Chilaquiles (Tortilla Chips in Green Salsa)

>> Friday, July 27, 2012

Chilaquiles (Tortilla Chips in Green Salsa)

Chilaquiles, pronounced chee-lah-kee-lays, are a popular breakfast or brunch food in Mexico. The basic dish is simple, quick, and consists of tortilla chips sauteed in a herb and chile broth. The recipe varies with the cook's imagination, but here is a basic recipe that uses the green tomatillo sauce I wrote about earlier this week.

I made the salsa on one of the short breaks in weather, when the thermometer dipped below 100 degrees in Chicago. It's been too hot to spend much time over the stove! But on a recent lovely night, I whipped up some chilaquiles, Joe set the table on the balcony and opened a crisp white wine, and we feasted under the stars. A simple dinner is sometimes the most elegant.

I'm going to plug some of my favorite Mexican brands as I walk you through this recipe.

Heat 1 pint of  salsa verde in a large skillet until simmering.

Stir in 6 cups of tortilla chips and stir until covered and slightly softened. We love El Rancho brand; the thick chips hold up well in the chile broth. You can fry tortilla chips from scratch, if you like, using fresh tortillas that have air-dried for a few hours.

El Ranchero tortilla chips

Remove to a platter. Top with sour cream, white onion slices, cilantro, and queso fresco, a mild, crumbly farmer cheese. Fud is a good one, but I don't know if it's pronounced like Elmer Fudd or if it is 'Food'. Queso Fresco is so good I break off chunks and eat it while I'm cooking...or in the middle of the night.

Fud queso fresco

I recommend dining al fresco while watching the sun set. In fact, I recommend that no matter what you're eating.But if you're making chilaquiles for breakfast, do yourself a solid and put a couple of poached eggs on top. Delicious for brunch.

Chilaquiles with poached eggs

Serves 3-4.


Salsa Verde (Green Tomatillo Salsa)

>> Monday, July 23, 2012

There's a wonderful Latino store in a neighboring town that caters to a diverse population of Asians, Latinos, Caribbean Islanders, Eastern Europeans, and Africans. The produce is fresh, cheap, and so diverse I'm constantly smelling and touching and wondering what people make with these things: four different kinds of bananas, bitter melons, foot-long beans, sixteen different kinds of peppers.

Fresh tomatillos
Tomatillos with husks on
One item that might be unfamiliar to the average American is the tomatillo. It looks like a small green tomato in a sticky, papery leaf. These cook into a tangy salsa that I like even better than tomato salsas. I've made this salsa fairly mild because I'm a wimp with spicy food, but you can make it as hot or mild as you like. I used lemon thyme instead of regular thyme, but if you don't have it, regular thyme works.

This salsa is often used to make a breakfast/brunch dish called Chilaquiles (Chee-lah-kee-lays). I'll post that recipe next!

Salsa Verde

(Salsa Vair-day)


4 lbs. tomatillos, husked and washed
8 medium jalapeno chiles (remove the seeds if you want to reduce some of the heat)
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
12 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups white onions, chopped
3 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 2 fresh limes
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp canola oil


Cut tomatillos in half, place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tomatillos begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and chiles and cook another 10 minutes.

Using a strainer or slotted spoon, remove the tomatillos, garlic, and chiles to a blender or food processor; reserve liquid. Add herbs, onion and 1 cup of the reserved liquid, blend until partially smooth but still has some chunks.

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add salsa, 1/2 cup more of the reserved liquid, and salt. Simmer over low heat until it thickens - approximately 10-15 minutes.

Makes approximately 4 - 5 half pints.

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
You can find other canning and preserving recipes in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Vegetable Salad)

>> Thursday, July 12, 2012

During the Vietnam war, my wonderful stepdad Paul was a peace volunteer working in agriculture in Vietnam. He has had a love for Vietnamese food since then, which he has passed down to my four half-Vietnamese step-siblings and my mom, who is always willing to try something new. He has kept most of his Asian recipes a secret up until now, but I hope to wheedle them out of him to share with all of you.

Vietnamese pickled vegetables
Do Chua is a daikon radish slaw 

We'll start with Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Vegetable Salad). Mom gave us a mint plant out of her garden a few weeks ago, and we were looking for new ways to use fresh mint leaves. I plan to take a jar of this pickle back to them when I visit next month.

This recipe is a sort of Vietnamese version of Giardiniera; this ubiquitous condiment is found at table in Vietnamese restaurants and homes. The daikon radish, mint leaves, and hot pepper make an unusual and delicious contrast to salads, sandwiches, or alongside meat dishes.

I needed to get back into serious cooking last weekend. The Chicago Area has broken heatwave records for the past week, and Saturday was the first day below 90 degrees in I don't even know how long. Windows opened, fan on, it was perfect to start canning again, since my canning mojo is in full swing this summer.

Note: I hadn't used fresh daikon until I made this salad, and I was surprised that it smells somewhat like mild mushrooms, and isn't as pungent as an ordinary red radish. If you can't find daikon, I would recommend replacing it with jicama. It's not exactly the same, but still delicious!


Sa Lach Dia (Vietnamese Pickled Vegetable Salad)

Viet daikon radish slaw
Daikon, carrot, cucumber


2 carrots, peeled
1 large daikon (white radish), peeled
8 oz fresh bean sprouts
1 cucumber, peeled
1 small red chile (Szechuan, birds eye, or red Cayenne)
1/4 cup sea salt
1 cup water
1 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp superfine sugar
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped

Cut cucumber, daikon, and carrots into matchstick slices. Put vegetables into a glass bowl and sprinkle with the salt and water. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Drain vegetables. Finely chop red pepper, being careful not to get the volatile oils on skin or eyes (these are STRONG peppers!). Toss peppers with vegetables, then tightly pack into sterile glass jars.

Mix together remaining ingredients and pour over vegetables, tapping the jars to release air bubbles. Allow 1/4" head space at the top of the jars. Wipe the rims with a clean wet cloth and screw on lids. Let marinate for a couple of days before using. This will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

If you plan to can these for later use, process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before tightening lids and storing.

Makes approximately 3 pints.
The Complete Guide to Food Preservation

You can find other canning and preserving recipes in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Plátanos Maduros (Sweet Fried Plantains)

>> Sunday, July 8, 2012

My first mother-in-law was a Mexican immigrant. After I married her son, we moved into Mama Nona's house to save money to buy our own house.

I was twenty years old, and I’d lived on a farm in Michigan for most of my life. Growing up, the only Latinos I’d ever seen were the migrant workers who whistled at us from the back of a flatbed truck when they rode down our dirt road. When I moved into Mama Nona’s home in Waukegan Illinois, I was totally immersed in Mexican culture.

Mama Nona was born in Mexico in the 1920s. For the last thirty years she had lived in a rotting old house at the edge of a ravine that gangsters called “Death Valley”. Ray was the only one of her twelve children who was born in the United States.

Because Ray was the youngest, I was closest to his high school-age nieces and nephews. Work was strictly regulated between men and women, and Ramona, Maribel, Rosie, and Marijenia  squeezed into Mama Nona's steaming kitchen to cook with their mothers. One of the first recipes I learned was plátanos maduros, Ray's favorite dessert dish or side dish. Even though women were supposed to do all the cooking, Ray and I competed to see who could make the best plate of fried plantains.

At a party last weekend, a friend was reminiscing about the wonderful mofongo he ate in Puerto Rico. Mofongo is a dish made with unripe plaintains and has a consistency and use similar to mashed potatoes. Talking about mofongo led me to a craving for plátanos maduros (which are made throughout the Caribbean and Latin America), so I made them for breakfast one day this week. They were as good as I remembered.

If you don't have cholesterol problems, I would highly recommend using Latino crema instead of sour cream. Crema has the consistency of yogurt and is much less sour and much more creamy. It's amazing stuff but probably not as good for you.

Plátanos Maduros


 4 large ripe plantains (skins should be mostly black mottled with dark yellow; fruit should be slightly soft)
1/2 cup Canola or Corn oil
1 cup crema or sour cream at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)


Peel the plantains. I find it easiest to cut a line in the tough skin from top to bottom, and peel from there; plantains don't peel as easily as bananas. Cut the plantains into 1/2" slices.

Heat a frying pan on medium heat and then add oil. When the oil is hot, fry the plantain slices on each side until golden brown and tender, turning as needed. Don't crowd the plantains in the pan; cook in batches if they all don't fit. Drain the slices on paper towels.

Place plantains on a warmed plate and drizzle with crema or sour cream. Sprinkle with sugar (and cinnamon, if desired). Serve immediately. A lot of Latinos like it as a side dish without crema or sugar, just a squirt of lime or a bit of salt. I'm going to try drizzling them with honey next time.

Serves 2-4.

Mama Nona in Mexico, 1940s
You can read more about my experiences living in a Mexican household in Scenes from a Mexican Kitchen and Life and Times of a Little Gringa.

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