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Though I thoroughly appreciate authentic Mexican fare, hand me the type of crunchy Old El Paso taco that I used to have as a kid and I'm in heaven. I have a soft spot for massive Tex-Mex burritos, taco salads, and giant platters of nachos piled high with sour cream and black olives. As you can see, I'm no food snob. My worst nachos experience was at a "fancy" Mexican restaurant. This is what came to the table: eight chips perfectly arranged on a plate with a bit of melted cheese and a slice of pickled jalapeño on each.
Seriously? Sure, the chips may have been freshly handmade and the jalapeños organic, but I don't require much from nachos. Just make it tasty and give me a lot of it.
Now that you know where I stand, I offer my recipe for chicken nachos. These nachos are dinner-worthy hearty—crisp around the edges and loaded with meaty filling. While this recipe doesn't involve tearing open taco spice packets or popping open cans of black olives (but I certainly won't judge you if you do), it's pretty straightforward in the Tex-Mex style. It's easy to assemble and so tasty it'll be devoured in a flash.
For the meat base, rather than going with chunks of pre-cooked chicken, which can get tough and chewy when heated in the oven, ground chicken is the way to go. Cook up the chicken with a mix of cumin, garlic, oregano, chili, cayenne, and smokey chipotle powder in a skillet until just cooked (a bit of chicken stock keeps the chicken moist). I also like to add a layer of mashed pinto beans to my nachos to help hold it all together (black beans work just as well).
To put it together, spread most of the chips in a casserole dish and layer on the beans, meat, and loads of shredded cheese (I like straight cheese in my nachos instead of a cheese sauce). And don't forget a good helping of piquant pickled jalapeños—it keeps the flavors from being flat. Top it with the remaining chips and more cheese, bake it up until it's hot and melty, then pile on the fixins'. Fresh chopped tomatoes, avocados, cilantro, and cool sour cream balance out the dish. And if you're like me, before digging face-first into the nachos you toss a handful of chopped black olives on top, away from the camera and the scrutiny of fellow foodies.
About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of the new cookbook One Bowl Baking: Simple From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts (Running Press, October 2013), and available at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell's, The Book Depository. Watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. Follow her Chocoholic, Chicken Dinners, Singapore Stories and Let Them Eat Cake columns on Serious Eats. Follow Yvonne on Twitter as she explores Singapore.