A traditional Mexican dish, chilaquiles are typically served at breakfast or brunch. Regional, family and individual variations are common but it most often consists of fresh corn tortillas topped with green or red salsa and topped with cheese, onion, avocado slices and sometimes, proteins like pulled chicken or a fried egg.
The word chilaquiles comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language historically spoken in Central Mexico. But the dish itself is one of those ubiquitous meals that appears with slight variations in many Central American cultures. First noted in American language cookbooks in the 1800s, it has long since been adopted as a staple of Mexican cuisine in the US and Canada.
What’s unique about chilaquiles?
Although this dish almost always contains lightly fried and quartered tortillas that serve as a base, toppings can vary widely. This makes chilaquiles popular as a vehicle for leftover bits and pieces around the kitchen and pantry. The ingredients are often kept separate until just before serving, then assembled.
For the most authentic expression of this traditional Mexican dish, it’s best to consult a cook with Latin roots. Mexican blogger Charbel has posted her version of chilaquiles verde on My Latina Table.
In her recipe a fried egg tops the chilaquiles, and this is common, especially when it’s served as breakfast. But just as often it is served without the egg.
To keep the tortillas crisp, the sauce or mole is added at the last minute before serving.
Besides regional differences, chilaquiles are served with two main sauces – verde or green, and red, or salsa roja. Toppings can also vary from queso fresco (fresh cheese) and crema to pulled chicken or beef and avocado.
The Mexican provinces of Sinaloa and Jalisco have famous versions that differ in texture (longer cooking times lead to thicker sauce in the Jaliscan city of Guadalajara, for example) and the use of a white sauce.
In fine dining restaurants such as New York City’s Atla, gourmet versions may involve deconstructed ingredients or substitutions such as chorizo. But chilequiles is traditionally a casual food for everyday people – so of course there are downscale versions that feature tortilla chips rather than fresh baked tortillas.