Sunday, 5 July 2015

Nachos to share

A great big bowlful of nachos, dumped squarely between you, eaten with your fingers, oh joy joy joy! Memories of Panchos in Obs, sharing a towering mound of nachos with Nikka, while the Gipsy Kings played... I used to make this loads, then forgot about it for years, and it's burst back onto the menu recently. This is part of the vat of bolognese meal cascade, so if you haven't made a vat of bolognese, you should start here.

These quantities make a meal for four, or a starter for eight. Halve or quarter the quantities to suit you, but it's worth making the full quantity of meat sauce, and putting what you don't use back in appropriate quantities in the freezer (remember the freezer-safety rules: heat fast, cool fast, don't leave stuff lying about) or the fridge (to eat within 3-4 days). It turns out Breakfast Nachos doesn't really work, unlike Breakfast Pizza, so best to just make the quantity you'll eat. The meat sauce takes an hour (in an ideal world; less in a suboptimal world), the rest is very quick.


  • 1 big packet of plain corn chips (200g) - yes, this involves a rare and confusing trip to the crisps aisle

For the meat sauce

  • 600ml of bolognese
  • 1 tin of kidney beans
  • 3 chillis
  • half a lime (we'll use the rest in a moment, I'm not mad)
  • dark chocolate if you have it
  • interesting mild chilli powders if you have them

For the other toppings

  • 150g of cheddar (more or less)
  • Half a pot of Greek yoghurt (that's 250ml, from a 500ml pot) or sour cream, if you prefer
  • 2 avocados (in an ideal world - sometimes you can't get ripe avos. Avocados are henceforth referred to as avos, because it just seems too formal to give them their full name the whole time. I know them as avos. Me and avos, we go waaaaay back.)
  • the other half of the lime (for the avos)
  • 2 spring onions
  • fresh coriander if it's around

Make the meat sauce first - you want it to cook on a low, slow heat, for about an hour, to get a really rich flavour. If you need it to be ready sooner, though, just add less water and cook it for shorter, and be perfectionist about it some other day.

Slice up the chillis, seeds and all - the only reason to remove seeds is if you don't like the heat, in which case, why use chilli?

Rinse the kidney beans thoroughly, to get all that murky bean juice off them.

Heat about 3-4 tablespoons of oil in a smallish pot (smallish by my standards), on medium-hot.

Fry up the chillis first and let them start to sizzle...

Add the freshly washed kidney beans, and stir in to fry them too. NB: try not to break up the kidney beans at this stage. The starchy stuff inside them makes the mixture really stick to the bottom, and we don't want that to happen while it's cooking, which we want to do for ages, which becomes hard if it keeps sticking. We'll mash them up a bit towards the end, but for now, be quite gentle with them.

Mild interesting chilli powders. I don't know if these are even sold in the shops. Will's parents brought us back big bags of dried chillis from Mexico, which we've ground up into powder. They're not hot at all, but have wonderful interesting flavours which add layers of complexity to the sauce. The mulato chilli has a very chocolatey flavour, which you can also get by adding some actual dark chocolate. Don't worry if you don't have these. If you have any interesting mild chilli powders, add some of those, but not the stuff that's just sold as "mild chilli powder", which is actually just the same as hot chilli powder but diluted with other ingredients, so it doesn't actually add a different chilli-dimension.

I added 1 teaspoon of each.

Tip the bolognese into the mix, and turn the temperature right down.

 Add some water: a cupful, if you're going for the full hour-cook, or half a cup, if you want it to cook in half an hour.

 The bar of dark chocolate had mysteriously vanished, but fortunately I found the ears of a dark-chocolate Easter Rabbit, so used those. (If you have mulato chilli, you don't need the chocolate). Half an ear would have been plenty - that's probably about 3 squares in normal chocolate?
(The bar of dark chocolate was later found hiding behind some of the more obscure teas.)

You can also grate in all the zest from the lime, which will otherwise only go to waste, and that extra sparkle of lime is lovely.

I keep the lid on for the first half hour, then remove it for the second half-hour so the liquid can evaporate. You really want it to be nice and thick, so for the last half hour it needs a fair bit of attention and stirring (every 5-10 mins) to stop it sticking.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180°C.

When the sauce is almost ready...

Assemble the other ingredients! (The spring onions and coriander seem to be shy today.)

Amazing. Those ripe-n-ready avos actually are ripe, and ready. Cut them in half, remove the pip, and scrape the insides out with a spoon, into a bowl. (Sometimes that's easier if you cut them into quarters.)

Add generous grindings of salt and pepper - the avo can take a good amount of both, plus the granules make it easier to mash; it gives the fork some grit and grip. Mash it first, then...

Squeeze the juice of half your lime. (I didn't zest this one; must have been distracted.)

Add that to the avo mash, and stir it in well.
Squeeze the juice of the other half of the lime...

And pour it into your meat sauce.  See how lovely and dark and rich and thick that is? Perfect! If the kidney beans haven't broken up, you can break them up now - a potato masher does the job beautifully. So that incredibly heavy, complex sauce now gets the lime, which brightens it up amazingly. The citrus also intensifies the chilli. WIN-WIN.

 Spread the corn chips out in the biggest bowl, platter, or tray you have (which you'll also be serving it in). This bowl is a good foot across, though it doesn't look it in the photo.

If you're just making for two, then use exactly half the bag of corn chips, 100g, and spread them out. It doesn't look like enough, so just trust me that it is.

 Grate the cheese all over the corn chips, so they're completely hidden beneath it. This is the MAGIC step - the bit that stops the corn chips from getting soggy!

Pop that in your hot oven, until all the cheese has melted completely, and even maybe gone a bit crispy in places. About ten minutes. The oven does this a bit better than the grill, but use the grill in emergencies.

Meanwhile, the spring onions came out of hiding and got chopped up. (So maybe it's fair enough that they were hiding.)

The corn chips and cheese are ready, it's time to layer over all the toppings and serve!

Meat sauce first, thinly spread right across it. (Half the sauce if you're making a meal for two, or whatever proportion you need for however many you're planning to feed as a main or a starter.)

Sometimes I try to put yoghurt in some parts, avo in other parts, and then the spring onion all over. It's hard to make that look good.

Other times I spread the avo all over and then the yoghurt on top, which I think works better and looks better. This one had coriander as well as spring onions, and looks beautiful! Will puts the meat in the middle, the avo on one side, and the yoghurt on the other, with space in between them, which can look a bit more elegant, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing, but I think the version above is beautiful, and his way is all wrong for the actual eating. It makes it very hard to get all three on one corn chip, and it creates a lot of anxiety for the kind of person who needs an absolute one-to-one ratio in her apple-and-cheese-slices, and who thinks quite carefully during meals about how not to finish one bit while there's still a glut of another bit, and nachos isn't meant to be stressful. You're supposed to just get luck of the draw with every corn chip, in spontaneity and serendipity and surprise.  Also, Will's way is not how Panchos did it. Which is the clincher, really.

So: a great big bowlful (prepared my way), set on the table between everyone, or held between the two of you on the sofa while you watch Game of Thrones.

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