This is the most glamorous thing to do with the half-bag of stale tortilla chips languishing at the bottom of your snack drawer. (Come clean: it's there.) Instead of throwing them away -- or, as I do, letting them sit there getting even more stale until not even the greatest of hunger pangs can motivate you to open the bag, and then throwing them away -- you can dunk them into a vat of good ranchera sauce, pile on some toppings, and call it breakfast. Yes, I'm telling you to eat tortilla chips for breakfast. I'm sorry, do you need more convincing?
Somehow, in a feat of magic and wonder, you can soak a tortilla chip in sauce, and it stays just crunchy enough to make for a delightful meal. If you put a bit of queso fresco and some scallions on top, it even starts to look healthy. I admit, it's confusing. In a very good way.
Yet another recipe from Roberto Santibanez's excellent book, these chilaquiles remind me of the ones that we had a few summers ago in Santa Fe. If I were feeling ambitious, I'd make both the red and the green sauce in his book, and serve the chilaquiles "divorciados" (half red, half green). But on a lazy Saturday, that kind of potchkeing isn't in the cards. I've got half a bag of semi-fresh homemade tortilla chips from Luna's Tortillas, which I visited on last week's business trip to Dallas. I have a jar of ranchera sauce in the fridge, as well as a bit of fresh feta cheese and heavy cream (two very fine substitutes for queso fresco and crema). No cilantro, but I've got scallions from my CSA. Five minutes later, I have chilaquiles, a happy stomach, and a bebe who, from the strength of its kicking, seems to enjoy breakfast as much as I did.
Chilaquiles Adapted lightly from Roberto Santibanez's Truly Mexican Serves 2
1 recipe ranchera sauce (see below) 1/4 teaspoon dried epazote or 1 sprig fresh epazote, optional 60 tortilla chips, about half a large bag 1/4 cup queso fresco or crumbled feta cheese 2 tablespoons crema or heavy cream (or substitute sour cream or yogurt thinned with a bit of water) 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or diced scallions
Add the ranchera sauce, the epazote, and 1/2 a cup of water to a deep saute pan and set over medium heat. When sauce is simmering, remove epazote sprig (if using).
Set out two shallow bowls along with the correct portions of the other ingredients; once the chips go in, you want to be able to serve the chilaquiles as quickly as possible, before they go limp.
Add the chips to the sauce, stir gently to coat each chip with the sauce, and let steep until chips have softened but are still crunchy at the core, 1-2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer a heap of chips and sauce into each bowl, and top with crema, queso/cheese, and scallions/cilantro. Serve immediately.
Ranchera Sauce Adapted lightly from Roberto Santibanez's book Truly Mexican Makes a little more than 1 pint
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 4 medium-large)
1 fresh serrano or jalapeno chile, coarsely chopped, including seeds
1 large garlic clove, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons mild olive oil
2/3 cup diced white onion
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 (1-inch) piece canela (Mexican cinnamon) or regular cinnamon, or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Set the oven or toaster oven to broil and preheat. Alternatively, you can preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. If you’re using the broiler, position the rack 8 inches from the heat source.
Core tomatoes and cut a small "X" through the skin on the opposite end of the core. This will make it easier to slip off the skin. Roast the tomatoes (Santibanez recommends cored sides up but I did the opposite) on a foil-lined baking pan until their tops have blackened and the tomatoes are cooked all the way through, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside for 5-10 minutes to cool. Then slip off the skins.
Put the tomatoes, chile, and garlic in the blender jar, and blend until smooth. Alternatively, transfer them to a large bowl and use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. Either way, be careful when you’re blending hot ingredients: if using a blender, cover the top with a kitchen towel, hold the top firmly in place with your hand, and start blending using short pulses before going on full speed, to avoid an explosion.
Heat the oil in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato mixture, and bring to a boil. As the tomato mixture is cooking, swish 1/4 cup of water around in the blender jar and add it to the pan. If you used a bowl and immersion blender, you can do the same, and use a spatula to scrape the bits of sauce from the bowl into the pan. Reduce the heat, stir in the sugar, salt, and cinnamon, and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened slightly, about 20 minutes.
The sauce will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator; Santibanez says it keeps in the freezer for one month, but I think that estimate is conservative.