This is a great big gloppy plate of comfort food, Mexican style: yet another recipe you can pull together, like stone soup or tacos, out of whatever’s lying around, as long as you start with crisp tortilla chunks under a chile-sauce blanket.
There really is no recipe for chilequiles. They’re a Mexican family staple that is said to originate among the Aztecs, their name in the Nauhatl language meaning “chiles and greens.” A more proper name for them would be “heavenly leftovers.”
Chilequiles are basically corn chips stewed in a rich salsa. Some people put minced serrano peppers in it, or pickled jalapeno slices. Some add meat or eggs. Most people top it with shredded cheese.
You can do this the hard way, which is what Mexican restaurants do with yesterday’s leftover corn tortillas, or you can do it the easy way, with a bag of restaurant-style corn chips, sometimes labeled Tradicional (the thick and greasy kind).
Serves two people. Scale up if you’re hungrier.
2 cups restaurant-style corn tortilla chips
OR the hard way:
6 soft corn tortillas
4 T olive oil
1 6-oz can Rotel
1 2-oz can chopped green chiles
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped and smashed
2 T more olive oil
Shredded leftover chicken or other meat chopped bite-size
*Chorizo (the soft kind in a tube)
Sliced avocado or guacamole
Canned refried pinto beans, nuked until warm
Whole fresh limes cut in quarters
The hard way: Put a stack of six small corn tortillas on a cutting board and cut through them all to make wedges – six pieces to the pie, or three cuts. Pour a few tablespoons of a strong flavored olive oil into a frying pan and heat it. I use Goya Spanish olive oil because it’s made from Manzanilla olives, very fruity and olivesque. Lay the corn chips in the oil in a single layer and fry them; turn them once; remove them to a plate. (NO, don’t blot them with a paper towel. What kind of wrongheaded health nut are you? And leave the rest of the oil in the pan! If you don’t like oily food, you shouldn’t be eating chilequiles.)
The easy way: open a bag of tortilla chips – leftovers are fine, since it doesn’t matter if they’ve lost any crispness – about two cups of coarsely crushed chips.
Pour the Rotel and green chiles into the pan. Add 1 clove fresh smashed garlic. This is where you also add jalapeño slices or minced Serrano peppers if you are butch. Add another couple of splashes of oil. No, really. Heat this brew to simmering point.
Drown the chips (either fresh-made by you, or store-bought because easy) in the simmering sauce and keep them immersed. Keep putting chips in and drowning them in sauce. You can smash them before drowning; they’re gonna get smashed in the mouth anyway. Add the last two cloves of smashed garlic. Cover and simmer the chips until they are mostly limp. Some people like them to have a little crunch in the middle, which takes some practice to accomplish, and who cares?
When the chips are about limp enough for you, add some shredded chicken, chopped avocado or guacamole, a tablespoon plop of warmed refried pinto beans, chopped fresh onion, a couple of fried eggs … get creative! Finally, sprinkle shredded cheese over it. (I like a strong-flavored cheddar.) Put the lid back on and let all that warm up and melt the cheese.
Serve with a plop of sour cream. Squeeze at least one quarter of a fresh lime over the top to offset all the grease. The sour cream is optional, but I feel the lime is essential. It wakes up your whole mouth.
If you want a lot of crunch, which is the regional preference in some parts of Mexico, just pile the chips on soup plates and pour the hot salsa over them.
In restaurants, they sprinkle on the cheese last, over the top of the pile of goodies on your plate, and then run the plate under the broiler, but their plates are really thick and can take that abuse. Mine can’t.
If you want to use *chorizo, squeeze out a tube of about half a pound of chorizo (the squishy, uncooked kind) into a bowl, top the bowl with a plate, and put that in your microwave for a minute or a bit longer on high. Serve it as a chorizo topping, or boil it up in your salsa, or lay it on top of your stewing tortilla chips, but DO NOT drain the good red grease! (What did I say about draining the oil?) Before you add it at whatever point, stir the grease into the meat, so that your chorizo is good and soupy. Chorizo is a great way to add flavor without any tedious chopping of peppers, onions, or garlic. So you can get away with just canned sauce, store-bought chips, and pre-shredded cheese.
You will eat this so fast, you will wonder why you didn’t double the batch.