As usual, I had no idea what I was going to cook for dinner tonight. Then I found out that today is the International Day of the Nacho.
I don’t know when I first heard of nachos, but the first time I remember eating any was one night fairly early in my marriage. We were heading home from somewhere late in the evening, and Jon noticed that I was “fading” (when I haven’t eaten in a while – even just a few hours – I have very little energy and I have trouble thinking clearly). Since I have trouble making decisions at that point, he made one for me – we stopped at a nearby Denny’s and he ordered an appetizer of nachos for me to eat while I figured out what I wanted.
It must have been nachos supreme, because it was a very large plate covered with a heaping pile of tortilla chips, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, refried beans, hamburger, olives, peppers, sour cream, and who knows what else – gaucamole, maybe, which I love and Jon hates. It was more than enough for two of us to eat, so we abandoned thoughts of ordering anything else. And we took the rest home in a box.
At some point I must have tasted nachos served the way I most often see them today – just a pile of tortilla chips and some “nacho cheese” poured over them. My husband and sons like that kind of nachos, but I’ve never liked the nacho cheese. At first I thought it was the “nacho” seasoning, but now I think it must be because it’s processed cheese, which I’ve never liked.
I don’t know if I ever thought about the origin of nachos before today, but I’m sure I assumed it was based on a traditional Mexican dish, just like tacos. I know the “Mexican” foods I’m familiar with have been Americanized, but at least most of them have their roots in traditional Mexican cuisine. But it turns out that nachos are of fairly recent origin, the time and place and “inventor” are known.
Ignacio Anaya, known as “Nacho” (short for Ignacio), was a maitre d’ at the Victory Club in Piedras Negras, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. One day in 1943, some customers (wives of American soldiers) showed up just after he had closed for the day. Instead of turning them away, he quickly threw together what he had – tortillas, cheese, and jalapeños. He called them “nachos especiales,” and they must have gone over very well. He continued to make them, and the snack soon became popular across the state.
People who grew up in Texas still like them best the way Anaya first made them, with a piece of longhorn cheddar cheese place on each piece of tortilla, then topped with a slice of jalapeño. This Homesick Texan explains how much better these are than the “lazy nachos” so often served elsewhere, with some glop called “nacho cheese” poured sloppily over a whole pile of chips. It’s OK to add other toppings, as long as each nacho is prepared individually, he says – but they are not necessary. Less is more, he says, when it’s done the right way.
Perhaps sometime I’ll try his recipe. But I like nachos as a meal rather than just a snack. I eschew the gloppy nacho cheese in favor of shredded cheddar (or cheddar mixed with monterey jack, or the “fiesta” blend I usually buy at Wal-Mart, which also includes asadero cheese, whatever that is), but I do add lots of toppings and sprinkle them generously over a whole pan of tortilla chips.
Tonight’s had taco-seasoned hamburger, and the end of the pan for my husband and me also had chili-seasoned chili beans and black olives. His also had sliced jalapeños – I get enough pepper flavor from adding some salsa after they’re heated. Of course I used lots of cheese. And I topped mine with a nice dollop of sour cream. Mmmmmm!