Tomato Arbol Totopos

By • January 10, 2016 6 Comments

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Author Notes: This is my facsimile of an appetizer served at Xico, a Mexican restaurant, in Portland, OR. It's kind-of like a cross between nachos and chilaquiles. At Xico, the house-made tortilla chips are tossed with a chile arbol salsa, then topped with crumbled cotija cheese, Mexican crema, and cilantro. The chips are softened but still crunchy, and are addictively delicious—like the best nacho-flavored tortilla chips you've ever eaten. My version is loosely adapted from Nopalito's Totopos con Chile recipes printed in the San Francisco Gate and posted at the Food Network. NOTE: This is definitely not a dish for eating politely—have a good stack of napkins handy, and don't be surprised if some finger licking happens.hardlikearmour


Serves 8 (give or take)

Tomato Arbol Salsa

  • 6 to 8 arbol chile pods (dried)
  • 1 tablespoon avocado or other neutral oil
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced cilantro stems (and/or leaves)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin


  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, plus additional to thin
  • 1 to 2 generous pinches of kosher salt
  • 4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled
  • 4 medium radishes, small dice
  • 1/4 cup pepitas, toasted
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped or torn cilantro leaves
  • 1 (16 to 18 ounce) bag sturdy, salted tortilla chips
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F with racks in the upper and lower middle positions.
  2. Remove stems, and shake out most of the seeds from the chiles. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Cook chiles, stirring and tossing continuously until fragrant and bright orange, about 20 to 30 seconds. (Err on side of undercooking, as they get bitter if overdone.)
  3. Transfer chiles to a blender. Add tomatoes and their liquid, onion, garlic, 1 tablespoon lime juice, cilantro, paprika, salt, and cumin. Blend until smooth, scraping down blender as needed, about 1 minute.
  4. Pass salsa through a medium mesh strainer, back into the saucepan. Use a wooden spoon or silicon spatula to scrape the mixture through as needed. There should be minimal solids (mostly chile seeds and skin) left behind.
  5. Bring salsa to a simmer over medium-high, then lower to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until reduced to about 1 and 1/2 cups, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon lime juice. Dunk a chip fragment into the salsa, and taste for salt. Adjust if needed.
  6. While the salsa is cooking, prepare the "crema" and prep the other ingredients, if you haven't already done so. To make the "crema": Combine the sour cream, heavy cream, and salt. Whisk until smooth, then add additional heavy cream if needed to create a thick, barely pourable consistency. It should be slightly tangy and slightly salty.
  7. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pepitas, and toast, stirring or shaking occasionally until lightly toasted and fragrant. Set aside. Crumble the cotija. Dice the radishes. Chop the cilantro.
  8. Divide the chips evenly between two rimmed sheet pans and place one of the sheet pans in the oven. After 2 to 3 minutes put the second pan in. After another 2 to 3 minutes pull the first pan and turn the oven off. Transfer the chips to a large bowl, and drizzle with about 3/4 cup of the salsa. Stir with a spoon to coat, then when cooled slightly, toss with your hands to finish coating. Transfer to a serving platter and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with half of the cotija, radishes, pepitas, and cilantro. Remove the remaining chips from the oven and repeat the coating process. Drizzle with crema (you may not use all of it), then sprinkle on the remaining cotija, radishes, pepitas, and cilantro. Serve immediately.
  9. NOTE: You can make the salsa and prep the ingredients ahead of time. Just warm the salsa on the stove or in the microwave when ready to make the totopos.

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