Before I went vegan, I recall ordering nachos once or twice a year at a gas-station-turned Mexican restaurant called Cotija in my hometown which no longer exists. That place had the best chips and salsa known to man, and seeing it close down definitely tore at my heart with an intensity I rarely feel for anything greasy or devoid of nutrients. I once tried to eat a vegan donut from Voodoo Donut on a dare, but after three bites I felt pain in the roots of my teeth from all the sugar—and to be honest, I didn’t like it. I don’t know if it stems from my early attempts to cut out any and all unhealthy foods that I didn’t truly enjoy, thereby justifying little more than dark chocolate or the “Our Daily Red” (I think it was called) sulfite-free wine that I knew didn’t exactly improve my health but nonetheless seemed less harmful and more vegan than Sutter Home.
The predominant image that springs to mind when I think of nachos hails from 2004, on a band trip to Disneyland. Or was it the Washington, D.C. trip with band? Or the D.C. trip in junior high? I can’t recall. It couldn’t have been the band trip to Spain my senior year, considering I’d transitioned to vegan in 2005. Considering how many years and repressed memories have gone by since, I don’t blame myself for melding all of them together. However, one of the aforementioned unplaceable experiences involved nachos. With olives, guac, pico, black beans, jalapeño, and of course cheese. I think (unless I dreamt this) that I convinced the group in which I shared said plate of nachos to leave off the sour cream (since I could never stand it and thinking of it now almost triggers a gag reflux).
I’ve not always liked vegan “sour cream” either, but certain attempts (for example the one served at Vita Cafe in Portland) thankfully bear little resemblance to the real thing and I must admit I really did like…
…hence the non sour cream-esque flavor of the “crema” used in the recipe that follows.
Cheers to reminiscing about band trips, with a recipe for healthy, nutritionally sound nachos:
Nachos w/ Eggplant Chips, Pea Guac, Crema + Pico
for the pico de gallo
5 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin powder
3 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1 or 1/2 lime, juiced (size can vary, so adjust accordingly)
Make the pico first, before proceeding to the chips, the crema, or the guac. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, a jar, or other container; cover, and refrigerate.
for the cauliflower-sesame crema
2 cups cauliflower florets
1/2 cup raw hulled sesame seeds, soaked in water for at least 1 hour
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup water
ground pepper to taste
for the green pea guac
1 lb frozen green peas
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup cilantro
1-2 limes, juiced (size can vary, so adjust accordingly)
3/4 tsp salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, or more to taste
Slice eggplant into rounds of 1/2 cm thickness. Cut each slice into a triangular shape (to mimic the appearance of tortilla chips). Cover a large plate with a paper towel. Spread eggplant triangles in 1 layer and cover with another paper towel. Press down on the eggplant to allow the paper towels to absorb some of the water, enabling the eggplant to cook more efficiently. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 and prepare the cauliflower-sesame cream: In a blender or food processor, combine the 2 cups cauliflower, 1/2 cup soaked sesame seeds, 1 garlic clove, 2 tablespoons lime juice, salt, water and pepper (optional). Transfer to a serving dish or container. Rinse blender or food processor to prep for the guacamole.
Transfer eggplant to a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, checking and/or rotating often. Add 1/2 cup frozen peas to an oven pan, disperse evenly, and bake for 5 minutes (while the eggplant chips continue to cook). Remove peas from oven (they should be hot but not charred) and immediately transfer to the ice bath. Strain, and transfer to the blender or food processor. Continue to check the eggplant (cook time should not exceed 30 minutes). To the blender, add all ingredients to the blender or food processor as listed above for the green pea guac. Blend until it reaches a guacamole-like consistency.
Once the chips de
velop a crisp texture, remove from oven and serve topped with the cauliflower-sesame crema, green pea guacamole, and pico de gallo.