I am obsessed with vegetarian nachos. Like not even kidding. They are the meal I make the most often, and sometimes I just straight up crave them. I’ll order vegetarian nachos any place they are on the menu. Obsessed. But when it comes to making my own, I don’t follow a recipe so much as a formula. Learn my tips and tricks for how I make impressive and delicious nachos every time, without a single measuring spoon.
It’s All in the Layers
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered nachos? And when they arrive, you just get a pile of chips with some beans, cheese, and tomatoes dumped on top? The first few bites are fine, but then you run out of stuff and are just eating dry, empty chips. The worst.
Instead, I like to use layers, so the bottom chips have just as much cheesy and bean-y goodness as the top. My nachos are always layered in the same way: chips, hot fillings, cheese, chips, hot fillings, cheese, cold toppings. Occasionally, I’ll add a third layer, if I’m making for a bigger group.
My chips of choice are rounds, but you can use any generally flat shape. I’d stay away from anything that’s too bent like scoops. If I find a chip that’s too folded when I’m layering, I just eat it as a cooking snack. No harm done.
Don’t Skimp on Toppings
Another issue I have with restaurant nachos is the distributions of cold toppings. We’re talking salsa, sour cream, and guacamole, and how they always seem to be served in those tiny little plastic cups. This just doesn’t work for me.
I always include all three toppings (and sometimes a few extra things as well), and I always include plenty.
Add a Secret Ingredient
Here’s where these nachos go from basic to brilliant. Each time I make nachos, I try to think of something a little unexpected to add in. It can be that’s treating a standard ingredient in a unique way, like caramelizing or picking onions. Or, it can be adding something a little more unique like tropical fruit to the salsa.
Balance the Spice
I always use one whole jalapeno (or serrano, or red chile, it all depends what’s available) throughout my nachos. But I try not to use the whole thing in one place. Usually, I’ll dice it up really small and throw some in the salsa, some in the beans, and/or some in the guacamole. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I’ll cut rings and quick-pickle them.
The idea is to include some spice, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. To do this, there need to be a few toppings that have little to no spice. For example, if I’m making a sweet salsa, I’ll add a kick to the guac. And I always leave the sour cream spice-free.
Vegetarian Nacho Formula
- 1 Bag Tortilla Chips like rounds or any flat chips
- 1 Can Bean like black, pinto, or red kidney
- 1 Can Refried Beans black or pinto, vegetarian
- 1 Spoonful Chipotle paste or adobo sauce or chipotle peppers in adobo
- 8-12 oz Shredded Cheese like cheddar, pepper jack, or Mexican blend
- 4-8 oz Sour Cream
- 8-12 oz Salsa homemade or store bought, any spice level
- Taco Seasoning or any combination of chili powders, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano,
- 1-2 Onions like sweet vidalia, yellow, red, green, or even shallots; diced
- 1 Squash like butternut or zucchini, diced
- 1-2 Sweet Potatoes diced
- 1-2 Ears Corn or canned or thawed frozen corn
- 1 Bell Pepper any color, diced
- 2-3 Tomatoes like plum or any globe variety, seeds removed and diced
- 1-2 Medium-Hot Peppers like jalapeno or serrano, small diced
- 1-2 Avocados
- 2 Limes or lemons or even an orange
- 1 Mango or other fruit like pineapple or peach
- 1 Bunch Cilantro or parsley, finely chopped
- 2-4 Cloves Garlic finely chopped or minced
Pre-Cook Warm Toppings
- Roast and diced winter squash until soft or sautee diced summer squash and fresh corn until lightly browned.
- For the beans, heat up some oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add 1 clove of garlic, minced or chopped, a handful of diced onion, and some hot pepper if you'd like for about 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add any whole beans, and a few splashes of water. Continue to cook as the beans soften, and use a wooden spoon to smash the beans. Add chipotle paste, taco seasoning, salt, and pepper, and taste as you go.
- Add in any refried beans, and continue to cook until soft and combined. Then remove from the heat, season to taste, and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350F
- In a large baking dish (like a 16x9 casserole, or sheet pan with edges) add a layer of chips. Top with half the beans and/or squash, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, caramelized onions or shallots, corn, and cheese.
- Repeat with another layer of chips and toppings. Bake for about 15 minutes until the cheese is melted. In the meantime, work on the cold toppings.
Prepare Cold Toppings
- To make guacamole: Smash the avocados with the juice of a quarter lime per avocado in a medium bowl (I use a pastry blender to do this) and add more lime, salt, pepper, garlic, hot peppers, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and spices as desired.
- To make pico de gallo: Mix tomatoes and onions with a 2:1 ratio in a small bowl, and squeeze the juice of a lime wedge and season with salt. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, stirring ever few minutes. Add hot peppers, fruit, garlic, cilantro, spices, and salt and pepper as desired.
- To make crema: Mix sour cream with the juice of a lime, and stir until it's the desired consistency (usually thin enough to drizzle, but not watery) and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove the nachos from the oven, and top with the cold ingredients: guacamole, pico de gallo, any extra tomatoes, onions, pepper, or fruits, salsa, crema, and garnish with cilantro.
- Literally everything is optional, except the basics: chips and cheese. I wouldn't suggest leaving out the beans, because they give the whole thing substance, but you can easily use just whole or just refried for something lighter. You could also use lentils or vegetarian chili.
Only add things you like or think you'll like. I don't include olives in the list because I hate them, but if you love them, go ahead and throw on some olive rings.
- To quick pickle something like shallot or jalapeno rings: combine 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 tbsp sugar, and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then stir in the peppers/onions and remove from heat. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. You can discard the liquid, or add a little bit to the beans or pico.
- When picking fruit, I usually stick to one, and add it into the pico. A good one to start with is pineapple or mango. You can also small dice and just add the pieces on top when you're adding other cold toppings. If you're adventurous, you can add some hot peppers in with them, like habaneros.
- Evenly distribute all the toppings, but if you're serving a guest who hates guacamole, you can also leave it off a portion, and just seat them on the right side of the pan.
- Serve with a couple big forks and small appetizer plates, so everyone can take a bunch and not crowd. If it's a smaller group, crowding works fine, but these can be pretty messy, so I'd still suggest the plates!