Falsetti: Stir up some chilaquiles — no, it’s not nachos

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Chilaquiles (chee-lah-KEE-lays) is a traditional dish eaten throughout Mexico. In its most basic form, it is fried tortilla chips with red or green sauce. It is often served with a fried egg and beans on the side.

Usually eaten for breakfast or brunch, chilaquiles is also known as a legendary hangover cure. I think its renown is more cultural than scientific, as it is a standby served in the early hours of the morning after a long night of partying.

If the dish sounds a lot like nachos, the resemblance is only superficial. The tortilla chips, or totopos, are always freshly fried and never from a package. Rather than being topped with the sauce, the chips are briefly submerged so that they are completely covered but still retain a bit of a crunch. Chilaquiles is a meal eaten with a fork rather than fingers.

A dish with humble origins, chilaquiles has achieved popularity thanks to its versatility. Think of it as a base that can be garnished to your taste. Popular toppings include cheese, onions, chicken or cream. Shredded turkey would also work well.

Below is a recipe for chilaquiles with green sauce. One unfamiliar ingredient might be tomatillos, sometimes known as green tomatoes. Although a member of the nightshade family, they are not the same as unripe tomatoes. Tomatillos are covered with a thin husk, which is removed before cooking. Fresh tomatillos are available in the produce section of the supermarket.

Chilaquiles Verdes

12 stale tortillas (let them sit out for a few hours)

2 pounds tomatillos

Vegetable oil for frying

1-3 jalapeños (depending on how much heat you like)

2 poblano chiles

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

Handful of cilantro

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup stock or water

For topping: queso fresco, cream, sliced scallions, leftover meat

Bring a medium-size pot of water to boil. Add the jalapeños and boil for 5 minutes, then add the tomatillos. When the tomatillos begin to turn color, turn off the heat and let the them finish cooking in the hot water. With a slotted spoon, remove the jalapeños and tomatillos and let them cool completely. This step will prevent the sauce from being bitter.

While waiting for the tomatillos to cool, prepare the tortillas. Cut each tortilla into 8 triangles. Place about 1/2 inch oil in a frying pan. When hot, cook the tortillas in batches until crisp. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.

Using tongs, hold the poblanos over a flame and char them on all sides. If you don’t have a gas stove, this step can be done under a broiler. Place the charred poblanos in a bag for 10 minutes. Peel the skin from the chiles, cut them in half and remove the seeds with a spoon. Don’t use water to peel or clean them, as this washes away the smoked flavor.

Place the tomatillos, jalapeños, poblanos and cilantro in the blender.

In a medium-size pot, add 2 tablespoons oil. When hot, add the garlic cloves. Cook for a few minutes until they begin to get a golden color. Add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Using a spatula, remove from the pan and add to the other ingredients in the blender. Add 1/2 cup water and blend until smooth.

Using the same pot in which you cooked the onions, add the sauce from the blender. Add 1 teaspoon salt or to taste. Cook for 20 minutes on a medium-low flame. Add 1/2 cup water or stock and cook for 10 minutes more.

To serve, drop a handful of tortilla chips in the sauce and stir lightly so that the chips remain crisp. With a large serving spoon, place the chips and sauce on a plate. Add the toppings of your choice.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.