Being a University of Wisconsin alum, I’m obviously beyond ecstatic that the Badgers beat defending champ, Villanova, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen round of March Madness. If you know me at all, you’d know that watching sports isn’t really my thing. That is unless it involves my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, the STL Blues or anything relating to UW-Madison. There’s one other exception, March Madness. Maybe it’s because I grew up glued to the TV during March Madness, thanks to my dad. Or maybe because I actually played A LOT of basketball in my early years, so I’m able to better relate to the games. No matter the reason, I love this classic tournament, especially when my alma mater surprises the nation and beats the #1 team in the second round.
So, to go along with an amazing game and lots of excitement to come, I thought I’d share a healthy-ish twist on a classic sports bar appetizer – nachos. Instead of traditional tortilla chips, I’m using roasted rounds of sweet potato. Through roasting, the sweet potatoes become sturdy enough to hold all of the amazing toppings that get piled on. What toppings, you may be wondering? Well, there’s a decadent homemade cheese sauce spiked with fresh jalapeño, crisp romaine lettuce, refreshing yogurt and, last but not least, creamy guacamole. Doesn’t this all sound simply amazing?
Yes, these nachos are still rich and indulgent. But, like everything else, I make all of my recipes as clean and health-supportive as possible, even if it’s a dish that’s not supposed be light or healthy. That’s why I call this version of nachos “healthy-ish”. Because I’ve made them as healthy as possible while still maintaining the crowd-pleasing, addictive, satisfying element. There are several health-supportive ingredients in this recipe. Check them out below. Then head down to the recipe, just in time for game day. Go Badgers!
Sweet Potatoes are a power house of nutrition. By replacing fried corn chips with sweet potatoes, this recipe gets a hefty dose of vitamin A, potassium and fiber, plus some vitamin B-6 and protein. Sweet potatoes are also a filling food, making these nachos substantial enough to become a satisfying and nourishing main dish.
Romaine Lettuce, like other lettuces, fills you up without adding extra calories or fat. Adding fresh lettuce to any dish increases vitamins and assists the body in flushing out toxins. Lettuce also adds freshness and balance to this rich dish.
Grass-Fed Plain Yogurt (full-fat) is my new favorite ingredient. Not only can I trust that grass-fed cows live a healthier and happier lifestyle (grain-fed cows live extremely bloated, confined and uncomfortable lives), but grass-fed cows produce dairy containing high-quality fats. These fats are then transformed into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) through the process of making yogurt with lactic acid. Grass-fed dairy, like grass-fed beef, contains a higher concentration of CLA’s. Research has linked CLA consumption with decreased risk of heart attack, bone-mass loss and inflammation. Additionally, live cultures in yogurt aid in digestion, immunity, weight-loss and regular bowel movement. Yogurt is also naturally high in calcium and protein. Whoa! Go grass-fed yogurt go!
Avocados, like in my guacamole, are known for providing the body with “good fats” such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats which can reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and the risk of heart disease. Avocados are rich in potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, folic acid and other essential nutrients. Avocados are also amazing because they add guilt-free richness, flavor and decadence to just about any dish, which is especially important for vegetarians and vegans.
Sweet Potato Nachos with Homemade Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce & Fresh Guacamole
Serves: 2-3 (entree), 6 (appetizer) Start to Finish: 1 hour
2 sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, fine grain
1 avocado, very ripe
2 tablespoons minced red onion
3 teaspoons minced jalapeño, approx. 1/2 of a medium jalapeño, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
hot sauce, to taste, if desired
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2/3 to 1 cup whole milk
2 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese
1.5 cups shredded romaine lettuce (1 heart of romaine will be more than enough)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (full-fat, grass-fed preferred)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make potato rounds. Prep potatoes, brush with oil, season with a pinch of salt on each side of each round, and place potato rounds in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until color begins to brown and the rounds are sturdy.
Make guacamole. Combine 1 smashed avocado with with 2 tablespoons minced red onion, 2 teaspoons minced jalapeño, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro. Add a couple dashes hot sauce if desired and season with salt if needed. Refrigerate until needed.
Make cheddar sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium-heat. Add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of flour until smooth. Allow flour/butter mixture to cook for 1-2 minutes, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in 2/3 cup whole milk until smooth and creamy. Allow mixture to gently simmer until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside. If queso sauce gets to thick, add a bit more milk until desired consistency is reached. Gently reheat on stove top when needed.
Assemble. When potato slices are finished roasting, lay out on a platter or large plate. It’s okay to overlap but make sure a good section of each slice is visible. Pour queso sauce over top of potatoes. Top with shredded iceberg lettuce, plain yogurt and a cilantro garnish, if desired. Serve with guacamole (and some fresh corn chips maybe?).
Nutrition Information References:
Looking back at the last 6 months, it’s hard to express just how much I’ve learned. I spent the last half-year studying the techniques and methods necessary to be a professional chef, as well as the ideas and science behind health-focused, sustainable and clean cooking. No surprise there, I was at a health-focused culinary school after all. But in addition to this, I’ve also learned a great deal about myself and the career/life path I’ve recently chosen, and I owe a great deal of that to my ten classmates who shared this experience with me, my ten classmates of CTP 267 (aka the 267th chefs-in-training class at NGI).
It’s kind of awesome actually – that some of the most significant lessons I learned throughout this experience did not come from a teacher, but rather from my fellow students. And this lesson is that I am not alone. I’ve honestly never been in an environment (other than my own home) where I felt so at home, where I felt like I truly shared the same values, goals and ideals as everyone around me. Yes, my classmates and I, we all love food and cooking and we want to make a career of sorts out of it. But, you see, it’s much deeper than that for us. I’ve spent the last leg of my life realizing that while food is incredibly important to me, my passion in this field goes far beyond just cooking. For me, and for my classmates, it’s about being healthy and balanced, it’s about treating the environment with respect, and it’s about having compassion for all living things. Because of my deep-seeded beliefs when it comes to food and health, I decided to switch up my life to be focused on these values. A huge move, a risky move, a scary move. But the comfort-zone I found at school, this like-minded culinary family I quickly grew to love, is what motivates me and gives me the confidence I need to move forward in this career. So I’d like to give a little shout-out and huge thank you to CTP 267. I can’t wait to see the inevitable marks they leave on this world.
So that was quite the speech I just gave, huh? I really didn’t mean for that at all, I meant for a short intro to a technique for falafel I learned from one of my classmates. Oh well, sometimes I just can’t help but be a total sap. Anyway, during our very first improv cooking class at school, I was grouped with 3 classmates and given a list of ingredients. As soon as I saw ‘soaked chickpeas’ on the list, I knew falafel was the way to go. The group agreed and we got to work. I was about to cook the chickpeas when Carol, my very skilled Brazilian/vegan classmate, mentioned that food processing soaked chickpeas with a healthy dose of olive oil makes for a quicker falafel. I had never heard of this or seen this before, but I trusted her and went ahead without cooking the chickpeas first. No surprise, the little patties turned out to be super easy and super delicious.
Being as I love falafel, I wasted no time in trying this version of falafel again at home. Just like in improv class, the quick mixture of soaked chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, onion, fresh parsley and spices was very wet, but firmed up nicely when browned on an oiled cast iron skillet. Then just a few minutes in the oven and the falafels are ready for eating. The pic above shows one way of eating these guys. That’s another (future) blog post, but I will say that it features homemade pita bread encasing hot falafel, fresh romaine, quick pickled red onions and sweet roasted beets served with a side of lemon-tahini dressing. So yummy. You could also eat the falafel patties over rice, on a salad, or just with your fingers, they are actually pretty sturdy even though they aren’t deep fried. I mean, I’m not going to say they’re the same as deep fried, because they just aren’t. Deep fried falafel balls are beyond amazing, and it’s definitely the classic preparation in my eyes. But these baked falafels are less stress and less mess, not to mention a smidgen more figure friendly. Plus you get the same flavor profile and versatility as a deep fried ball. Easier, cleaner, healthier and still totally delicious. Done and done.
So with that, I hope everyone’s Valentine’s Day is filled with lots and lots of love, in any of its forms (self-love, romantic-love, bestie-love, puppy-love etc).
Best of Basic: Easy Falafel Patties
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 30 minutes (not including bean-soaking)
1 cup dry garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), soaked overnight or up to 24-hours
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (+ more for pan frying)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 tbs tightly packed parsley leaves, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment.
Drain and rinse soaked beans. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until a smooth mixture is formed (it should still have a visibly grainy texture). Form the batter into 12 patties. The batter will be very wet, but should still form into patties easily.
On a griddle pan or in a frying pan (cast iron recommended), heat a thin layer of olive oil over medium-low heat. Fry patties for 5 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp. Cook patties in batches if needed, replacing oil between batches. Finish by cooking patties in the oven for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, covered in foil.
If refrigerating patties for later, skip baking step, bake just before serving, until cooked through. If freezing, skip initial baking step. Defrost completely before reheating in oven, covered in foil.
Side note, I often eat these patties cold anyway, so reheating after the fridge is definitely not necessary.