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Homemade nachos — what is "healthy?"

Posted Oct 25 2012 5:54pm
According to Wikipedia:   "Nachos may have originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas,or in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, at a restaurant called the Victory Club, owned by Rodolfo De Los Santos. In 1943, the wives of ten to twelve U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had closed for the day. The maître d'hôtel, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese sauce. Anaya cut the tortillas into triangles, added shredded cheddar cheese, quickly heated them, added sliced jalapeño peppers and served them.

When asked what the dish was called, he answered, "Nacho's especiales". As word of the dish traveled, the apostrophe was lost, and Nacho's "specials" became "special nachos"."

True story or not, nachos are extremely popular. And why wouldn't they be? A plateful of corn chips covered with cheese and salsa has all the right addictive qualities of delicious fatty and salty flavors. Up until last week, though, nachos were not part of my diet — I've tried taco salad and more recently, taco pizza — but never nachos. I know, right? Ms. Healthy just never thought of corn chips and melted "cheese" as real food. Duh. But then I ordered nachos at The Veggie Grill last week , and I wanted them again — just like everyone else.  Of course, being possessed of the gene that causes me to try to make everything I eat "more healthy," I had to make my nacho dinner "more healthy," too.

Now I want to be clear that "more healthy" may not be the same as "healthy," so before you rush off to make a big plate of nachos for dinner, keep that in mind. So, how do you make nachos "more healthy"? Well ... you could add a side of kale. (and, yes, I did that!) And you could start with "healthier" chips. I think the healthiest chips would be if you took whole grain, additive-free non-GMO corn tortillas, cut them into triangles, sprayed them very lightly with oil and baked them until crispy. Or you could compromise like I did and use Food Should Taste Good sweet potato tortilla chips. They are non-GMO, vegan and gluten-free. They are not especially low fat (6g per 1-oz.), but are lower in fat than many brands, and much lower in salt than most brands, yet still have a pleasantly salty/slightly sweet taste. One serving has 3g of fiber, 20% of your daily dose of  vitamin A and 2g of protein. They taste great — a little like sweet potato fries — and as an occasional food, they aren't so bad. For a healthier base, you could use oven-baked sweet potato fries.

On top of the chips I added canned pinto beans that I heated with chipotle in adobo, garlic and various herbs. The healthiest version would be dried beans you soak and cook yourself. The worst might be commercial beans filled with salt and preservatives and packed in a can leaking BPA. Or, you could choose a brand of low-or no-salt beans, organic or not, that is sold in cans that don't contain BPA/BPS.   (Lots of controversy as you'll see if you follow and read the link, then read the comments.) For the cheese topping, I made a cashew cheese in the Vitamix . I didn't use a recipe, just blended cashews and water, then added stuff I thought would give me the flavor I was after. This included nutritional yeast, chopped kalamata olives, red pepper flakes, truffle salt, liquid smoke, basil, garlic, turmeric, a small amount of tapioca starch to thicken it when it was cooked, and who knows what else. It tasted great and didn't contain any added oil — just the fat from the cashews. If you didn't want to make your own sauce, you could use a prepared product like Nacheez or Food for Lovers Queso. On top of the cheese sauce I put Frontera chipotle salsa, and chopped fresh tomatoes from the garden. If I'd had cilantro, ripe avocado and jalapenos, I would have added those, too.

This was a very fast and delicious dinner — satisfying my craving for nachos. It tasted great, but, was it healthy? Maybe not by some people's standards, but it was more healthy than the nachos I could get at the bar around the corner, or probably even The Veggie Grill. It's all relative. As I've said in the past, everyone has a different opinion and standard for what they consider healthy. Or more healthy. Or healthy enough. If you're used to eating a plate of greasy, dairy-cheese nachos every weekend, moving towards a version like I've described might be a step towards a better diet. If you eat only whole, organic foods and would never dream of eating nachos, it might be a step backwards!

The whole food health and safety issue is so convoluted and confusing that sometimes I think nothing we do matters, and we can just eat anything we wish (not animal products, of course). Then I recover my sense of trying to choose the healthiest products I can find and do the best I can with the information I have. I will probably continue to buy and prepare  whole, organic food most of the time, and canned and jarred foods that are what I believe to be high quality in content and packaging, when I need speed and convenience. We all make choices and compromises based on our preferences and situations, but I think it's possible to keep learning and making better choices for ourselves, the animals and the planet.
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