Sunday, April 22, 2012

A mutt of a dish

Last week my friends Willy and Clemmy came over for an impromptu weeknight dinner. In deciding what to make, I established two things: one, that I hadn't cooked anything Mexican in a while, so that'd be the direction I'd take, and two, that I wanted to spend as little money as possible. A look in the fridge revealed a dire lack of produce, but in the freezer I found a stack of corn tortillas, as well as a small container of chipotles en adobo. Those items would help things along. As I've mentioned many a time on the blog, my eating habits have changed a bit over the past few years, as I've become more interested in local, organic food: notably, I've been eating a lot less meat, and when it comes to cooking at home, I almost always prepare vegetarian dishes. When you have access to beautiful, fresh produce, it's easy to make a meal that's so flavorful that it simply doesn't need meat. Cooking almost exclusively with vegetables also keeps those grocery bills down, something that—as a perpetual unpaid intern living in New York City—is always at the forefront of my mind. So once I settled on Mexican with tortillas and chipotles, I started to think of what kind of meatless dish I could make, and that's when it came to me: chilaquiles. I hadn't eaten them in a long, long time, so they sounded good, and though they wouldn't be super quick to prepare, it would be a relatively easy process.

I'm no expert on what comprises traditional chilaquiles, but the versions I've eaten in New York tend to be made with crisp-fried corn tortillas or tortilla chips, blanketed with green or red salsa, layered with shredded meat, and finished off with a generous amount of melted cheese. Sometimes the chips remain crisp; sometimes they're soggy. I like both ways. What I came up with was a riff on these dishes, by no means the same in preparation but pretty similar in terms of flavor. In the interest of cutting down on prep time as well as keeping the end result a lot healthier, I decided not to fry my tortillas, but rather to crisp them up in a warm oven, then crumble them into manageable pieces before layering them in a baking dish with some homemade red salsa, shredded Jack cheese, and a mix of vegetables: a sort of Mexican lasagna, if you will.

First things first: the salsa roja. I made a simple one by roasting together some tomatoes, jalapeños, and onions, then blending them up in the food processor, along with the liquid they lot off in cooking as well as some chipotles en adobo and red wine vinegar.


I settled on a combination of sweet potatoes, black beans and green onions as my filling. I roasted up the sweet potatoes in the oven as I cooked the tomato mixture; the beans were just rinsed canned beans (soaked and cooked dried beans would be even better, if you have those on hand). To build the "lasagna," I started with a layer of salsa in the bottom of a glass baking dish, then a layer of the broken-up tortillas, then a scattering of vegetables:

That got covered in some more salsa, then a generous amount of shredded cheese. Then I started over again: tortillas, salsa, veggies, and cheese, until I ran out of ingredients: I got 3 layers in there, with the top one being just tortillas and cheese. That all got baked in the oven, wrapped in a protective layer of foil, until things were nice and hot and bubbly, when I removed the foil to brown the cheese to a burnished finish:

After a brief rest to allow everything to settle, I cut that bad boy up into generous pieces. My friends and I ate them topped with sour cream, sliced avocados, chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime:

Mexican Chilaquiles with Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans
Serves 6 - 8

2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into large pieces
1 large onion, cut into quarters
2 jalapeños, stem removed, cut in half lengthwise
About 2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 tbsp. chipotles en adobo (both peppers and sauce)
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 package corn tortillas
1 large or two medium sweet potatoes, rinsed and cut into a small dice
2 15.5 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
3 - 4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 avocado, pitted and sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
Sour cream, for serving
Chopped cilantro, for serving


1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. Combine tomato, onion, and jalapeño in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 tbsp. vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat, then turn into an oven-safe dish. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and juicy and onions and peppers begin to brown.

3. Use the same large bowl to toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tbsp. oil and salt and pepper. Turn potatoes onto a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, or until soft and well-browned. Remove all vegetables from oven and lower heat to 250°.

4. In the bowl of a blender or food processor, blend roasted vegetables and their liquid until smooth. Add chipotle, vinegar and salt and blend again. Check for seasoning, adding more vinegar or salt as needed. Set salsa aside.

5. Spread tortillas out in a single layer over several large baking sheets (you'll need about 15 small tortillas total). Bake in oven until crisp and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Increase oven temperature to 350°.

6. Assemble the chilaquiles: in the bottom of a large glass lasagna pan, spread a thin layer of salsa. Break 5 tortillas into large pieces and distribute over salsa. Sprinkle half the sweet potatoes, half the black beans and half the green onions over tortillas. Pour half of remaining salsa over vegetables, then sprinkle with one third of the Jack cheese. Repeat with 5 more tortillas, rest of vegetables, rest of salsa, and one more third of cheese. Finish with a top layer of 5 more tortillas and the rest of the shredded cheese.

7. Spray a large rectangular piece of aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spread and cover baking dish tightly. Place dish in oven and bake until chilaquiles are hot and the cheese has melted, about 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top layer of cheese is nicely browned, about 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and let rest about 15 minutes before cutting into 6 - 8 pieces. Serve with sour cream, avocado, cilantro and lime.

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