The Ultimate Fully Loaded Vegan Nachos

20140212-vegan-nachos-recipe-primary.jpg

Things I give up as a vegan: all animal-based food products.

Things I don’t give up as a vegan: giving in to the occasional craving for salty, fatty, decadent…Okay, let’s just call it what it is. Junk food. Just like everyone else, some vegans like to pig out on junk food every once in a while, and is there any better way to do it than with a giant pile of fully loaded nachos?

I’ve said it in the past: there is no dish that is better designed for sharing than a pile of nachos, but here’s the thing: most of my friends are not vegan. So where does this leave me? I could take the hard-core route and decide that I need new friends, but that’s a) crazy, b) stupid, c) classless, d) mean, e) snooty, and other adjectives as well. No. A much better solution is this one: Make vegan nachos so damn good that everybody will want to get in on the action, vegan or not.

Luckily, what with the vegan nacho sauce, we’re already in pretty darn good shape.

The Chips

Nachos are a lot like pizza. Even the worst—and I’m talking the open-a-bag-of-fritos-and-press-the-button-to-dispense-salty-cheese-like-substance-from-a-nozzle-at-the-back-of-a-7-Eleven kind of nachos—are still tasty on a basic “here’s something crispy and salty covered with something gooey and salty” level. That said, the difference between poor (but still tasty!) nachos and awesome nachos comes down to a few factors, starting with the quality of the chips.

As soon as you start layering your nachos, you’re in a desperate race against time. Nacho sauce, beans, chili, salsa, or whatever wet ingredients you choose all begin to eat away a chip’s crispness. It’s inevitable that the last few bites of a nacho pile are going to be a bit soggy—almost chilaquiles-like in texture, but we can do our best to minimize it.

You can start with store-bought chips but I find that no matter what brand you use, their crunch disappears unacceptably fast.

20140211-vegan-nachos-recipe-06.jpg

If there’s one surefire way to instantly improve your nachos, it’s this: start with freshly fried chips.

It’s actually much simpler than it may seem, particularly if you use a Wok. There’s minimal splatter, you don’t need a ton of oil, and frying store-bought fresh corn tortillas is a very clean process, leaving you with oil that’s nearly as good as new when you’re done.

20140211-vegan-nachos-recipe-07.jpg

The trick is to use moderate heat (no higher than 350°F), and to constantly agitate the chips with a wire mesh strainer or a metal spider as they cook. Tortilla chips have a tendency to bubble and puff, creating irregular surfaces that poke up above the level of the oil. Your job is to keep all of the chips submerged, like an extreme version of whack-a-mole.

With your chips fried and seasoned (remember to season them the moment they come out of the fryer for optimal salt adhesion), it’s time to start thinking about the toppings.

The Toppings

Here’s the deal: the very first nachos consisted of nothing more than tortilla chips topped with melted cheese and slices of jalapeño. But the dish has moved a long way from these traditional routes. These days, it’s common to find nachos with everything from pulled pork to chorizo to chili to beans, and to be frank, so long as there’s a good balance between flavors and texture—rich elements mixed with fresh ones, crunchy mixed with tender, crisp mixed with creamy—there’s no right or wrong way to top a nacho.

I can imagine a world in which it’s possible that a plate of nachos suffers from too great a variety of toppings, but I’ve yet to see any that have come close to this hypothetical limit. We’re pushing the boundaries this time with a whopping 13, nearly all of them existing recipes from our archives.

20140211-vegan-nachos-recipe-08.jpg

Here’s what we’ve got:

  1. Vegan refried beans (rich and spicy)
  2. Guacamole (creamy and tangy)
  3. Sliced black olives (tender and briny)
  4. Black beans (creamy and filling)
  5. Sliced radishes (crunchy and fresh)
  6. Vegetarian bean chili (rich, hot, and spicy)
  7. Cilantro leaves (cooling and herbaceous)
  8. Chopped tomatoes (sweet, juicy, and fresh)
  9. Vegan nacho sauce (gooey, rich, and salty)
  10. Charred tomato salsa (smoky and tangy)
  11. Sliced scallions (pungent and grassy)
  12. Sliced white onions (sweet and crisp)
  13. Sliced pickled jalapeños (hot and bright)

Let’s go through the ingredients one by one.

1. The Beans

Spicy Vegan Refried Beans

I use spicy Re fried Beans, which are made with dried pinto beans simmered with onion and bay leaf, then fried with garlic, jalapeño, and some canned chipotle chilies.

2. The Guacamole

20120115-guacamole-variations-02.jpg

The key to the best basic guacamole is to pound your aromatics (in this case chilies, onions, and coriander) in a mortar and pestle with salt to draw out their flavors for perfect incorporation into your chunky avocado base. It seems like a small difference from simply folding in chopped aromatics, but it makes a world of difference.

3. Sliced black olives

So what if tinned black olives are really underripe olives artificially turned black? So what if they don’t have the full flavor or complexity of a high quality brined or oil-cured olive? In this application, the mild brininess of a canned black olive is ideal for the job.

4. Black beans

I use whole canned black beans simply rinsed and scattered.

Some folks get persnickety about putting whole beans on their nachos. Some folks also don’t get invited to parties.

5. Sliced radishes

I liked them topped with sliced radishes. They’re a common enough snack at, but putting them on nachos is sort of a stroke of genius, their uniquely crisp, refreshing bite perfectly complementing the richer ingredients. For the crispest slices, slice them thin with a mandoline or sharp knife and store them in ice cold water.

You don’t see radish slices topping nachos all that often, but here’s to hoping that it’ll become a trend.

6. Vegetarian bean chili

20120126-vegan-chili-1.jpg

I use vegan chilli, or actually, a slightly modified version—I halved the recipe and omitted the kidney beans, which gives the finished chili a much easier-to-scoop texture that makes more sense for toppings chips. As with all great chilies, using whole dried chilies in lieu of powder is key.

7. Coriander leaves

A must for their clean and refreshing herbal notes, not to mention that they make the plate look all pretty-like.

8. Chopped tomatoes

20140211-vegan-nachos-recipe-02.jpg

More often than not, chopped tomatoes are an afterthought. Pale, insipid, out-of-season junk that you push to the side because it just distracts from all the other full-flavored toppings. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re making your nachos in the summer, use the best farmer’s market tomatoes you can find. In all other situations, use cherry or plum tomatoes cut into quarters or eighths. The smaller tomatoes are universally sweeter and more intensely flavored than their larger supermarket brethren.

9. Vegan nacho sauce

20140212-nacho-cheese-sauce-vegan-recipe-food-lab-10.jpg

This V is the carpet that ties the whole nacho-shaped room together. Rich, tangy, gooey, and spicy, we use a base of aromatics cooked in shortening, along with ground toasted cashews for body, and puréed potatoes for that gooeyness that most vegan nacho sauces lack.

10. Charred tomato salsa

20140211-vegan-nachos-recipe-01.jpg

Charring the tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños in this roasted tomato salsa give the salsa a hit of smokiness that elevates it beyond your typical fresh pico de gallo.

11. Sliced scallions

As with radishes, sliced scallions taste their best when they’ve been stored in ice cold water for 10 minutes or so, which tames their onioniness and adds a crisp bite.

12. Sliced white onions

White onions are milder in flavor than any other type of onion. I like to add them in not-too-thin slices so that you get a bit of almost apple-y crunch when you bite into them.

13. Sliced pickled jalapeños

There’s debate around whether you should be using fresh or pickled jalapeños on nachos. I can’t tell you which is more traditional, but I can tell you that I vastly prefer the pickled kind for their good balance of heat and acidity.

Layering

Next key to great nachos? Picking the right vessel and layering them properly. There’s nothing worse than working your way to the bottom of a nacho pile only to discover cold, bare chips. To prevent that, you want to build your nachos in a vessel that’s very good at retaining heat—a cast iron skillet or a stone baking dish work well*—and you want to build up your nachos in layers, making sure that every chip gets at least a bit of the toppings.

*It seems trendy these days to build nachos on a thin aluminum rimmed baking sheet, but it’s a bad idea: you get more space to spread out your chips, but they lose heat so rapidly that you’ll be eating cold chips before you’re even a quarter of the way done with the tray.

Start with hot ingredients

20140212-vegan-nachos-recipe-assembly.jpg

I build my nachos up in three layers, topping the bottom two layers with my chili, refried beans, nacho sauce, and black beans—all ingredients that do well in the heat of the oven—and baking them before adding the final layer of fresh toppings.

When baking the nachos, you want to bake them until the edges of the chips take on color. I even like some of the corners to be nearly burnt, adding another dimension to their flavor.

Finish with fresh ingredients

20140212-vegan-nachos-recipe-primary-2.jpg

Once your nachos are baked, it’s time to finish them off with the remaining fresh/cool ingredients. I go for a look I call the “artful scatter.” Sort of like a fussily-arranged bed-head. I start with my chopped tomatoes, black olives, jalapeños, and scallions, applying them rounds by sprinkling them evenly on top, then following up by tucking them into nooks and crannies inside the layers of chips.

Next, I spoon over some of the salsa, making sure to dollop—never douse or cover up everything. You want just enough salsa to remind people that it’s there, and that there’s a whole cup of it being served alongside the chips.

20140211-vegan-nachos-recipe-25.jpg

Finally, I finish with a big dollop of guacamole (using the same application principle as the salsa), then top it off with the white onions, radish slices, and cilantro leaves, using the same scatter-and-place principles. The resulting pile should not only look amazing, with a great contrast of colors, textures, and shapes, but this visual contrast should translate into a flavor contrast as well, packing each bite with a different combination of ingredients.

20140211-vegan-nachos-recipe-23.jpg

Who knows—you might even get lucky enough to score that one perfect 13-toppings-on-a-single-chip bite.

I’ve yet to see it happen, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility. Careful observation and many more nachos are in order.

Fully Loaded Vegan Queso Dip Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3/4 pound vegan chorizo (see recipes)
  • 1 recipe vegan nacho cheese sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (10-ounce) cans Ro*Tel Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies, drained (see note)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
  • 1 avocado, finely diced
  • 1 Serrano or jalapeño pepper, minced (reserve a few whole slices for garnish, if desired)
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 bag tortilla chips

Directions

  1. 1.Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned and slightly dry, about 10 minutes. Remove 2 tablespoons and set aside for garnish. Add cheese dip, black beans (reserving 2 tablespoons for garnish), tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, avocado, and minced Serrano or jalapeño and stir to combine. Stir in hot sauce to taste. Heat, stirring, until hot. Transfer to a warm serving bowl, garnish with reserved chorizo, black beans, cilantro, and scallions, and serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Vegan nacho cheese sauce

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening or palm oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
  • 1 chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
  • 4 ounces russet potato (about 1/2 medium), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces roasted cashews (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Frank’s)
  • 2 teaspoons pickling liquid from a can of pickled jalapeño peppers (plus peppers, to taste)
  • Kosher salt to taste

Directions

  1. Melt shortening in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and jalapeños and cook, stirring, until completely softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and chipotle (with sauce). Cook, stirring, until fragrant and mixture starts to sizzle, about 1 minute.
  2. Add potatoes and cashews and cook, stirring, until cashews are lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Add water and almond milk. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, until potatoes are fully tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Transfer mixture to the jar of a high-powered blender (see note). Add hot sauce, jalapeño pickling liquid, and a pinch of salt. Start on low speed and slowly increase speed to high. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, about 2 minutes, adding water a few drops at a time as necessary to thin to desired consistency. Season to taste with more salt.
  4. Press mixture through a chinois (see note), using the bottom of a ladle to get it through. Cheese sauce can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 1 week. To reheat, microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, or reheat in a small pan on the stovetop, stirring constantly, and adding extra water to loosen sauce as necessary.

Vegan chorizo

Ingredients

  • 1 (10-ounce) block of extra-firm cottony (non-silken) tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 fresh poblano pepper
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black or Puy lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 whole sweet dried chilies like Costeño, Guajillo, or Choricero, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 to 2 small hot dried chilies like Arbol or Cascabel, stems and seeds removed (optional)
  • 1 whole rich fruity dried chili like Ancho, Mulatto, Negro, or Pasilla, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 whole chipotle chili in adobo sauce with 2 tablespoons sauce from can
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 ounces plain tempeh
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening or coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon freshly toasted and ground cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon freshly toasted and ground coriander seed
  • 3 whole cloves, toasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoon yellow or red miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Directions

  1. 1.Line a large plate with a double layer of paper towels. Place tofu on top in a single layer and transfer to freezer. Freeze for 15 minutes, then remove and let thaw while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. 2.Adjust rack to 4 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the poblano on top. Broil, turning occasionally, until blackended on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Remove from oven, lift foil and wrap it around the poblano to form a tight seal, transfer to a plate and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F and leave the door open to allow oven to cool slightly.
  3. 3.Line rimmed baking sheet with a fresh piece of foil and spread lentils on top in a single layer. Transfer to oven and cook until mostly dry and crunchy, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. 4.Meanwhile, place dried chilies on a microwave-safe plate and microwave until toasted, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a glass liquid measuring cup. Add raisins, chipotle chilies and their juice, and water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until simmering, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from microwave and let stand 2 minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend until completely smooth. Set mixture aside.
  5. 5.Cut tofu and tempeh into 1-inch pieces. Working in batches, transfer to a food processor and pulse until chopped to the texture of ground meat, about 10 to 12 short pulses. Set aside.
  6. 6.When cool enough to handle, carefully unwrap and peel poblano pepper, discarding skins and seeds. finely dice cooked flesh. Melt shortening in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and poblanos, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, fresh and dried oregano, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, cloves, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add miso paste, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, and chili mixture. Add crumbled tofu and dehydrated lentils. Stir to incorporate and season to taste with salt and pepper. For a moister, saucy texture, add a few tablespoons of water. For a dryer, crumblier, well-browned texture, add 2 tablespoons more oil and continue cooking until most of the excess liquid has evaporated and mixture is dark brown with crisp bits, about 15 minutes. Serve in tacos, burritos, mixed with eggs, on nachos, or in any recipe that calls for fresh Mexican chorizo.

Sicilian Eggplant and Pine Nut Caponata Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 small globe eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 scallions, white parts only, sliced into 1/4-inch segments
  • 1 rib celery, finely diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Toss pine nuts with 1 teaspoon olive oil and transfer to a large plate. Toast by microwaving on high power for 2 minutes. Continue microwaving at 30 second intervals until golden brown and nutty, 3 to 8 minutes total. Alternatively, toast in a toaster oven set at 375°F until golden brown and nutty, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add eggplant and cook, tossing occasionally, until completely softened and browned in spots (eggplant will initially absorb all of the oil then slowly release some of it), about 6 minutes.
  3. Push eggplant to the side of the skillet and add 2 more tablespoons oil to the center. Add scallions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic and toss to combine with the eggplant. Cook, stirring and tossing frequently, until vegetables are softened and aromatic, about 3 minutes longer.
  4. Add reserved pine nuts, mint, parsley, tomato paste, ground cinnamon, raisins, capers, sugar, red wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar and toss to combine. Drizzle in remaining olive oil and bring to a simmer, adding water a tablespoon at a time as necessary until caponata has a sauce-like consistency that is loose, but doesn’t run freely over a plate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Let mixture cool to room temperature or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to a week. Serve at room temperature garnished with extra mint leaves and a drizzle of olive oil if desired. Serve with toasted bread or pasta.

Silky-Smooth Vegetarian Pâté With Roasted Cauliflower and Pecans Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces pecans (about 1/2 cup; 60g)
  • 1 head cauliflower (2 pounds; 925g), trimmed and cut into florets
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter (see note)
  • 1 large yellow onion (8 ounces; 225g), thinly sliced
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) brandy
  • 1 cup (235ml) heavy cream (see note)
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) soy sauce

Directions

  1. In a bowl, cover pecans with at least 1 inch water and let soak for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Place cauliflower on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast, flipping cauliflower with a thin metal spatula halfway through roasting, until tender and deeply browned on both sides, about 20 minutes total.
  3. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and cayenne and cook, stirring often, until softened and just starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes. Add brandy and cook until completely evaporated.
  4. Add cauliflower, cream, and thyme. Drain pecans and add to saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then cook, adjusting heat to maintain simmer, until cauliflower has softened and liquid has reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Discard thyme sprig. Add soy sauce.
  5. Using a blender or immersion blender, blend cauliflower and liquid to form a very smooth purée. Season with salt and pepper. To chill rapidly, spread vegetarian pâté in a thin, even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet (a quarter-sheet size is best for this), then press plastic wrap directly against pâté’s surface, pushing out any air. Otherwise, transfer pâté to a heatproof container and press plastic directly against surface. Refrigerate until well chilled. Transfer to a serving vessel and serve with crackers 

The Best Baba Ganoush Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 medium Italian eggplants (about 2 pounds/900g total)
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) juice from 1 lemon, plus more as desired
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) tahini
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. If Using a Gas Burner or Grill (recommended): Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat and place eggplants directly over heat source. Cook, turning occasionally with tongs, until eggplants are completely tender and well charred on all sides, 30 to 40 minutes. Wrap with foil and let rest 15 minutes. Continue to step 3.
  2. If Using the Broiler: Adjust rack to 6 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place eggplants on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning occasionally, until charred on all sides and completely tender, about 1 hour. Eggplants should be very, very tender when cooked. Test near the stem and bottom ends; if a toothpick or skewer meets any resistance, continue cooking. Remove from oven and gather up foil, crimping it around the eggplants to form a sealed package. Let the eggplants rest for 15 minutes. Continue to step 3.
  3. Open foil package. Working with one eggplant at a time, use a sharp paring knife to slit each eggplant open lengthwise. Carefully scoop out soft flesh with a large spoon and transfer to a strainer set in a large bowl. Once all eggplant is scooped, pick out any stray bits of skin and blackened flesh and discard.
  4. Transfer eggplant to a salad spinner, distributing it evenly around the perimeter. Spin gently until all excess moisture is extracted. Discard all drippings, wipe out large bowl, and return eggplant to bowl.
  5. Add garlic and lemon juice to eggplant and stir vigorously with a fork until eggplant breaks down into a rough paste, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stirring constantly and vigorously, add tahini, followed by the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. The mixture should become pale and creamy. Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt, plus more lemon juice if desired.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with warm pita bread or vegetables for dipping. Baba ganoush can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Let baba ganoush warm to room temperature before serving.