BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Tuesday, 26 June 2018
I’ve had a certain love affair for a long time now, going way back to college.
Who is it, you ask? Well, turns out it’s not a person, but a thing, and that thing is chips and salsa!
I’m not sure how it started, and I know I didn’t eat them while I was growing up. It might be because we, The Rockets, sometime splurged and went to a Mexican restaurant in Orem, on a street colloquially known as The Diagonal, to a place called Chi Chi’s.
Also, I remember one time Lori, Julie and I were headed up to Idaho in Lori’s big white Oldsmobile. Of course, neither Julie nor I wanted to be the odd one out, sitting in the back seat, so all three of us crammed into the front seat.
Poor Lori, that must have been an uncomfortable way to drive, elbow-to-elbow with me.
On the way up, we were eating chips and salsa. I specifically remember I was wearing a matching navy blue skirt-and-shirt combo, and by the time we got to our destination, I was wearing a bit of salsa, too. Hahaha!
Later on, after college, when I got working full-time, I remember frequent trips to Chili’s, for Chicken Crispers with an amazing honey mustard sauce, and one of those little cobettes of corn.
But first, a basketful of those amazingly warm and light, airy-thin tortilla chips, with their signature salsa, not chunky, but thin. Sometimes, I would even go there alone, after all The Rockets moved away, and I didn’t have as many close friends around.
I’ve never been one of those people who’s afraid to go out to eat alone. Sometimes I’ll bring a book or a magazine to look at, or some writing to do, and oftentimes (I admit) I pretend in my own mind I’m a career woman, traveling for business, and that’s why I’m alone.
Sometimes, in my head, I’m also a food critic and secretly writing a review for a magazine, newspaper, or website. Heh heh…
You overhear the most interesting things when you’re alone, and observe a lot about other people. It’s fun for me to spy a bit and try to imagine what other people’s lives are like.
But, back in my Utah days, I also remember lunches at Los Hermanos, a nearly legendary Mexican restaurant on the corner of University Avenue and Center Street, in Provo.
When I worked in a marketing department, we went there a few times for business lunches, or when it was someone’s birthday. (Man, I miss those days, and the group of people I worked with. It was my favorite job, but of course I didn’t know it at the time.)
Lots of times we would order Nachos Supreme as a group appetizer, and by the time our entrees arrived, we were already bordering on full, after gorging on cheese-smothered chips.
Much later, many years after I married, I started making a dip I call guacamole, but it also has tomatoes and onions in it. My friends seem to like it and think it’s something special, but it’s actually really easy and simple.
There was also one time when we were staying late at Barnes & Noble, doing inventory, and one of my coworkers (the one who makes killer hummus I still crave) brought chips and a large container of Costco’s Mango Peach Salsa.
It was so good, I didn’t even want to do inventory, I just wanted to stay in the break room and eat this stuff by the gallonful.
I admit, I’ve been guilty of (and perfectly satisfied with!) many meals which were nothing other than: chips and tomato salsa, chips and mango peach salsa, or chips and guacamole.
But now, I have a new favorite.
My friend Raj shared this recipe for Black Bean Nachos. He and I go back a bit to when we worked at Barnes & Noble together.
I managed the front end of the store, which included the cashiers, their registers, and the gift department. Raj managed the nooks (Barnes & Noble’s tablets) and they were also located at the front end of the store.
Oftentimes we were dreadfully bored, when it was slow, so we’d talk a lot and discovered we have a mutual love of pens. Not those expensive Mont Blanc types or handmade ones (that was my friend Phil, the editor from the marketing department) but just nice-quality black felt tip pens from the office supply store.
One time Raj and I even conducted ultra-scientific smear tests, seeing which pens held up to water best. (Shhh! Don’t tell our manager!)
Well, Raj eventually quit and moved away, with his wife and kids, back to Nebraska, but we’ve stayed in touch on Facebook. I asked for cheap and easy meal ideas one time on My Copper Kitchen Celebrations! This is what he came up with.
RAJ’S BLACK BEAN NACHOS
Black beans, drained
Red onion, shaved
Ground turkey or ground beef (fried), or
Shredded chicken or pork (cooked)
Cherry tomatoes, halved, or
Grape tomatoes, quartered
Black olives, sliced
Green onions, sliced
Add this on the side, after heating:
Sour cream, cream cheese, or cottage cheese
Choose an oven-proof plate or round pan. Layer your basic ingredients in the order shown above, (and any add-ons if you choose them), and then repeat.
Toast a few minutes in a warm oven, or in the microwave for 30 seconds to one minute, to melt the cheese. Squeeze lime across the chips and add dollops of sour cream, cream cheese, or cottage cheese on the side.
You can get away with hotter taco sauce if you have some type of dairy on the side, or milk to drink.
This is my new favorite snack which becomes a meal, and I don’t feel too guilty about it, because it has a bunch of the food groups and it’s quite inexpensive.
I bought the basic ingredients, plus a lime and a carton of cottage cheese, for $12. It made three big servings, so that’s not bad for $4 a serving,
Lemme tell you why I prefer cottage cheese over sour cream. Lately, I’ve been craving cottage cheese when it’s hot out, or when I’m feeling sick. The past few times, when the urge has hit me to eat cottage cheese, I haven’t had any in the fridge.
Lemme tell ya, here’s never once been a time when I’ve craved eating sour cream on its own. Seeing as how I end up having leftover cottage cheese after the tortilla chips are gone, I can be reasonably confident I’ll eat the rest of the cottage cheese, and it won’t go to waste.
But how many cartons with a bit of putrified sour cream left in them have I thrown away? Quite a few…
Try it! You’ll like it!