Darwinian Nachos – An Apex Choice for Dinner

Almost My Birthday Dish!

October 21st is the International Day of the Nacho. It’s right after my birthday, which is one reason why I have such an affinity for this brilliant dish.
OK, I have lots of reasons, including sheer deliciousness, ease of preparation and versatility. But it doesn’t hurt that it’s almost my birthday dish.

As served in restaurants across the US, nachos are often a weighty, substantial offering – it’s funny to see them as a 3000 calorie snack item in the Appetizers section of the menu.

As served in many parts of Mexico, those same nachos are typically a delightful and relatively light quick snack or appetizer with a perfect blend of salt, savory and heat and a beautiful mix of ingredients.

A couple of decades ago, we first started making nachos in the more traditional Mexican style, but over time, this dish has evolved. Today, it incorporates veggies, beans, greens – it’s become a complete meal, all done in one pot, er, tray.

The nachos in this recipe will feed four very hungry eaters and take just a few minutes longer to make than a simple cheesy nacho. They are so good that they have evolved to become the apex nacho in our house, replacing all others! They are a satisfying one-dish meal that you can tweak and modify depending on what may be in the refrigerator.

This version is vegetarian but if you have unredeemed carnivores in your house, see the Tips section at the end of the recipe for info on how to make a meat eaters’ delight without losing the veggie savor.


  • Good quality corn chips, about 12-16 oz.
  • About 2 C. homemade frijoles negros refritos (recipe) or, in a pinch, use one can refried black beans, drained and rinsed
  • One head romaine lettuce, rinsed, leaves separated, sliced crosswise into 1 inch strips and dried
  • 12 oz. Queso fresco, cotija, Monterey jack or other white cheese, shredded
  • 1.5 C. homemade pico de gallo (recipe) or, in a pinch, use purchased.
  • ½ large sweet red bell pepper, skinned (or roasted) cut into medium dice. Can substitute jarred roasted red peppers.
  • ½ sweet onion, small dice
  • 4 or more cloves garlic, minced
  • Splash of olive oil – about 3 TBs, for veggies
  • ½ English cucumber or 2 whole Persian cucumbers (or ½ a standard cucumber, just be sure to remove all skin!), seeds removed, medium dice, sprinkled with a little salt
  • One head cilantro, coarsely chop most of it, leave a few nice sprigs for garnish
  • 3 green onions, sliced thinly, both white and green parts
  • ½ good sized organic carrot (or what have you) shredded.
  • 2 jalapeno or Serrano peppers (hotter), sliced into thin coins
  • One avocado, sliced for garnish, drizzled with lemon to prevent browning and sprinkled with (optional) taijin powder
  • Juice of one juicy lemon – approx. 1/4 C.
  • (Optional) Mexican taijin (citrus-chile) powder
  • Ground cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, smoked paprika (optional) to taste. Generally, you’ll use about 1 tsp. of the cumin and ½ or less of the rest. These are all optional and except for the cumin, non-traditional, but I encourage you to experiment, we’ve used them all and they all work nicely!


  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Layer some of the chips on the bottom of a medium (about 9″ x 13″) Pyrex or other heatproof baking dish
  • Add the shredded lettuce, spreading it evenly across the chips. Gently press the lettuce down onto the chips
  • Add about half the beans, half the cut veggies, half the cilantro, half the pico de gallo and whatever seasonings (list above) you choose. Drizzle with half the lemon juice
  • Sprinkle evenly with half the cheese
  • One more layer of chips, and repeat layering, without lettuce. End with cheese, and drizzle remaining lemon juice on top
  • Put in oven for ~ 40 minutes or until top layer of cheese is lightly browned and bubbling
  • Remove, let stand for 10 minutes or so to set, slice into sections, serve with avocado slices, cilantro sprigs and a few slices of hot pepper on top. If you like squeeze a final few drops of lemon atop the individual slices.

Tips – for the Carnivores in the House

These nachos are delicious all by themselves, but sometimes you’ve got to have a little meat! If you’re using meat, you can reduce the beans by about 1/3rd. Or not. A plate of nachos is definitely a “the more the merrier” kind of dish. Brown about 1/2 lb. good quality hamburger with salt (to taste) and a bit of ground cumin. When the meat is seared, brown and evenly broken up, add a splash of white wine, deglaze the pan and cook for another two or three minutes until the wine is mostly evaporated. Remove from heat and add to first layer of nachos, with the beans and veggies.

Bahia de los suenos is a marketing name, the *real* name is Bahia de Los Muertos - it's a dangerous bay to sail!!

Nachos from an out of the way dive in Bahia de Los Suenos where we stopped for lunch.