What's the difference between regular nachos and dinner nachos? The effort you put into making them! This recipe may seem like a big undertaking at first glance, but making all of the components yourself allows you to pack in more big, fresh flavors into a comfort food that has potential to be bland and overly salty. And imparting some of the soulfulness of Mexican cooking into your meals is always a win-win. Marinate a protein of your choice with a blend of dried herbs, spices, chile powder, and cocoa powder with a touch of molasses to provide a depth of flavor reminiscent of Mole Coloradito (this version is inspired by Oaxacan chef Bricia Lopez's). And consider this rich, creamy nacho cheese sauce a trick up your culinary sleeve that's just as good tossed with cooked macaroni for a spin on mac & cheese or a fancy fondue situation. Plus, going the cheese sauce route ensures nobody gets bites of weird, waxy, melted-then-cooled shredded cheese. If you're short on time, I highly recommend you at least make the nacho cheese sauce and cook your own proteins, then swap in your favorite store bought salsa, guac, and some pickled jalapeños and embrace the semi-homemade movement.
- 14 ounces corn tortilla chips
- 1 batch gluten-free nacho cheese sauce, (recipe below)
- 1 batch marinated protein of choice, (recipe below)
- 1 batch coriander pickled onions, (recipe below), optional
- 1 batch pico de gallo, (recipe below)
- 1 cup corn kernels, from about 1 large ear fresh corn or frozen and thawed
- 1 (14 ounce) can beans, (such as black beans or pinto beans)rinsed and drained
- 1/ 4 cup Mexican crema
- 1/ 4 cup crumbled cotija cheese
- Thinly sliced radishes, for garnish (optional)
- Thinly sliced jalapeno, seeds removed, if desired
- 1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced
- Lime wedges, for serving (optional)
For the marinated protein
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons chile powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/ 2 lime, juiced
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 teaspoon molasses
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, flank steak, or plant-based ground meat alternative
For the coriander pickled onions
- 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/ 4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/ 2 small red onion, thinly sliced
For the pico de gallo
- 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1/ 2 small red onion, finely diced
- 1 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
- 1 1/ 2 limes, juiced
- 1/ 2 teaspoon chile powder
- Kosher salt, to taste
Marinate and cook protein of choice
Toast cumin seeds and sesame seeds in a small pan over low heat for about 10 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle with the dried thyme, oregano, and chile powder and grind to a medium-fine powder.
Combine ground spices with unsweetened cocoa powder, kosher salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and stir. Add garlic, tomato paste, neutral oil, molasses, and lime juice to the bowl and stir until well combined.
Add protein of choice to the bowl. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
Cook proteins according to your preferences. For chicken or steak, preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat and cook for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before dicing into bite-size pieces. For ground meat alternative, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and saute until heated through.
Make the coriander pickled onions:
Toast coriander seeds in a small pot over low heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, combine red wine vinegar, water sugar or honey, and salt. Add mixture to pot with toasted coriander seeds until sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour liquid over sliced red onions in a jar or medium bowl and allow to pickle for at least 1 hour or up to 2 weeks in advance. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Make the Nacho Cheese Sauce
Melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add cornmeal and cook, stirring constantly, until bubbling and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in chile powder to heat and release the flavor, about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, whisk cornstarch and mayonnaise into milk, then whisk milk mixture into cornmeal roux. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 12 minutes.
Stir in shredded Mexican cheese until completely melted. Taste and season with kosher salt to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve. If nacho cheese sauce is becomes too thick even after reheating, stir in a splash of milk to reach desired consistency.
Make the pico de gallo
Toss tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, chile powder in a medium bowl. Season with kosher salt, to taste. Set aside until ready to serve.
Assemble the nachos
Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
Spread corn tortilla chips on a baking sheet. Drizzle generously with nacho cheese sauce, making sure to get the chips on the bottom! Sprinkle beans and corn overtop. Bake for 10 minutes.
Top nachos with pico de gallo, Mexican crema, cotija cheese, coriander pickled onions (if using), sliced radishes and jalapeño, chopped cilantro, and sliced avocado and serve immediately.