• November 26, 2020

Cooking Like a Mexican

 Cooking Like a Mexican

Chilaquiles rojos with chicken and avocado

BY ALEJANDRA BORBOLLA

In Mexico, there is a whole hangover culture, and it’s directly proportional to our parties. At weddings, we have a “tornaboda” which is a meal served at around two or three in the morning, to make sure you are well fed and keep on drinking or call it a night and return home in a much better condition. 

We are known as good drinkers; therefore, we have THE BEST hangover solutions, hands down. Chilaquiles are one of my favorite dishes for breakfast and brunch, for so many reasons: almost everyone can make them, they are in pretty much all the menus at restaurants, chilaquiles are extremely customizable, you can make them with pretty much whatever you have in the fridge, and it is very difficult to go wrong when preparing them. 

Chilaquiles are also one of those dishes that was created to avoid wasting food, and I think that makes it even better. Like all Mexican cuisine, the go-to hangover cure varies from region to region — even the same dish is given different twists depending on what part of the country you’re in. Whatever you choose, whether or not it cures your resaca (or cruda, which is the more typical Mexican word for a hangover), it will taste good. 

The arrival of the Spaniards to Mexico is what made this dish what we know today. Before the conquista and the introduction of dairy, chilaquiles were yesterday’s tortilla toasted on the Comal with chilmulli on top. Chilmulli is what we now know as salsa, a mixture of tomatoes, chiles and spices also called molli (now mole) before the Spaniards started referring to it as salsa. There was nothing in common with salsa except that it was served on top of food. Next thing we know, cheese was added and now we have a mestizo dish. 

Chilaquiles are a full meal, especially when a protein is added like egg, steak or shredded chicken, carbs and fiber from the tortilla, vegetables and vitamins in the salsa and the heat from the chile which is totally customizable. Nowadays chilaquiles can also be vegan, fat-free and even divorced. 

As I am a generous food writer, I will give you my top recipe for chilaquiles, including totopos from scratch. If you want your chilaquiles soft, throw the totopos (tortilla chips but I refuse to use that term) in the salsa for a few minutes until desired softness. For toppings you can use queso cotija, queso manchego, queso adobera, quesillo, queso doble crema, and even feta, depending on your taste. You can use sour cream or media crema or crème fraiche if you’re feeling fancy. Totopos can be fried in oil or Manteca, baked, toasted in a Comal, or sundried. 

Homemade totopos are lighter, crispier and have a fresher more authentic corn taste. You can make them easily in under 15 minutes and it’s well worth the effort. Start with stale corn tortillas to get the best results. You might be wondering why stale tortillas. Well, stale tortillas make better totopos. And as a plus, you will be avoiding food waste! The more moisture the tortillas have the denser the finished chips. If your tortillas are really fresh and still moist and pliable, spread them out on the counter for a few hours until they dry out. Tortillas from the tortillería make better totopos than the prepackaged corn tortillas you find on the grocery store shelves, but packaged still works. 

Totopos: 

Ingredients: 

Tortillas (for chilaquiles I count about two per person)

1 to 2 cups of vegetable oil (depends on how wide your pan is, but you need at least ¼ inch of oil in there.) 

Procedure: 

Cut each tortilla into eight pieces, like you would slice a cake to end up with triangles. Shake them to separate.

You will prepare the chips in batches. Place 1 layer of tortilla pieces in the hot oil and cook until they are just turning golden brown.

Remove as soon as they turn golden. Otherwise, they will burn which happens very quickly. Continue frying batches until you have cooked all of the tortilla pieces.

Place the tortilla chips in a deep bowl lined with paper towels to remove the excess oil.

For chilaquiles, I don’t salt my totopos but it’s really up to you. If you’re making totopos for guac, I would recommend tossing them with lemon pepper seasoning. Trust me. 

Now, if you would like a different technique with a “healthier” option, you can place a layer of tortilla triangles on a hot Comal and keep turning them until crispy, or place them in a baking sheet (again, only one layer) and bake until crispy. Depending on your oven, I would say high heat for a short time. Keep an eye on them and flip them once. 

Creamy chipotle salsa (my most recent favorite): 

Ingredients: 

5 fully ripe tomatoes

2 cups of chicken broth 

½ white onion

1 ½ cloves of garlic 

1 small can of chipotles

¼ l of sour cream 

1 teaspoon of oregano 

Salt and pepper to taste 

Toppings to your liking 

Procedure: 

In a pot, turn the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic until soft. Do not add oil. 

Cut the tomatoes in fours and add them to the pot as well, stir constantly and when the tomatoes start to let their juices out, cover the pot.

Once everything is nice and soft, add the salt and pepper, followed by the chicken broth.

Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. 

In a blender, add the tomato mixture, the sour cream and as many chipotles as you like. Blend until smooth. 

In the same pot, add just enough oil to cover the bottom and strain the salsa in there to fry it and heighten the flavors. Cook until a gentle boil. 

From here, it’s really up to your liking. For example, I like my chilaquiles quite crispy but completely covered so I place the totopos in a bowl, add salsa on top and mix. Some people like them softer, so you can add them to the pot and when they have reached your goal texture, you scoop them out. Some other people like to place the totopos on the plate and bathe them in salsa. 

Then you can fry an egg or add some shredded chicken or sliced steak, but I’d rather have mine plain. 

This recipe I like to top with a little crema fresca, crumbled queso cotija, onion and avocado, refried beans on the side and devour.

gringowp

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