, cut down one side lengthwise and remove the seeds inside. Place the entire pepper into the bowl of your food processor. Then add juice of 1 whole lime, 1 avocado, ¼ tsp salt, ½ jalapeno, and 3 tbsps olive oil and run the food processor until all ingredients are broken down and the consistency is creamy. Adjust salt to taste. Put in a small jar with a tight top and put in the fridge.
Next shred roughly 1 cup of cheddar and 1 cup of pepper jack cheese and combine in one bowl. Stick in the fridge to use later. If you like your nachos extra cheesy, you should shred extra. To make these nachos vegan, you can add your favorite melty vegan cheese alternative (I personally prefer Daiya, but Whole Foods carries other alternatives like Chao, or "queso" sauce alternatives like Heidi Ho and Siete Foods). Dollop Kite Hill's vegan chive spread on top when serving.
Next let's grill our chicken and corn. Remove husks from corn and rinse. In a small dish, pour out a little olive oil and using a pastry brush, brush olive oil all over the corn. If you don't have a pastry brush, you can use your hands. Squeeze juice of 1/2 a lime over the corn and sprinkle with sea salt. Put on the grill, turning until slightly charred on all sides. Then set aside. If you do not have access to a grill, use my favorite Lodge Cast Iron grill.
Marinate your chicken breasts in a large bowl with 2 tbsps EVOO, juice of ½ lime, ⅛ tsp cayenne, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp smoked paprika, ½ tsp adobo seasoning, ¾ tsp chili powder, and ½ tsp sea salt. Mix until breasts are covered equally all over with the spice mix. Let marinade for 30 minutes if you have the time, or throw right on the grill, cooking approximately 8 minutes on the first side, then flipping and allowing the chicken to cook another 8 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through and no longer pink inside. If you have a meat thermometer, chicken should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees fahrenheit. Once chicken is done, set aside to rest.
Want to make this dish vegetarian? Try marinating and grilling portobello mushrooms the same way, letting them marinate a bit longer to soak up all the flavor.
Next add a can of black beans to a pan along with some of the juice from the can so that the beans stay moist. Add sea salt to taste, a sprinkle of garlic powder and juice of half a lime. Let the beans cook on medium-low heat, using the back side of a large spoon to crush the beans a little bit. Once the flavors have all combined, about 8-10 minutes, turn the heat off and set aside.
Let's cut our corn off the cob. Stand one of your grilled cobs upright in a bowl and carefully use a sharp knife to cut down the cob lengthwise, shaving the kernels off. Do this to both cobs and set aside.
Now it's time to put everything together!
Before you start building the nachos, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
If you made the homemade chips in advance (recipe below), grab those now. If you opted for store bought, no worries. Lay your chips out in a single layer in a medium pyrex dish (2.2 qt or 3 qt will do). You can also use a baking dish but preferably something with sides so you can get layers going.
Evenly sprinkle some of your mix of shredded cheeses, then some of the grilled corn and cooked down beans. Then you'll lay down a second layer of chips, and do the same. Finally, add a third layer of chips, cheese, beans, and corn as well as your grilled chicken (or portobellos for vegetarian). Add a little more cheese on top of everything.
Stick in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Nachos should be crispy and golden brown on top.
Once done, carefully pull out of the oven and get to topping!
Drizzle citrus crema (recipe below), or top with sour cream for a shortcut. Sprinkle with pickled onions and peppers (recipe below). Finally, finish with a nice big scoop of pico de gallo (recipe below) and that incredible avocado poblano salsa. Add some more fresh cilantro, and sliced radish if you like it. Serve with all the extra toppings on the side so people can dip as they please, and most of all, enjoy every last crunchy bite!
HOMEMADE BAKED TORTILLA CHIPS
Although time consuming, there's nothing like homemade, crunchy baked tortilla chips. It's actually insanely simple, and in my opinion, worth the end result.
Preheat your oven to 350. Remove 18 corn tortillas from the bag, and 6 at a time, cut them down the middle into two halves, and then again into quarters. Set all your quarters aside.
In a small dish, combine about 6 tbsps olive oil and juice of a small lime.
Lay out 6 tortillas, or 24 quarters, out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Depending on the size of your oven, lay 6 more tortillas out on a second and third baking sheet, or do this in batches.
Using a brush, brush a little of the olive oil mixture onto each of the tortilla pieces. Then flip and do the same on the other side of each piece. Sprinkle the entire tray with sea salt.
Put the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 8-10 mins on the first side, checking along the way as all ovens are different. The tortillas should start to look bubbly and if you check the pan-side of the tortillas, they should be golden brown. Then flip and do another 5-10 mins on the second side, depending how much time they need to get sufficiently crunchy and golden.
If you are doing this in batches, repeat until all tortillas are done. Combine in one bowl and toss all chips with a little more sea salt if you like your chips salty. I recommend making these the day of.
HEIRLOOM PICO DE GALLO
To prep the pico de gallo, using a serrated knife, dice half of a green heirloom tomato and half of a red and put in a small bowl. Cut off 3 rounds of red onion, dice into small pieces and combine in the bowl with the tomato. Dice half a jalapeño into small pieces and fold in with the other ingredients. Squeeze in juice of half a lime and sea salt to taste. Cut off some cilantro leaves from the bunch and finely chop. This should render about 1 cup of pico de gallo but use the entire tomatoes to make more and keep it in your fridge for up to 5 days. Just make sure to add more of the other ingredients as well. I recommend making this day of so the tomatoes are the freshest, but you could make this two days in advance.
To pickle the onions, cut one whole red onion into thin rounds and then chop rounds into halves. Cut rounds of half a jalapeño (with seeds) and half a long red pepper, and add the peppers and onions to a jar of at least 8 oz. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and mix until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Then pour the mixture into the jar, cover and let sit at room temperature for up to an hour. After that, stick in the fridge. You can make this up to 2 weeks in advance.
To make your own citrus crema, add 5 tbsps of sour cream, juice of ½ a lime and a sprinkle of sea salt to a small bowl and whisk. Keep in the fridge until ready to use. You can make this two days in advance.