When we decided to chuck everything and move to Mexico to buy a house, it wasn’t with a tremendous amount of planning. We arrived with just two suitcases and a two night reservation at the Hyatt in Merida; ample time, our 26 year old minds figured, to learn a new city and find a place to rent while we shopped for houses. We didn’t worry too much about the details, such as our total lack of connections and friends, any working knowledge of Spanish, or any idea where we were going. When I think back on it now, I don’t think I could make the same leap of faith, couldn’t believe with such certainty that the unknown had any possibility of working out. At that age, though, you assume you’ll be able to work it out. And you often do.
The first morning we woke up in our adopted city, shellshocked from travel and the cultural adjustment that caught us of guard, we didn’t venture far from our hotel. We would, soon enough, as we explored the city’s long-term housing rental situation, towing our suitcases behind us through a great tide of people, along the narrow sidewalk in 100-plus degree heat. That first morning, though, we tried to maintain the level of comfort we were accustomed to, and managed only to make it as far as the hotel’s breakfast buffet.
It was the first time we had chilaquiles for breakfast, a traditional Mexican dish meant to use up leftovers. In its most pared-down form, it’s a basic baked casserole of corn tortillas, simmered until soft in either a red or green chile sauce. The tortillas can be mixed in (as we do below), or stacked in a casserole dish albinile (or bricklayer) style and smothered in sauce. From there, the recipe changes to include whatever you’ve got left over from the night before, including chicken, chorizo, or shredded beef, as well as any little odd scraps of vegetables you can muster. The best chilaquiles present a combination of textures; crisp tortillas that have gone soggy in places, crunch vegetables, and silky crema. For our version, we started with some leftover turkey from Thanksgiving (which we basted with achiote butter, giving us a great head start to building layers of Mexican flavor), but you can also start with a few boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you’re using leftovers, feel free to improvise. Some chopped sweet potato, carrot, or even shredded brussels sprouts would all be fine additions. Throw in some black beans. Whatever you’ve got. Make it yours, and make it special; just be sure to serve it with plenty of crema, fresh chopped tomato and cilantro, and an array of hot sauces.
Shredded Turkey Chilaquiles Rojos
Adapted from a recipe by Cook’s Illustrated; Serves 4-5
- 12 corn tortillas, each cut into 8 wedges
- Vegetable oil cooking spray
- 1 dried ancho chile
- 2 poblano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 up fresh cilantro, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 2-3 cups shredded turkey (or 1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded)
- 3/4 cup queso fresco (or substitute crumbled mild feta)
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- Juice from one lime
- 1 tomato cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread tortilla wedges in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Spray both sides of tortilla pieces with cooking spray. Bake until lightly browned and beginning to crisp, 8-12 minutes. Flip wedges and continue baking until brown and crispy, 8-12 minutes more. Remove from oven and set aside. Increase oven heat to 500 degrees.
In a small saucepan, cover dried ancho chile with simmering hot water, cover, and let soak for a few minutes as you continue with the other ingredients.
Combine poblanos, 1 cup of the onions, oil, and a pinch of salt in a large skillet. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring ocassionally, until vegetables soften and begin to turn brown, about 10-12 minutes.
Remove stem and seeds from soaked ancho chile, and add to pan along with two tablespoons of the cilantro, and the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add canned tomatoes, and whir with an immersion blender (or transfer to blender or food processor) until smooth. When sauce is smooth, add shredded turkey or chicken, then stir in crisp tortillas a handful at a time. Cook until they just begin to soften, about two minutes.
Transfer mixture to an 8-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle with queso fresco (or feta) and bake until heated through, about 5-10 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine sour cream and lime juice. Drizzle over casserole, then finish with remaining chopped onion, remaining cilantro, and chopped tomato. Serve.