For 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…
Officially, 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.
I 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.
You 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.
Like 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.
When 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 Beans
- 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
- 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.