Chilaquiles Verdes and the Mexican-Irish Connection

Continuing this week’s theme of Mexican recipes, here is a recipe for chilaquiles verdes and an interesting bit of Mexican history.

Over on Salon.com, food writer Francis Lam, formerly of Gourmet, hosts a weekly food writing and recipe challenge, the Salon Kitchen Challenge. Francis announces a theme as broad as “a meal for someone you love” or as narrow as “egg salad,” and entrants are asked to write a story and a recipe fitting within the theme.  The winner is published in the Food section of Salon. This was my entry for St. Patrick’s Day.

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chilaquiles verdes by Linda Shiue

Chilaquileschilaquiles,” the high-pitched voice said in a loud whisper.  “Don’t you want some chilaquiles for your breakfast?”

The promise of this special Mexican breakfast was a seduction more powerful than our reason could withstand.  After the man had proffered the chilaquilesfor a few minutes, we agreed to follow him.  To a timeshare presentation.  The playa could wait, right?

Forewarned about the aggressive marketing for timeshares on our first trip as a family to Mexico, we thought we had a firm resolve to just say no, to everything.  Free day for a rental car? No, gracias.  Fishing trip? No, gracias.  We even passed on the jungle-top zip line tour.  But they found our weakness, and she was named chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles, for those of you who have not yet succumbed, are a Mexican breakfast dish of corn tortilla chips cooked in salsa and topped with cheese, onions, and  cilantro.  Kind of a stew-like version of nachos, but better than that sounds.  They can be made with either red or green salsas, but our favorite is the green, chilaquiles verdes.

salsa verde by Linda Shiue

Chilaquiles verdes are a wonderful Mexican representative to this week’s Salon Kitchen Challenge of green food, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.   They’re also considered a hangover cure, in case someone’s had too much green beer.

The Mexican-Irish connection goes deeper than the shared color of salsa and St. Patrick’s Day beer.  Before we eat, here’s a little history lesson.  During the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848, the result of which we have to thank for the existence of California and Texas, there was a battalion of the Mexican Army called the Batalón de San Patricio, Spanish for  St. Patrick’s Batallion.  It was so named because it contained a fair number of Irish immigrants to the United States, who had fled the potato famine.  Depending on whose side you were on during the Mexican-American war, the San Patricio brigade were either heroes (assisting fellow Catholics) or traitors (against the US).  Their legend still lives on in parts of Mexico.  The Batalón de San Patricio is memorialized on September 12th, the anniversary of the executions of those convicted by the U.S. Army for desertion, and March 17th, Saint Patrick’s Day.

The San Patricios  and their story have been memorialized in books, music, and film (One Man’s Hero, 1999).  The Chieftains and Ry Cooder have just released a new album this month, San Patricio, which you can preview here.  The combination of Mexican and Irish sounds works amazingly well together.

In recognition of this historical connection, here is my green hangover cure for the day after St. Patrick’s (or San Patricio’s) Day.   This dish is “green” in another sense, too– being environmentally conscious.  Don’t waste your food– this dish uses leftover tortillas, fried into chips, whatever salsa you have lying around, and optionally leftover chicken, turkey, or some eggs.  nothing fancy or special, but especially delicious.  ¡Buen provecho!

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Chilaquiles Verdes

Serves 4.

Ingredients

1 quart of salsa verde/tomatillo salsa (prepare using recipe below, or use store-bought)

1 large bag of corn tortilla chips, preferably thick and unsalted (store-bought, or fry your own from leftover corn tortillas )

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese

2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco ( mild feta cheese may be substituted)

3 tablespoons finely chopped white onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

Crema fresca or sour cream for garnish

Optional: leftover cooked chicken or turkey breast, shredded, or fried eggs

Technique

1.  Place a wide pot or pan over medium-high heat and coat with corn oil. When the oil is hazy, pour in the salsa verde; it will bubble a bit. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

2.  Raise the heat to medium. When the salsa starts to bubble, stir in the beaten eggs. Cook and stir for about 5 seconds, until the egg feathers into the sauce, thickening and binding it.

3.  Immediately add the chips into the salsa, tossing gently until they have absorbed enough sauce to become soft. Take care not to break the chips. Sprinkle the Jack cheese on top and let it melt.

4.  Divide the chilaquiles among 4 plates.

5.  Top with shredded chicken or turkey, or fried eggs, if using.

6.  Sprinkle with the queso fresco, chopped onion, and cilantro. Garnish with the crema fresca and serve immediately.

tomatillos by Linda Shiue

Salsa verde (makes 1 quart)

Ingredients

1 jalapeno, stem removed (more to taste)

10 tomatillos, husked

2-3 garlic cloves

1 small onion, sliced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

salt to taste

Technique

1. place all ingredients except cilantro and salt in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil.

2. Boil for about 5-10 minutes, until tomatillos yield to a fork.

3.  Drain off the liquid, transfer the cooked vegetables to a blender, and blend for 30 seconds to a minute, until coarsely blended.

4.  Add cilantro and salt to taste, and blend again for a few seconds.

Chilaquiles recipe adapted from a recipe by Joanne Cianciulli on Epicurious.com, August 2009.

Salsa verde recipe adapted from my cooking class with Iliana de la Vega, at the former Restaurante el Naranjo, Oaxaca, MX.

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“Was it Gold.  Was it God.  Was it Glory… Were the dark eyed señoritas an impossible comfort to imagine.  With land and liberty at stake, did the common Mexican not seem so different from themselves… If the Mexicans were there, there must have been music.  I know for myself, if the Irish were there, there would most certainly have been music.  And in the music there is always another history, another way of remembering the past, an older remembrance concerned less with battles and imagined borders and more with the ageless themes of love, loss and dreams of what might be.”

-Paddy Moloney, the Chieftains, from the San Patricio CD.

© 2010 Linda Shiue

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One response

  1. Pingback: A Food Lover’s Spring Break in Cancun | spicebox travels

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