They say necessity is often the mother of invention. In the case of nachos, that certainly seems to be the case.
I’d never thought about nachos being “invented,” but indeed they appeared in public for the first time in 1940 at a hotel restaurant in Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Requested by a regular patron for a “different” snack, maître d’ Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya went into the kitchen, looked around and threw together three simple ingredients — freshly made corn totopos (tortilla chips), Colby cheese and pickled jalapeños. He heated it in the broiler, and voila! History was made.
Nachos have become the town’s claim to fame. Since 1995, the International Nacho Festival is celebrated annually in October. While the original Nacho has passed away, his family proudly keeps his name and fame alive and is actively involved in the festival.
Why did Nacho’s original recipe use Colby cheese? Apparently, it was given out at food banks by the U.S. government during and after World War II, when many were struggling. Piedras Negras is just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, and families routinely shared products from both sides. In fact, Colby cheese was called queso relief.
While the original nachos recipe has just those three ingredients, the tortilla chip base lends itself to a host of other ingredients: pulled pork, camarones (shrimp), barbecue chicken, arrachera (flank steak) or leftover chili all work on top of the chips, topped with any kind of cheese. Poutine nachos include cheese curds and gravy; Hawaiian nachos feature fresh pineapple chunks and kalua pork. Feeling adventurous? Use thick-cut potato chips instead.
To make nachos, start with the basics: buy your favorite chips or easily make your own at home with leftover corn tortillas cut into triangles. Spread them on a cookie sheet and then spray or drizzle them with a little oil. Sprinkle on some salt, if you want, and then bake at 350 F for 15–20 minutes. You don’t even have to turn them. But watch those last five minutes carefully so that they don’t get too dark.
Think Greek salad without the lettuce!
- Start with corn chips, then add tomato wedges, cucumber chunks, Greek olives, finely sliced onion and crumbled feta cheese.
- Sprinkle with oregano, fresh mint and a drizzle of olive oil.
Enjoy at room temperature or heat at 350 F for 5-10 minutes till the cheese melts a bit and the chips warm.
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, diced
- 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach
- Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon
- 7 oz. corn tortilla chips
- 8 oz. Chihuahua or mozzarella cheese, sliced or grated
- 4 eggs
- 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add 1 Tbsp. oil, garlic and onion. Cook until translucent. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Add lime or lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir.
Arrange chips in a cast-iron skillet or baking sheet; cover with half the cooked spinach mixture.
Layer cheese over vegetables, then spread remaining vegetables over the cheese. Make four wells, equal distance apart, in the vegetable mixture. Crack an egg into each well. In a small bowl, toss cherry tomatoes in the remaining oil; season with salt and pepper. Distribute tomatoes around the edge of skillet or pan.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until egg whites have firmed up.
Strawberry Chocolate Dessert Nachos
- Six 8-inch flour tortillas
- 7 Tbsp. butter, melted, divided
- 6 Tbsp. sugar, divided
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/3 cup grated piloncillo or brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp. chocolate chips, chopped
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ cup pecans, chopped fine
- ½ cup sliced strawberries
- Optional: whipped cream
Brush both sides of tortillas with 4 Tbsp. butter. Combine 2 Tbsp. sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over one side of each tortilla.
Stack tortillas, sugared side up. Cut into 12 wedges. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheets.
Bake at 350 F for 12-14 minutes or until crisp.
Meanwhile, in heavy saucepan, combine cream, piloncillo or brown sugar and remaining butter and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Cool.
Arrange half the tortilla wedges on a large serving platter. Drizzle with half the chocolate sauce; sprinkle with half the pecans and strawberries. Repeat layers.
Top with whipped cream.
Sweet Potato Nachos
- 1 medium sweet potato, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
- 1½ Tbsp. olive oil
- ½ cup shredded Chihuahua or cheddar cheese
- Toppings: chopped onion, cilantro, jalapeños, sour cream, guacamole, salsa
Preheat oven to 400 F.
In a bowl, mix sweet potato rounds with olive oil. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer.
Sprinkle with salt. Bake 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.
Flip and bake for about 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and flip again. Arrange in a cluster, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 minutes until cheese is melted.
Remove from oven and add toppings.
Steak & Blue Cheese Potato Chip Nachos
- 2 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
- 3 oz. sirloin steak, cubed
- 1 jalapeño with seeds removed, sliced
- 1 tsp. Cajun seasoning, if available
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 8 oz thick crinkle-cut potato chips
- ½ cup shredded pepper jack cheese
- ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 2 green onions, sliced diagonal
- ½ cup pepper jack cheese, grated
- ¼ cup cream cheese
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. whole milk
- 2 Tbsp. beer
Sauté cubed sirloin, jalapeño and Cajun seasoning until sirloin begins to brown, about 2 minutes.
Add onion and garlic; sauté 1-2 minutes more.
Remove to a bowl and drain any extra fat.
To make the sauce: In saucepan, simmer all sauce ingredients over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth sauce forms. Add additional milk or beer if needed. Set aside.
To top the nachos: Place chips into now-empty skillet. Top with steak mixture, remaining ½ cup pepper jack, ½ cup blue cheese, bacon and sauce. Cover with lid or foil.
Return skillet to stove over low heat until everything is heated through.
Garnish with green onions.
Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats is her first book.