Back in Thyme: Puffy Nachos with Spicy Black Beans

Puffy Nachos with Spicy Black BeansFor Vegan MoFo, I’m doing a series called Back in Thyme, in which I travel to other periods of my life.  Today I’m setting the date to the year 1991…

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David & Cadry as Doc & MartyOfficially, our high school had a closed campus.  That meant that every lunch hour we were relegated to the cafeteria for another round of french fries with ketchup, salt & pepper and whatever else they were putting on the Melmac platter that day.  And yet, curiously, the lunchroom was often not filled to capacity.

By my sophomore year, I figured out why.  I was the kind of kid who always played by the rules – straight A’s, honor society, you know the drill.  But by my second year of high school I had become friends with Dawn, who didn’t take the rule following quite so seriously.  She encouraged me to leave the campus for lunch in her car and head to Tasty Tacos, a local fast food taco place a few blocks away.  Tasty Tacos is a family business that has become something of a chain across Central Iowa with a rabid following.

Puffy Nachos with Spicy Black BeansI still remember walking out to the back parking lot to get in her car and immediately running into the teacher who patrolled the parking lot during lunch hour.

“Hi, Dawn,” he said to my friend.

Dawn said back to me, “See, I told you.  They don’t really care if you leave for lunch.  You just can’t stay in your parked car.  You have to either stay in the building or go.”

Apparently the school didn’t want the liability, and so as long as they had an official policy against it, they didn’t care all that much about enforcing it.  If something had happened, at least they could say we were going against the official rules.

Puffy Nachos with Spicy Black BeansYou know how everything tastes better when you’re not supposed to have it?  Well, after the bland, conveyer-belt monotony of the cafeteria, I’d like you to meet the puffy nachos.  The nachos at Tasty Tacos were deep fried flour tortillas (presumably fried from dough-form), making nachos that were crisp on the edges and kind of soft in the middle with fluffy pockets of air in some of the wedges.  They were then covered in what tasted like concession-style pump cheese, refried beans made with lard, and some kind of ground beef.  So…. you know, health food.

I was not yet vegan (obviously) and those nachos became my standard meal at least 2 or 3 days a week for my sophomore, junior, and senior year of high school.  (More on the other meals in a later post… Update: Check out a vegan-version of their fried puffy tacos here.)

After I glimpsed the freedom of skipping out for lunch, every day at noon I’d hurry out the door and rush off to Tasty Tacos with Dawn or some other friends, get into line, and order the Nachos Supreme with Hot Peppers.  I liked it best when they put the jalapeño slices directly onto the nachos, making little pools of hot pickled juices from the peppers onto the chips for maximum spiciness.  I’d add a few splashes of their hot sauce and plow my way through a plate.  The pile of dirty napkins next to me grew as the mass of nachos diminished.

It’s now been 8 years since I’ve visited Tasty Tacos (that’s when I went vegetarian), and so for this Back in Thyme series it seemed like the perfect opportunity to revisit my old lunch from my high school days.

Nacho chips made from tortilla trianglesLike I said, I assume their nachos are made from dough form, but I made them using premade flour tortillas (Stacey’s Organic Tortillas).  Using kitchen shears, I cut them into triangles, and then lightly fried them until they were puffy and crisp.  I went old school with a creamy nutritional yeast cheese sauce and poured it onto the nachos with spicy black beans.  (If you prefer to more closely recreate their nachos, the homestyle refried beans from Viva Vegan are my personal favorite, and then add sautéed seitan.)  No fruits or vegetables were involved in the nachos from my high school days, but for my version I eagerly added tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.

Puffy nachos on towelWhen I took a bite, I actually felt a little misty.  I realize that’s probably the dorkiest thing ever to say about nachos, but that particular crisp-on-the-outside, warm-and-soft-on-the-inside pile of chips transported me to some very happy memories.  It took me to a time when the sweetest pleasure was escaping the confines of high school doldrums with friends and feeling like I was really getting away with something.

Puffy Nachos with Spicy Black BeansPuffy Nachos with Spicy Black Beans

Serves 2

  • 3-4 regular-sized tortillas, wheat or white*
  • Organic canola oil or your preferred neutral-flavored high heat oil, for frying
  • 1 batch nacho cheese sauce (recipe below)
  • ½ batch Spicy Black Beans
  • Toppings:  (Any or all of the following) Diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, olives

Cut tortillas into triangles using kitchen shears.  Set aside.

In a medium-sized non-stick skillet, cover the bottom of the pan with organic canola oil (about ¼ inch in depth), and bring to a medium-hot heat.  Once the oil quickly bubbles around the tortillas when they are dipped into the pan, the oil is ready.  In small batches, being careful not to overcrowd, fry the tortilla triangles.  Fry for a few minutes, until browned, and then flip to fry for a few more minutes.  Once the triangles have browned, move them to a towel-covered plate to drain.  Continue frying the remaining tortilla triangles in batches until completed.

Once the tortilla chips have drained, move them to a serving platter.  Top them with Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce, Spicy Black Beans, your preferred toppings, and serve.

*The white tortillas are truer to the Tasty Tacos experience, but the chips will take on more of the oil flavor.  The wheat retain more of their wheat-flavor, which may taste too healthy for you depending on your preferences, but that also masks any taste from the oil.

Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce

Adapted from The Vegan Table

Serves 2

  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 cup water

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine nutritional yeast flakes, all purpose flour, paprika, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and salt.  Add water and whisk constantly (a fork also works for this) over a medium heat until the sauce becomes thick like a gravy.  Remove from heat and pour over nachos.

52 thoughts on “Back in Thyme: Puffy Nachos with Spicy Black Beans

  1. Oooh, this looks sooo good! I’ve been poking around for a good nooch based nacho sauce and this looks like a winner! I also love your story. I was the exact same way in high school. One time I got in trouble for having food outside (crazy right?) and I just about died when I got called to the office about it.

    Taco Bell was like my favorite place to eat after school. I don’t even want to say how many tacos I would eat as a snack. But like 12. Ew. I’m disgusted with my old self. Can I borrow your DeLorean so I can go yell at my 16 year old self?

    Also, LOVE LOVE LOVE the pic. David makes a good Doc. The look on both your faces is priceless! :-)

    • This sauce is really convenient because it has staples that are in any vegan cupboard. (The only thing out of the ordinary from any other cupboard would be the nutritional yeast flakes.) Another nacho cheese sauce that I love is the one from Practically Raw, and it is cashew-based.

      That’s so cute that you almost died after getting called to the office. I would have been the same way!

      I’d be happy to loan you my DeLorean. Maybe we could visit my teenage self while we’re traveling since I ate my fair share of Taco Bell in college and my early twenties. I totally remember looking for loose change in the car, so that I could buy lunch!

      I’m so glad you like the picture! Thanks! It really makes me laugh too. David is such a good sport to wear that ridiculous wig!

  2. The picture of you and David is awesome, so in the spirit of mofo! Ok, you had me at deep-fried , and then again at “nachos that were crisp on the edges and kind of soft in the middle with fluffy pockets of air in some of the wedges” YES!

  3. Mmm these sound great, and I know what you mean about nostalgia and about escaping high school! We had an open campus for lunch, and I remember heading out with friends to eat fast food and feeling SO grown up.

  4. I absolutely love your recollections of school days. So, so different to my school experiences, in terms of food! (We don’t have cafeterias with full/prepared lunched in Australia, just canteens where you can buy some food or snacks if you want. No sit-down enforced lunches either; you take your food wherever you want in the schoolyard.)

    • Your lunchtime experience sounds much more appealing than our bland, cafeteria lunches. A book on school lunches around the world would make for an interesting photo book! It would be like “Hungry Planet” but focused on kids.

  5. Puffy nachos sound like a fantastic concept! I can totally understand why they were such a hit for you in your youth and why you wanted to recreate them. Love that top pic of you and David, your expressions are perfect!

  6. I almost always brought my own lunch in high school until senior year when I was barely in the building. ;) However, it’s fun to think back to how different the food stuff was then, eh? Your nachos look delicious, but that first picture is actually priceless. This is such a fun MoFo.

  7. You guys crack me up with those photos!
    Unlike you, being a badass at lunch WAS eating in the highschool cafeteria, lol. I always used to go home for lunch since I virtually lived across the street and my parents didn’t like it when I ate fast food :P
    Your nachos look so incredible! Gah! I totally want a big plate of those right now. I’m definitely trying your fried tortilla method next time.

    • If you try them, let me know what you think! After I made them, I had to wonder why I don’t do it every time I have hankering for a plate of nachos. After all, I always have tortillas in the fridge!

  8. We were not allowed to leave our school for lunch – and my mum was a teacher which meant I couldn’t get away with a thing – however we didn’t have a cafeteria – just a kanteen window and we either ate outside or if the weather was rough we were allowed in the rooms. I usually brought sandwiches but how happy would I have been to have this taco dish for lunch

    • Oh, that had to be tough having your mom in the same building! I’m sure any indiscretions would have gotten back to her pretty quickly. Did it cramp your dating life having your mom working as a teacher in your school?

  9. I’d sneak out of school for those nachos any day! I could go for some of that cheese sauce – normally I use cashews, which means planning cravings in advance. Thanks for the solution to my awful problem!

    • I’m only too happy to help with your awful problem! ;) I love cashew nacho cheeses too, but on those occasions when I’ve run out of cashews or am just in the mood for something different, this is a tasty alternative!

  10. I just saw your comment on the mofo post and just felt really silly because I had thought you had photoshopped yourself into a film photo rather than that being your husband – that is brillaint

  11. LOL at the photo and your going-AWOL memories! We had McD’s and Barnaby’s Pizza…my fave. Once in awhile I smell that supersaltycheesypizza smell and immediately time-transport to sneaking out the high school’s side door, down the alley, to fast food freedom…a rebel without a calorie counter. ;)

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