Nacho Cheese and Pickled Jalapeños

Homemade nacho cheese and pickled jalapeños

Last weekend my Dad gave me a gallon-size freezer bag full of jalapenos harvested from his garden. The wet spring and summer in Northern Indiana did wonders for his plants and the bounty this year was much larger than in years past.

I used 18 right right off the bat by making poppers at the family campground, but I still had half a bag leftover and I ended up bringing them home.

I was cleaning in the kitchen Friday night and that mess of peppers was just sitting on my counter screaming "what are you gonna do with me!" After some thought, I decided to pickle them. They would never go bad if I did that.

I have pickled jalapenos before. This time, I did it a little different. Instead of just pouring the simmering liquid over the jalapenos in a bowl and then letting them cool — I added the peppers to the simmering liquid and let them cook for a few minutes. This changed their appearance to that olive-green color, similar to pickled jalapenos found on grocery store shelves. I let them cool, jarred them and put them away.

With the peppers in the fridge, Saturday night rolled around and I couldn't wait the recommended two weeks to let them fully pickle before trying them. I decided to make the occasion special and create a homemade nacho cheese for some gourmet ball-park-style nachos!

My favorite nachos feature runny cheese sauce. This type of sauce requires a little work. It starts with sweating down aromatics in butter, making a roux, adding milk and thickening it into a gravy and then the crucial part - gradually melting the cheese and making a gooey delicious sauce to scarf on. It takes some patients to make, but totally worth it.

Once I had my sauce, I broke out the peppers and a late night nacho feast ensued. The fresh-pickled jalapenos were rife with flavor — spicy and tangy. The cheese sauce — creamy with lots of depth. Making it extra yummy were the fresh-made tortilla chips from the deli of a local grocery I had purchased earlier in the day.

All together, it made for a legendary plate of nachos.

The best part: I still have enough nacho cheese for another batch or two waiting in the fridge!

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 2 cups
30 minutes cooking, 2 weeks pickling
10 to 15 jalapenos, sliced thin
3/4 white vinegar
3/4 cup water
3 TBS sugar
3 Tbs salt
2 Tbs peppercorns
1 Tbs Old Bay seasoning

Mix together vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns and Old Bay seasoning in a pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer. Add sliced jalapenos, return to simmer and let cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer mixture to a resealable jar and refrigerate. Best if left to pickle for two weeks but can be eaten before.

Homemade nacho cheese and pickled jalapeños
Makes 2 1/2 C, 30 minutes
4 Tbs unsalted butter
4 Tbs flour
1/4 C red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 C milk
2 C pepper jack cheese, shredded
Salt to taste
Tortilla chips for serving

Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Saute onion and jalapeno until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Add Chili powder, cumin and garlic cook 1 minute more. Stir in flour, mix well and let cook two minutes. Add milk and whisk until well incorporated, bring to a simmer and let thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cheese 2 tablespoons at a time, whisking and stirring until completely melt. Repeat until all cheese is mixed in. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with tortilla chips and pickled jalapenos.

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