The Heart of Ardent

The Heart of Ardent: Chilaquiles

Our last feature, The Devil’s Tail, was shot in Mexico, and our next feature will be too.

But we also travel to Mexico for pleasure, and as food is a major part of any cultural experience, we think this is a good place to share some of our favorite food and drink recipes with you.

Ever had a favorite dish that, whenever you see it on a menu, you have to order to see how they make their version? Chilaquiles is like that for me. I can never resist, and enjoy making it for friends for brunch.

My favorite ever were made for me by my friend Luis in the kitchen of a beach house we had rented in Yucatán. Visiting for the weekend, he saw what ingredients we had left in our kitchen and threw them together. It’s that kind of dish.

‘Chilaquiles’ comes from the Nahuatl word chīlāquilitl.  Like most great dishes from the kitchens of the generations before us, necessity was the mother of invention. Food was never wasted, which is why French Toast and Rum Balls made use of old bread and why chilaquiles is a dish traditionally made for breakfast  to use up leftover stale tortillas. Frijoles are great served on the side.

Like many ‘family’ recipes, regional and familial varieties are common; for example, they are sometimes prepared with a white sauce in Sinaloa, Mexico or with chilis de Arbol in Guadalajara. Although they can be made just using a pan on the stovetop, I like making them in a casserole dish or baking pan in the oven.

Often, pulled chicken or scrambled/fried eggs are added, so making it without is easily done for vegetarians.

Feel free to see this recipe as a guideline: this is an easy dish where amounts of salsa and cheese can easily be adjusted to suit your amount of tortillas or pan size.

Buen Provecho!

Time Required: approx 40 min; Prep: approx 20 min; Cook: approx 20 min; Serves: 4-6.

INGREDIENTS

Roughly 1/3 cup vegetable oil
Approximately 10 corn tortillas, cut into eighths, preferably stale (spread out to dry overnight)*
Roughly 4 cups Salsa Verde** (green) or Salsa Roja (red)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
About a 1/2 cup crumbled Queso Fresco***
2 thin slices of an onion, cut into rings
Remaining onion, chopped
1/2 cup Mexican crema, or 1 can sterilized cream (like Carnation brand) for drizzling on top
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
(About 2 1/2 cups shredded/crumbled mild white/yellow cheese like Mexican Queso Blanco, Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese for the oven baked version)

DIRECTIONS

Stovetop:

Pour about 1/3 cup vegetable oil into a large pan over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and stir in the pan, cooking until softened or just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add tortilla strips or chips, working in batches, and cook until lightly browned. Drain and pat down tortillas on paper towels and discard oil. Wipe pan down with a paper towel.

In same pan, add salsa verde and bring to simmer over low heat. Add tortilla strips or chips and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with ground black pepper, to taste. Divide mixture among 4 individual casserole dishes. You can then garnish with crumbled Queso Fresco and rings of onion. Top with Mexican crema, sprinkle with some chopped fresh cilantro and serve immediately.

Oven:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray or wipe down with oiled paper towel. I like to use two 8x10x2 pans if I’m making two varieties.
As with stovetop method, heat oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Cook the tortilla pieces as in the above method, pat off excess oil, then:

Put half the tortilla pieces in the baking pan. Top with half the onions, half the salsa and half the Queso Blanco. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, onions, salsa and cheese. Cover with foil.
Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the casserole is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted or beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.

Top with the rings of onion, drizzle or spoon the cream on top, then garnish with Queso Fresco/Feta and fresh cilantro.

*Of course, packages of  Tortilla Chips or Tostadas (like Charras) can also be used.

**Note: Salsa Verde is “green sauce” and is typically made with tomatillos, green chiles and cilantro. Make your own fresh, or find it in jars (like Herdez; 2 jars = 4 cups) at most supermarkets or homemade fresh at Latin markets.

***Note: Queso Fresco is a white, mild, fresh Mexican cheese like fresh farmer’s cheese in US/Canada. Queso Fresco can be found in some supermarkets and Latin markets. Mild feta, like Canadian Feta cheese, is an excellent substitute.

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