Beef Nachos with Fresh Tomato and Jalapeño Salsa

I had intended to post this recipe before the Super Bowl, but our trip to South America got the best of my schedule so making nachos was put on hold. And from what I've been told, waiting for my nachos is one of life's great challenges. According to Rob and my best girl, this dish tops their "stuff your belly until you cry" list. I agree that these nachos are quite delicious, aside from the time I made them way too spicy. I seem to recall that everyone at the table was in a sweat as they grasped for sour cream and beer faster than I could dole it out. Oops.

UPDATE: I've added a "Make-ahead Ingredients" section at the bottom of this post.

Useless Facts

  • In 1959, waitress Carmen Rocha introduced nachos to Los Angeles at El Cholo, a local Mexican restaurant. Since the Santa Monica El Cholo is just blocks from our house I feel especially proud of this useless fact.
  • Folklore says that Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya is the father of nachos. During WWII, the wives of ten Texan soldiers went to Mexico for an outing and happened upon a restaurant called the Victory Club. The chef was nowhere to be found (or the restaurant was closed, not sure about this part of the tale), so Ignacio had to improvise. He threw together some tortilla triangles, cheese, and jalapeños, then cooked them under the broiler. Good man. The rest is heartburn-inducing history. Viva Nacho!
  • Habanero is not spelled "habañero". The addition of a tilde is what the Interwebs calls "hyperforeignism". Not ashamed to say that I've been mispronouncing habanero up until I wrote this post.

Tools

Heirloom tomatoes at Tutti Frutti Farms

Ingredients (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

Beans

  • 1/2 can refried beans
  • 1/4 cup shredded habanero jack cheese
  • 1 tsp fresh jalapeño, chopped
  • 3 tsp pickled jalapeño, chopped

Beef

  • 1 lb lean ground beef Note: I often use Lindner Bison for this dish.
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher or flake-style salt
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp chopped chipotle plus 1 tsp of the adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice

Bake and Serve

  • UPDATED: 9 1/2 ounces of hearty chips 1 bag each of blue and yellow corn tortilla chips Note: I now use chips from Jimtown Store. It's a splurge to mail-order chips, but I haven't found a better texture, flavor, or shelf-life in Los Angeles. They're the ultimate for this recipe. You only need about 9 1/2 ounces of chips so two bags will be twice as much as you'll use. I like the flavor and aesthetic of the mixed varieties. Plus, who can't find a spot in their belly for extra chips? The brand I like is Garden of Eatin', here and here.
  • 2.5 cups habanero jack, shredded Note: If you can't find habanero jack feel free to substitute pepper jack for the entire 4.5 cups.
  • 2 cups regular jack cheese, shredded
  • Roasted Jalapeño and Tomato Salsa
  • 2 avocados
  • Light sour cream
  • 2-3 fresh jalapeños, sliced thin
  • UPDATE: Since writing this recipe, I've started adding Pickled Red Onions to the finished nachos.

Instructions (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

Beans

  • Puree the beans, cheese, and jalapeños in a food processor then set aside. Note: This is where a mini food processor comes in handy. The bean mixture can be made the day before, but be sure to bring it to room temperature before baking the nachos.

Beef

  • In a nonstick pan, heat the oil over medium.
  • Cook the onion with a small pinch of salt for 5 to 10 minutes until translucent.
  • Add the beef, break it up into small bits, then cook until no longer pink. Transfer the beef to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, wipe the pan clean, then spoon the beef back into the pan.
  • Over medium heat, add the spices, garlic, and salt, then cook until fragrant.
  • Add the tomato paste, chopped chipotle, brown sugar, and adobo, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the water and simmer over medium-low heat until it has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in the lime juice, then transfer to a plate to cool. If there is excess liquid, drain the cooked beef on a plate lined with paper towels.

Bake and Serve

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and move your rack to the middle position.
  • In a 13 x 9 inch baking dish, spread half of the chips evenly, then spread half of the bean mixture, beef, and cheese. Note: I put the beans in a small Ziploc bag, snip the corner, and "pipe" or squeeze the beans onto the chips.
  • Repeat with the remaining chips, beans, beef, and cheese.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese melts, bubbles, and begins to brown slightly.
  • Serve immediately with salsa, sour cream, diced avocado, and sliced jalapeños. Note: Be sure your sour cream and salsa are room temperature.

Make-ahead Ingredients for Parties, RV meals, or Camping

Preparing most of the ingredients ahead of time has no negative impact on flavor and makes cooking and cleanup super easy.

2-3 Days in Advance

1-3 Days in Advance

  • Grate cheese and refrigerate in an airtight bag.
  • Make bean mixture and refrigerate in an airtight bag.
  • Make beef mixture and refrigerate in an airtight container. If making more than 1 day in advance, freeze the cooked beef mixture once it is completely cool.

Day Before Cooking

  • Transfer the cooked beef (if frozen) to the refrigerator so it can thaw overnight.

Day of Cooking

    • Make your salsa early in the day and refrigerate so the flavors have time to set up.
    • Gently reheat the beef so that it's warm to hot before assembling the nachos. Cold beef won't come up to temperature when baking in the oven.

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