We can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like nachos. In fact, put a platter of cheesy chips out at a party, and your guests are sure to go wild. The reason: This can’t-lose snack has the perfect creamy to crunchy ratio, and it blends tastes and textures seamlessly. But while traditional nachos are a classic, it’s fun to experiment with the chips-plus-toppings equation by adding unexpected ingredients to the mix. Keep reading for some background on this beloved snack, plus a few nacho variations to spice up your homemade batch!
What are nachos?
Hear the word “nachos” and you’ll likely envision a tray of tortilla chips loaded with cheese, sour cream, onions, beans, jalapeños, salsa and guacamole. It’s a finger food that fills you up fast, and the fact that every bite offers a slightly different ingredient profile makes it all the more enjoyable. Nachos are served everywhere from sporting events to restaurants and bars, so it may be surprising to learn they first appeared on menus little more than 80 years ago.
The origins of nachos
Nachos were invented in 1940, when a group of women arrived at the Victory Club — a restaurant in Mexico — eager for a meal. The kitchen, however, was already closed for the night. Not wanting to turn the hungry women away, the restaurant’s quick-thinking manager, Ignacio Anaya (nicknamed Nacho), came up with a brilliant idea: He threw together some fried corn tortilla chips, Colby cheese and pickled jalapeños, then put the whole thing in the oven. The women loved his spontaneous masterpiece and named it Nacho’s Special. Anaya later opened a restaurant named Nacho’s, where he served the dish that would become more and more popular, eventually making its way to America’s Tex-Mex restaurant menus.
In the 1970s, thanks to the invention of emulsified cheese sauce, nachos’ expanded their reach to sports venues, thereby achieving the ubiquity that would make nachos and American favorite. If you want to snack on nachos in their purest form, try this simple three-ingredient recipe for Anaya’s original creation.
4 nacho variations to try
The original nachos proved that the easiest meals can sometimes have the most staying power — but in the decades since Anaya’s game-changing invention, nachos have only become bigger, cheesier, spicier and meatier. These days, there are endless fun and fusion-y ways to embellish the chips and bring in flavors from other cultures. These variations are perfect for parties because they don’t just taste great — they’re also conversation starters. Below, find four delicious nacho variations to sample.
1. Indian Nachos
If you’ve ever eaten a plate of Indian food, you know how good all the different sauces and spices taste when mixed together — and this flavor-layering lends itself particularly well to nachos. These Indian-ish Nachos With Cheddar, Black Beans and Chutney are vegetarian, but the dish is flavorful enough that you definitely won’t miss meat. These nachos are inspired by papri chaat, which recipe writer Priya Krishna describes as “the spicy, tangy, and sweet Indian snack of fried dough wafers piled with chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, yogurt and various chutneys.”
While these nachos begin with the grand tradition of tortilla chips, black beans and melted cheddar cheese, they also get loaded up with Indian ingredients like cilantro chutney, tamarind sauce and ghee. These ingredients are all available online, plus Krishna includes helpful tips for substitutions should you have trouble finding anything.
2. French Nachos
French food isn’t exactly known for being spicy, so French nachos may sound like a strange combination. However, the French do love their cheese and carbs (those baguettes are legendary) — so it makes sense that they’d relish melting brie over chips. This recipe for French-Style Nachos With Brie au Bleu and Cranberries comes from the cheese brand Ile de France, and with its combination of brie and veggies like broccoli and carrots, the dish presents an appealing mix of decadence and health. The addition of sweet potatoes and cranberries adds some unexpected sweetness, and the whole thing would pair beautifully with a crisp glass of Chardonnay.
3. Italian Nachos
Pizza, lasagna, ravioli — Italian food is all about tomatoes and cheese, which just so happen to be two of the most beloved (and common) nacho ingredients. If you’ve been to the popular American chain restaurant Old Chicago, you may have tried their Italian Nachos — which, according to their menu, are composed of “pasta chips [chips made in-house from fried lasagna pasta], mozzarella, pepper jack, pepperoni, pepperoncini, fresh green onions, Italian sausage, and our signature red sauce.”
As it turns out, the ingredients you love on top of pizza and pasta taste just as good when piled atop chips. Diners across the US love this take on nachos, and copycat recipes abound; the blog Simply Happenings even has an easy recipe using fried wonton wrappers as dupes for the signature pasta chips. You can also try frying up lasagna sheets yourself to get something closer to the Old Chicago recipe. Whether or not you’ve eaten at this chain, you’re sure to enjoy dunking their version of nachos in marinara sauce and savoring the cheesy crunch. Just make sure you have plenty of napkins handy!
4. Chinese Nachos
While cheese isn’t found in your average Chinese delivery dish, it can actually serve as a counterpoint to the spicy flavors. The New York Times has a recipe for Mapo Tofu Nachos, using a traditional Sichuan dish of silken tofu and pork as a creamy topping for chips smothered in mild cheese, jalapeños and olives. Mapo tofu nachos require some specialty ingredients — but the extra shopping is well worth it.
A delicious recipe twist on homemade nachos
For a nachos recipe that features a nice flavor twist, look to TikToker Jen Curley, who goes by the handle @snackqween. In an appearance on the Today Show in 2021, she shared her recipe for Asian-Style Nachos with Sriracha cheese sauce, ginger-garlic ground pork and a soy sauce vinaigrette. These nachos are fairly straightforward, but pack a major flavor punch. Follow along with the recipe below.
Sriracha cheese sauce
- 2 Tbs. butter
- ½ cup milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 Tbs. Sriracha
Ginger-garlic ground pork
- 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 1 Tbs. ginger
- 1 Tbs. garlic
- 1 lb. ground pork
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Soy sauce vinaigrette
- 1 Tbs. soy sauce
- 1 Tbs. oyster sauce
- 1 tsp. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbs. crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 1 (12 oz.) bag tortilla chips
- 3 Tbs. sliced green onions
- Sliced jalapeños
- For the sriracha cheese sauce: Melt butter in saucepan, then add milk. Stir in cheese until melted. Add Sriracha to cheese mixture and stir until evenly incorporated.
- For ginger-garlic ground pork: Add oil to large frying pan or wok along with ginger and garlic. Once ginger and garlic is fragrant, add ground pork, stir-fry until browned, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- For soy sauce vinaigrette: In small bowl, combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Heat up oil in a separate pan, pour over sauce mixture, and let sizzle.
- For nachos: Place tortilla chips on sheet or large platter. Pour Sriracha cheese sauce over the chips, then add ginger-garlic ground pork on top. Drizzle with soy sauce vinaigrette and top with green onions and jalapeños.
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