Today I’m sharing one of my favorite recipes and something that is a big part of my culture: haystacks. The variations on this haystack recipe are endless, and it makes an easy, tasty, and versatile meal.
A haystack consists of layers of ingredients. Prepare the ingredients that comprise each layer separately, set them out in a buffet line, and your diners are ready to start layering their ingredients. We typically start with chips and beans first, cheese and veggies next, and condiments like sour cream and salsa last. As layers are added, each ingredient is used in decreasing amounts so that at the end, your rounded mound of food resembles a stack of hay.
Before going into specifics on the individual layers in a haystack, here’s how a typical haystack is constructed and what it looks like at the end:
Ingredients are set on the buffet line in the order they are placed on your plate. The order will vary some according to personal preference, but the following is the order for setting typical ingredients in a buffet and then layering them on your plate:
- Chips. Fritos or tortilla chips work equally well. I like to crush large tortilla chips with the palm of my hand once they are on my plate to break them into bite size pieces. Baked chips do not work well because the beans make them very soggy.
- Warmed Beans. Pinto beans are most common. My favorite is pinto beans in a chili sauce, like Ranch Style Beans or Bush’s Chili Beans. I’ve also mixed pinto beans with black beans when I need to stretch my pantry further.
- Shredded Cheddar or Fiesta Blend Cheese.
- Shredded Lettuce. Use any kind of lettuce you like. I’ve used chopped spinach in addition to, or in place of, lettuce.
- Chopped Fresh Tomatoes. Any variety will work. In a bind, I’ve even used grape tomatoes.
- Sliced Black Olives.
- Avocado. Diced, smashed, or seasoned guacamole all work equally well.
- Sour Cream.
Other toppings that aren’t found on the typical haystack buffet, but that are surprisingly tasty additions, include:
- Cooked Brown or White Rice. I like to add rice after the chips and before the beans.
- Meat or Meat Substitute. Haystacks are typically vegetarian. If you must have meat, however, ground beef browned on the stovetop with taco seasoning works well.
- Additional Veggies. Try corn, diced cucumbers, diced bell pepper, and/or diced red onion.
- Additional Condiments. Chopped cilantro and ranch dressing, for example.
The Many Benefits of Haystacks!
There are so many different ways to assemble a haystack because the ingredients used and the order they are stacked varies according to personal preference. Regardless of how you stack it, haystacks are a great dinner option because they are:
- A Complete Meal. There are no sides to prepare because the haystack is your entire meal.
- Cheap. If you cook your own beans, chop your own veggies, and omit meat (a traditional haystack is vegetarian), haystacks are very economical.
- Quick. If you buy canned beans, shredded lettuce, sliced olives, and pre-made guacamole, you can get by with as little as heating beans, chopping tomatoes, and opening containers. When eating at home with just the family, I don’t even put ingredients in serving bowls. My family is just fine pouring cheese from the bag and spooning chopped veggies from the cutting board.
- Versatile. Because haystacks are served buffet style, ingredients can be omitted to accommodate personal taste preferences, picky eaters, and special diets like vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.
- Good for large groups. A crock pot works well for heating a large amount of beans; the same for a rice cooker works. I love stocking up on all my other bulk ingredients at Costco. The buffet-style allows everyone in the crowd can prepare the haystack according to their own personal preferences and dietary needs.
- Potentially Healthy. A healthy version of a haystack is made with brown rice in place of chips, generous portions of veggies (the larger the variety of veggies the better), and small amounts of dairy and meat products.
With so many benefits, what are you waiting for?
If you’ve made haystacks for dinner, we’d love to hear what ingredients you liked best and what variations worked well for your family!