A Pleasant Little Lesson | How to Build Nachos

nacho-party-mstreet-iThere’s an impending large crowd to feed and they are coming to your home expecting food.

The amount of time available to prepare dinner is limited so not only does the meal need to be easily prepared and make-ahead friendly but it also needs to be delicious.nacho-party-mstreet-lamb-nachos

Within this hungry group are sleeping food dragons. These are the difficult eaters—smug ‘foodies’ or an adult with a 3 year-olds palate (the person on a three-meal-rotation of chicken nuggets, cheese quesadillas and plain hamburgers).

May I suggest a nacho bar?A “Nacho Night” get-together is a win for all.nacho-party-mstreet-buffalo-sauceFor the host, it is easy to plan and prepare. Meats and sauces can be made ahead, or even purchased, the night before and gently reheated before service. Clean-up is a cinch (disposable foil pie pans for all!). Toppings can be chopped and refrigerated a few hours before everyone arrives.nacho-party-mstreet-upclose

You’ll be casually sipping on a glass of wine when everyone arrives…and silently laughing. You’re actually making them do the cooking. And they’ll love you for it.

It’s a win for the guests too, because they are pleasantly surprised. Conversations become livelier as the diners dive into the nacho building process. There’s food options for the pickiest eaters. Also, your guests can start making their nachos the moment they walk in the door or wait until their favorite friend arrives.nachos-white-marbleBut the overarching point of a nacho bar is that it’s tasty, memorable fun. You’ll be adding a memory to their food story and that’s awesome.

Now there’s no need to fret the next time someone suggests a dinner party. Offer your place and then make them do the cooking.nacho-party-mstreet-ranch-drizzleThere is an art to nacho building. Here’s a brief blueprint to follow:bc-nachos-ixChips- make sure the tortilla chip is thick, not thin. Also, cut the bottom of the tortilla chip bag instead of at the top. This allows all the small chips to be on the bottom of the nacho pile instead of on top.

Cheese- Goopy “queso” is not invited to this nacho party. This makes the chips soggy and undesirable. Use a neutral blend of shredded cheese (Monterey Jack is a good option). Be very generous when adding the cheese. If your nachos are based on a theme (like Greek or Italian) use a meltable cheese that compliments the other ingredients.nacho-party-mstreet-red-bell-pepper-tomatoMeat- offer a variety of meats or just stick to one. Shredded rotisserie chicken seasoned with a bit of salt and lime juice is an easy way to add flavor. However, Greek seasoned ground lamb is also delicious and unexpected (find a Lamb and Tzatziki Nacho recipe as well as a Chicken Pesto Nacho recipe at http://www.apleasantlittlekitchen.com).

Layers- When building the nachos, think lasagna: chips, meat, cheese and repeat. I generally go with two layers, you may want more.

Simplicity- Keep it simple on what initially goes on the chip and into the oven. Meat and cheese is all you need at first (beans and diced onions at the most). Leave the rest of the show up to the toppings.nacho-party-mstreet-toppingsToppings- This is where the fun begins. Go BIG when it comes to nacho toppings, here are a few suggestions. raw onions: white, red, green. crumbly cheeses: blue cheese, feta, goat cheese. greens: cilantro, parsley, chopped romaine lettuce. sauces: buffalo sauce, ranch dressing, pesto, tzatziki. vegetables: radishes, cabbage, bell peppers, jalapeños. beans (canned and drained): black, pinto, cannellini.

Below are three nachos recipes to get you started:

Buffalo Chicken Nachos with Buttermilk Ranch Sour Cream Drizzle

Chicken Pesto Nachos

Lamb Nachos with Tzatzikifoil-pan-of-nachos-i

*This story was featured in The Dallas Morning News. Click here to read the full story and watch the instructional video.*

Buffalo Chicken Nachos with Buttermilk Ranch Sour Cream Drizzle

bc-nachos-ii-dmnAuthor note: This recipe is a non-recipe. The ingredients are listed; however, the amount of chicken, chips, cheese and toppings is really up to you. The buffalo sauce is adapted from Alton Brown’s Buffalo Wing Sauce.

For the nachos:

canola spray

thick tortilla chips

roasted chicken, shredded (click here for recipe)

shredded three-cheese blend

For the toppings:

red onion, diced

radishes, thinly sliced

fresh cilantro leaves, lightly chopped

buffalo sauce (see recipe below)

buttermilk ranch sour cream drizzle (see recipe below)

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with canola oil.
  3. Make 1 even layer of chips on the baking sheet and top with chicken. Then add a generous amount of cheese (and I mean a lot of cheese). Repeat this step one more time (think lasagna).
  4. Place the nachos in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is nicely melted and slightly browned.
  5. Remove from the oven and top (to your liking) with the red onions, radishes, cilantro, buffalo sauce and sour cream drizzle.

For the buttermilk ranch sour cream drizzle:

1/2 cup buttermilk ranch dip (click here for recipe)


  1. In a small bowl, add the buttermilk ranch dip and water (1 tablespoon of water at a time) until the dip is a nice, drizzly consistency.

For the buffalo sauce:

Author note: If you love buffalo sauce, like I do, double the recipe.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 cup hot sauce (such as Texas Pete or Cholula)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. In a small bowl, melt the butter in the microwave.
  2. While the butter is still very hot, add the garlic, hot sauce and salt. Stir well to combine.

Chicken Pesto Nachos

nacho-party-mstreet-chicken-pesto-nachosAuthor Note: Nachos are a personal creation, preferences for meat, cheese and toppings differ from person to person. Because of that this recipe has no measurements for the ingredients, it is a non-recipe. Be prepared to be addicted. After I make a batch, I’m already planning when to make them next. Keep in mind when making these, the more cheese the better.

tortilla chips

roasted chicken, shredded or diced (click here for recipe)

mozzarella cheese

goat cheese

basil arugula pesto (for recipe, see below or click here)

tomato and red bell pepper salad (for recipe, see below)

crème fraiche drizzle (for recipe, see below)

  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees and spray a rimmed baking sheet with canola spray.
  2. Place one layer of tortilla chips, (evenly distributed and not a jumbled mess) onto the baking sheet. Top with a hearty sprinkling of mozzarella.
  3. Top the mozzarella with 1/2 the chicken and then place chunks of goat cheese evenly over the top.
  4. Continue steps 2-3 one more time.
  5. Finish the nachos with a final sprinkling of mozzarella. Place the nachos into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.
  6. Before serving top the nachos with the tomato red bell pepper salad, spoonfuls of pesto and drizzles of creme fraiche.

Basil and Arugula Pesto

2 cups basil

1 cup arugula

1/3 cup pine nuts

3/4 cup finely grated fresh parmesan

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/3 cup pine nuts

juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Place all ingredients, except olive oil into a food processor. Puree the ingredients until smooth.
  2. While the pesto is still being pureed, pour the olive oil into the mixture in a steady stream.
  3. Remove from the food processor and store in an airtight container.

Tomato and Red Bell Pepper Salad

cup red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 cup tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup shallot, finely diced

2 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons basil, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Place all ingredients into a small bowl, stir to combine.

Crème Fraiche Drizzle

2 tablespoons crème fraiche

1 tablespoon water

  1. Combine the two ingredients into a small bowl. Mix well.

Lamb Nachos with Tzatziki

blogAuthor note: Feel free to add as many chips and toppings (cheese, feta, tzatziki and tomato onion salad) as desired. Kessari is a Greek cheese that melts well. If you can’t find Kessari, substitute it with additional monetary jack cheese. If feeding more than 3 to 4, double the ground lamb recipe.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup onion, diced

3 rosemary sprigs

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon zaatar

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt

tortilla chips

1 1/2 cup grated Kessari cheese

1 1/2 cups grated monteray jack cheese

crumbled feta

tzatziki (recipe below)

tomato onion salad (recipe below)

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a skillet, combine the oil, onions and rosemary. Cook over medium heat until the onions are softened and the oil is fragrant, about 4-5 minutes
  3. Add the lamb, oregano, zaatar, garlic and salt to the skillet. Continue to cook until the lamb is completely cooked.
  4. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with canola oil. Make 1 even layer of chips on the baking sheet and top with the lamb. Then add a generous amount of cheese (and I mean a lot of cheese). Repeat this step one more time (think lasagna).
  5. Place the nachos in the oven and cook for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely melted and slightly browned.
  6. Remove from the oven and top (to your liking) crumbled feta, tzatziki and tomato onion salad.


Author note: Tzatziki traditionally has dill. This recipe does not, feel free to add if that flavor is desired. To seed a cucumber, slice the cucumber vertically and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

1 32 ounce container Greek Yogurt

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons lemon juice

  1. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl. Stir well to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before service.

Tomato and Red Onion Salad

1 cup tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 cup white onion, diced

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon fresh dill, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh mint, finely chopped

2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl. Stir well to incorporate.


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