“Chilaquiles, chilaquiles,” 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 chilaquiles for 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.
I thought about this story as St. Patrick’s Day is coming up soon. Do you know about the Mexican-Irish connection? This 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 (Chieftains ft. Ry Cooder, 2010), and film (One Man’s Hero, 1999).
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. I made these for my family this morning with eggs from a new friend’s backyard chickens. Is there any better way to express friendship than through food? I don’t think so.
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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
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.
Salsa verde (makes 1 quart)
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
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 Chef Iliana de la Vega, Restaurante el Naranjo, formerly Oaxaca, MX, now in Austin, TX.
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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.
If you want have fun, share stories and share food, come cook with me in the Thrive Kitchen at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco! I’m looking forward to next week’s sold out class on greens, and hope you’ll be able to join me next month for Spring Vegetables, 4/18. Registering now: SFHealthEd@kp.org or 415-833-3450, $30 KP members, $40 non-members. Hope to see you there! And please join my healthy cooking community on Facebook, www.Facebook.com/TheDoctorsSpicebox.