SIZZLED STARTERS

Predinner or cocktail party snacks are the ideal times for fried foods: The cooking method guarantees small batches— so everyone gets a few indulgent bites fresh and hot from the oil. Or you can, of course, sit down to a plate of any of these. Just serve a salad or some simply cooked greens.

Frying requires your undivided attention, but not for long. Once you get a rhythm going, things proceed smoothly. Tortilla chips and plantain chips might be a good place to start. They require less than 2 minutes in the oil and never spatter, meaning you can produce a significant amount in 10 or 15 minutes. With a little practice you can easily work your way up to tempura and the like. Meanwhile, if you want a starter that resembles fried food but is easier, try good old Nachos.

Fried Tortilla Chips

Makes: 4 to 8 servings | Time: 15 to 30 minutes

You can make tortilla chips at least as good as the ones at the neighborhood restaurant. Freshly made chips are especially delicious if you use good lard. Eat them as they are or use them to make nachos in the recipe.

  • Lard or good-quality vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • 12 corn tortillas, 6 or 8 inches in diameter Salt

Put at least 2 inches of fat in a large pot over medium-high heat; bring to 350 ° F. The broader the vessel, the more chips you can cook at once, but the more oil you will use. (They cook very quickly, so don’t worry if your pan is narrow.)

Stack the tortillas and cut them, pielike, into 6 or 8 wedges. Fry as many at once as will fit without crowding, turning if necessary. Total cooking time will be about 2 minutes; the chips should just begin to darken in color, not brown. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and drain on towels or paper bags. Sprinkle with salt and/ or any of the suggestions in the list that follows and serve hot or at room temperature.

Baked Tortilla Chips Heat the oven to 400 ° F. Lightly brush or spray each tortilla on both sides with good-quality vegetable oil. Stack and cut as directed. Bake on a single layer on ungreased baking sheets, shaking once or twice, until just beginning to color, 6 to 10 minutes.

Fried or Baked Pita Chips Instead of the tortillas, use six 8-inch pocket pitas. Separate the two sides by cutting into the fold around each circle with a sharp knife. Follow the directions for stacking and cutting tortillas and fry or bake as described in the main recipe and variation. Check them frequently since the thickness of the bread— and whether you use white or whole wheat pitas— will affect the cooking time.

Nachos

Makes: 6 to 8 servings | Time: 30 minutes with premade tortilla chips

It’s tempting to want to pile the chips as high as possible with toppings, but overloading quickly makes them soggy. To change things up, you could substitute Fried or Baked Pita Chips or Plantain Chips for the tortilla chips. Or make a match of flavorful beans like Orange-Glazed Black Beans.

  • 1 ½ cups drained or cooked or canned black, red, pink, or kidney beans
  • 8 to 12 ounces tortilla chips (about 1 recipe Fried Tortilla Chips, page 110, or 1 big bag store-bought)
  • 2 cups grated cheddar, Jack, or other mild cheese
  • ½ cup hopped scallions
  • 1 or 2 chopped jalapeño chiles
  • 1 cup Fresh Tomato or Fruit Salsa or Salsa Roja
  • 1 recipe Guacamole (optional)

Heat the oven to 375 ° F. Meanwhile, warm the beans if you’re using them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the chips in one layer in a shallow pan with a rim, such as a pizza pan or a baking sheet. Top with the beans if using, then the cheese, and bake until the cheese melts, about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with the scallion and/ or jalapeño and serve immediately with bowls of salsa and guacamole if you like on the side.

8 Ideas for Topping Nachos

1.Chopped cilantro

2. Mexican crema or sour cream

3. Chopped tomato

4. Chopped red or white onion

5. Cooked ground beef, seasoned with chili powder (to make your own.

6. Spicy Grilled or Broiled Shrimp

7. Strips of Grilled or Broiled Boneless Chicken

8. Shredded Pork

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