A giant thank you to those who voted for me in Round 1 of Project Food Blog. Whether you voted because you liked the post or just felt bad that I was a horribly nerdy-looking child with pink flying-saucer glasses, know that I am forever indebted to you. I will never ask you for anything again. Oh, except your vote for Round 2. In Round 2, contestants are required to make a classic dish from another culture. You can vote for me by clicking "Vote For This Entry" on this page
My friend Betulia's dad told me I am his hero for making chilaquiles on national television. That coming from a man who came from Mexico with nothing in his pockets and built a life for his family in the U.S. He ensured his children got a good education and became self-sufficient, contributing members of society. The last time I saw B's dad, he was wearing a baseball cap at a fourth of July BBQ, and ribbing his kids about when they were going to make him a grandfather. I was comforted to know the quest for grand-parenthood transcends ethnicities. He looked relaxed and content. He had clearly succeeded. If anyone's the hero, it's him. In talking chilaquiles, he said they have been a source of consistency throughout his life. His grandmother made them when he was younger, he made them when he was a bachelor, and his wife makes them on the rare occasion that he successfully convinces her that the doctor is wrong about his cholesterol. I tried to remind him that my version of chilaquiles got me kicked off of MasterChef but he didn't care. He was just glad I chose to honor the dish he grew up eating.
Chilaquiles, derived from the word for "broken-up, old sombrero," are popular all the way from the U.S. border, through to Mexico, and down to Guatemala because they're a good way to use stale tortillas. Regional variations abound. In Sinaloa, Mexico, they are topped with a white sauce and in cosmopolitan Mexico City, they are served with a deep, roasted red salsa. And in late summer (like now!), when the tomatillos are ripe for the picking, chilaquiles verde is the dish of choice.
I couldn't help but think about B's dad and what his favorite dish meant months later when I found myself standing on the side of the road, eating a plate of steaming hot chilaquiles, served on a flimsy paper plate and prepared by a woman oddly reminiscent of my grandmother (if my grandmother barked orders in Spanish and ran a shiny food truck with a ruthless efficiency that would put the Soup Nazi to shame). It's a strangely communal experience standing with mothers pushing strollers, construction workers in hard hats, and businessmen with briefcases, eating a dish that is unpretentious, uncomplicated, and down right delicious.
That's when I realized there's something special about this humble Mexican dish of leftover tortillas, eggs, and salsa. At first glance, it seems rather simple. Fried tortillas soaked in salsa, topped with eggs, salsa, cheese and sour cream. In times of plenty, it's served with poached, shredded chicken. In times of naught, the chicken is replaced by refried beans. But either way, it's a dish designed to bring a family to the table so they can eat a warm, nutritious meal together even when times are tough. And that's where I went wrong on MasterChef. I took the quintessential, Mexican comfort food and crazily tried to make it sophisticated.
So this time, I decided to make chilaquiles verde like the Mexican classic they are. Corn tortillas, creamy scrambled eggs, homemade tomatillo salsa, and homemade Mexican crema. While frying the tortilla wedges into crunchy chips, I recognized that although the components on their own are not particularly spectacular, something about combining them in one dish is uber-spectacular. And then I had to fry another batch of chips because well, I ate the first batch with salsa verde during my period of introspection. The true magic of the dish hit me once I finally managed to stop eating the chips and salsa and actually plate the dish. The tortillas absorb the bright flavors of the salsa while retaining the right amount of crunch, the scrambled eggs provide a creamy contrast, and the crema cools an otherwise caliente dish.
Sunday morning, the hubster and I sat down to a brunch of classic, Mexican comfort food. And I knew B's dad was proud.
|B's dad, ready for his chilaquiles!|
Three corn tortillas, cut in wedges
Oil for frying
Salt & Pepper
Heat oil and fry tortilla wedges until golden. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Heat salsa in a skillet and add tortilla wedges. While tortillas are softening, heat oil in another pan and scramble eggs. Remove tortillas from heat once they are soaked with salsa but still retain some crunch. Top with scrambled eggs, more salsa, crema and cilantro.
1 pound tomatillos, husked
1 onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
chicken stock or water
salt, to taste
Boil tomatillos in salted water until tender. Add to blender.
Heat oil and brown onions. Add remaining ingredients once onion is soft. Cook for one minute.
Add to blender. Puree with chicken stock or water until desired consistency. Add pureed sauce back to pan and cook for five minutes.