September 20, 2015
If you've been paying attention, you probably know by now that I am a fan of Mexican foods. For me the ultimate snack-meal (definitely not just a snack—it's way too good and too filling to eat as a half-measure) is a nacho platter. But this is not just chips and salsa. This is a full-bore meal.
For the chips: because we make our own (baked instead of fried, from store-bought tortillas), we avoid the excess fat and salt of purchased chips. Not only do we feel quite virtuous—even smug—about this, but we can eat twice as many chips as we would otherwise be able to justify.
So, for the chips: stack a pile of tortillas, up to three or four inches high, cut them into sixths (or quarters if you like really big chips). Lay them out neatly onto a cookie sheet (you may need to use more than one pan; don't overlap the chips) and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for ten minutes. At that point check to see whether they are all crisp. If not, put the pan back into the oven and check at two-minute intervals. You'll use part of the chips in the nacho platter, while the rest of them are for eating on the side.
For the beans, you can use canned pintos or Romano beans or your own beans cooked from dried. (I cook up a large batch of Romano beans or pintos and freeze the cooked beans in two-cup containers, which is the perfect amount for a nacho platter to serve two people.) If using canned beans, drain and rinse them before using. Please don't use those canned "refried beans." Well, do whatever you want, but your nacho platter won't be as good.
To make the refried beans: using lard, pork fat, or olive oil, gently cook some chopped onion. Add the beans and mash them with a pastry blender (best), a fork, or a potato masher. You don't want a uniform smoothness but a textured mash. Check for salt. If you want, you can add a spoonful of salsa or something with a deeper flavour, like #7 Mexican Sauce. As the liquid cooks away, scrape up the beans from the bottom with a spatula and turn them. Do this as they continue to cook on medium-low heat, for about fifteen to twenty minutes. You can do this earlier in the day if you want, but be sure to reheat the beans before assembling the dish.
While the beans cook, here are your tasks:
Drain a cup or two of yogurt in a strainer lined with a paper towel to thicken it.
Make a batch of guacamole: ripe avocado, lime juice,
chopped jalapeno and onion, cilantro.
Chop one or two in-season tomatoes.
Grate a lot of cheddar cheese.
Mince some onion, either scallions or cooking onions.
Chop one or two jalapenos.
Now comes the assembly. In an oven-proof pie pan or gratin dish (about a 9" dish for two cups of beans) put a layer of about a dozen chips. Spoon half the beans onto this and spread them around so they cover the chips. Strew over this half of the chopped tomatoes, jalapenos, and onions, plus a handful of cheese. Poke tortilla chips around the edge of the beans so that they stand up like sails, leaning a little toward the outside of the dish.
Now spread the remainder of the beans on top, being sure to scrape them up from the bottom of the skillet. Add more tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and cheese. Stick more chips into the beans, making concentric circles within the original edging of chips. The whole thing will look a bit like a flower. Well, kind of--a brown and gold flower. Leave a clear, chip-free space in the middle.
Bake fifteen to twenty minutes at 375 degrees. Remove from the oven and spoon the drained yogurt (okay, yes, you COULD use sour cream) into the chip-free space, then put a big dollop of guacamole on top of the yogurt.
To eat: put the platter in the middle of the table. Pull out the chips one at a time, stabbing them back into the beans to collect a bit of everything on the chip. Fastidious people can spoon out a big helping of beans/chips/everything and eat the meal with a fork. To satisfy the really piggy, serve extra guacamole in a separate dish, along with the chips not stuck into the bean platter.
Leftovers, if there are any, are good for breakfast.