Loaded Dinner Nachos (healthy with a “neat” vegetarian option)
You could say it was love after the first neatball! In all seriousness, I was truly skeptical when Laura Lapp first offered me a bite of the healthy meat alternative that she crafted in her kitchen. But it tasted great.
By way of background, Laura began her experimentation process to address her two daughters’ decision to become vegetarian as well as her husband’s elevated cholesterol level. The meat replacements Laura found at the store weren’t a big hit in her house, and she was looking for ways to offer a broad variety of healthy food to her family. The last thing she was thinking about was building a business!
But Laura ulitmately created something that tastes fabulous while being healthy, economical, easy to prepare, and shelf stable. Of course, it is vegetarian as well as gluten- and soy-free. Because we are not a strictly vegetarian household, I reach for Laura’s creation (named “neat” by her two daughters) as a last-minute, pantry-stable convenience that happens to be healthy and great-tasting. But when my vegetarian sister or friends come to visit, I can make an easy substitution in one of my regular recipes calling for ground beef. As I mentioned in my neatball recipe, I was skeptical the first time I served it to my boys, but they both loved it.
There is another thing I really admire about Laura and Phil. When the reception to their product was so incredibly positive that they decided to market it, they wanted their new company to be socially responsible. Laura and Phil recognized that visually-impaired people have trouble finding and maintaining employment. To that end, neat is packaged by VisionCorps at its food manufacturing facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. VisionCorps provides education, rehabilitation, advocacy, and employment opportunities to people who are blind or vision impaired.
As Phil told me, “Approximately 70% of vision impaired people are unemployed today, and we find great satisfaction as a company being able to provide them with steady employment. Just another reason to eat…neat!”
For more information on Visioncorps you can visit their website at http://www.visioncorps.net/Content/default.asp. For more information about neat and Laura and Phil’s inspiring story, click over to their website at http://www.eatneat.com.
Feel free to use the recipe below as a framework, omitting toppings you may not care for and adding extra of the ones you do. One big platter works well for a group appetizer, but for an easy, casual family dinner, I like to prepare on individual plates. The recipe is very easy to divide into two or four plates.
Black beans are another delicious option. You may add a cup or so, rinsed and drained, along with the salsa mixture.
- 1 pound lean ground beef or 1 package neat (see notes)
- Homemade taco seasoning blend (may substitute 1.25-ounce store-bought packet; see recipe link and notes that follow)
- 1/2 cup salsa
- 1/4 cup water
- 8-10 ounces tortilla chips
- 1 1/3 cups shredded Mexican blend or cheddar cheese (plus extra for topping, if desired)
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions or minced yellow or red onions
- 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup sliced jalapeño peppers
- 1/2 cup sliced black olives
- 1/2 cup chopped avocado
- Optional toppings: Salsa, guacamole, Greek yogurt or sour cream, chopped cilantro
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Stir together the salsa, water, and taco seasoning mixture. (I recommend using the no salt version when using neat, as it is already seasoned.) Set aside.
- Over medium heat, brown the neat or ground beef. Add the salsa mixture, stirring to coat. Simmer the neat mixture for another minute or until the moisture is absorbed, If using ground beef, simmer for approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the mixture is thickened. (This will prevent soggy tortilla chips later.)
- Arrange the tortilla chips in a single layer on a large oven-proof baking sheet or platter or on individual oven-proof plates. Evenly distribute the cheese and then the neat or meat mixture. (I like to get a little on each tortilla chip.) If you like extra cheese, you may sprinkle another layer on top.
- Bake for approximately 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
- Evenly distribute the remaining ingredients, serve with toppings of choice, and enjoy!
When using neat, first mix as directed on the package with 2 tablespoons of water and 2 eggs. Then sauté in a nonstick skillet over medium heat for 7 minutes, crumbling as it cooks. You may use the original flavor or substitute the Mexican option. If using the latter, you may omit the taco seasoning or include for a more intense flavor.
When using a store-bought taco seasoning packet with neat, I recommend a low or no-salt option as neat is already seasoned. For my easy homemade version, see the link that follows.