Chilaquiles verdes is a delicious combination of crisp tortilla chips coated in salsa verde, making a quick, comforting dish that's traditionally breakfast, but great any time. Keep it simple or dress it up with lots of toppings - easy and tasty either way.
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For much of my childhood and early adulthood, I wasn't much of a breakfast person. A banana or slice of toast was about as far as I went. Various points have changed my perspective, and living in Mexico for a few weeks was definitely one of them.
Not that I hadn't had good breakfasts before, of course. We did sometimes have a full Scottish breakfast at the weekend growing up, which I enjoyed. But I wouldn't really make an effort to make anything more complicated myself.
One thing I loved about some Mexican breakfasts like molletes and huevos rancheros that I enjoyed during my time there was how simple and easy they are. And chilaquiles is another that checks all the boxes of ease and tastiness.
What are the origins of chilaquiles?
Despite it being a popular dish in Tex-Mex restaurants in the US, this dish actually has much older origins. "Chilaquiles" is a Nahuatl word, the language used by the Aztecs and Toltec civilizations in Mexico and still spoken by over 1.5m people today.
The name "chilaquiles" means "chile water" and in many ways this is the essence of the dish. It uses chile (or chili as it is often spelt) spiked salsa to repurpose corn tortillas. It's a creative way to use leftovers for breakfast that has been enjoyed for centuries.
Chilaquiles comes in two main forms - "rojas" (red) and "verdes" (green). The red version uses a tomato-based salsa, while green uses tomatillo-based salsa verde. Both are delicious, and can use bought or homemade salsa, as you have.
Some describe chilaquiles as soggy nachos, but really it's so much better than that description. It's comforting, flavorful in every bite and arguably more versatile in when you enjoy it.
Flour or corn tortilla chips?
Typically, you use corn rather than flour tortilla chips for this. They tend to have more flavor and hold up to the salsa that bit better, too.
You are looking for the chips to become gently softened with the salsa verde, but still with a little crisp bite.
Top tip: make your own chips
If at all possible, you really want to make your own from corn tortillas as bought chips don't stay as crisp, and are often highly seasoned.
The traditional way to make chips is by frying pieces of tortilla in oil, but you can also make them in the oven to reduce oil, if you prefer. You will still need to drizzle the tortilla pieces with some oil, then bake a few minutes at medium-high heat (around 400F/200C) until crisp.
You can make the chips right before making the dish, or make them ahead and store at room temperate. They are slightly better fresh, but really as suits best. Just make sure you drain any excess oil off before using or storing.
The combination of salsa and chips is tasty as it is, but this dish also works well with toppings, which can be as simple or numerous as you like. Common additions include:
- Cotija cheese
- Crema (Mexican sour cream)
- Thin slices of red onion - fresh or pickled
- Fried egg
- Refried beans (or refried black beans)
- Slices of avocado
- Slices of radish
- Fresh cilantro
There are no doubt more, such as you could add some meat to make even heartier, but this gives a great base to start from and a few or all will be delicious on top.
While the main thing that takes a little work here is the chips, after that there are two other things to have in mind as you make the dish itself.
Firstly, get all of your toppings ready ahead of time. You really want to enjoy this dish relatively quickly both to be warm but also to have that best balance of softened and gently crisp chips.
The second thing is warm some oil and warm the salsa before you add the chips. The salsa should be bubbling before the chips go in and even better, reduced down a little if it is thin-looking. Then it's a quick mix to coat the chips, top and serve.
I like to make this in individual skillets to serve right in the pan, but you can also transfer to a bowl or plate and then add toppings there.
However much you add toppings, or not, chilaquiles verdes is a great combination of flavors and textures that's both flavorful and comforting, filling but not too heavy. It's a great use of leftovers that's also special in itself. Perfect to convert breakfast-skeptics as I was or any excuse you need.
Try these other easy breakfast and brunch ideas:
- Turkish eggs, çilbir (a flavorful mix of garlicy yogurt, poached egg and chili butter)
- Flamenco eggs, huevos a la flamenca (eggs baked with chorizo, peas and ham - simple and delicious)
- Chickpea fatteh (a tasty combination of pita chips, yogurt sauce, chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and herbs)
- Plus get more breakfast recipes and Mexican recipes in the archives.
- 3 corn tortillas medium sized, or more of smaller
- vegetable oil for frying
- ½ cup salsa verde homemade or bought, recommend mild, or a little less if you prefer
Toppings (choose as you prefer)
- 1 egg
- ⅛ red onion approx
- ¼ avocado
- ½ tablespoon chopped cilantro coriander, approx
- ½ tablespoon cotija cheese approx
- Cut the tortillas into eighths (or sixths if using smaller tortillas). Warm a thin layer of oil in a small skillet/frying pan and fry the tortilla pieces in batches so there is a little space between them, a minute or two on each side, until crisp. Add additional oil as you go, as needed.
- Once crisp, gently let excess oil drip off as you remove the chips from the skillet and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with additional tortilla pieces. You can make the homemade chips a bit ahead of time, though they are probably at their best when relatively fresh.
- Prepare what you need to for the toppings so they are ready - fry egg if using, slice avocado and onion, and chop cilantro. Set aside.
- Warm a small amount of oil in a skillet (can be the same one as for chips/egg if doing all at once). Add the salsa verde and warm a minute until simmering. If it seems thin, cook a little longer to thicken.
- Add the chips to the salsa and toss gently with tongs to coat the chips in the sauce. Remove from heat then add your toppings, either in the skillet and serve from there, or transfer chilaquiles to a plate/bowl first.
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