Thursday, December 04, 2014

Chiliquiles with a Salsa Rojo

Chiliquiles, that ingenious salvation of crusty, drying tortillas employed by millions of thrifty Mexican housewives, is almost universally made with a green sauce of tomatillos and chilies. Who can argue against the original perfection of a national dish except one faced with a dearth of tomatillos and unwilling to make a special trip to the market for one item? This was the dilemma of Cafe Drake HRV when we opted for a less familiar form of chiliquiles, one made with a quickly cobbled together salsa rojo. The results were so spectacularly comforting and tasty we present our heretic's recipe below. Baking is also a less common cooking method for typically pan-fried chiliquiles but it works here in our out-of-the-box preparation. Note: We'll be returning to tomatillo salsas with our chiliquiles after our next food haul, and certainly next summer if our garden delivers another bumper crop in 2015, but this dish makes a nice break from the ordinary.

Begin by soaking 1 dried ancho chile and 1-2 dried pasilla chilies in hot water to cover. (If you don't have both, or either of these dried chilies around substitute chipotle peppers or even 2-3 fresh jalapeno peppers. No need to soak the latter.)Set aside for 20 minutes while you heat 2 T. vegetable oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet or sauce pan. When the oil is hot add 1 chopped onion, 2 cloves of garlic (chopped or minced) and saute for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add 2 chopped tomatoes (large ones) and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring as needed. Add two large pinches each of ground cumin and dried oregano; more is fine, if you like. Add some of the soaking water from the chilies, raise the heat and cook at a strong simmer until the tomatoes have almost completely broken down. Now, remove the stems and seeds from the chilies  -the easiest method is to split chilies open and rinse under running water. Tear the chilies into large pieces and add to the tomatoes. Cook another 5-10 minutes. Cool slightly and then puree until smooth in a blender. If the sauce is too thick, it should be thinner than marinara sauce for example, add more water. Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt, some black pepper and a large dash of sugar. Set the sauce aside to develop fuller flavors while you prep the tortillas. Take about 12 small corn tortillas and bake them in the oven at 400 degrees F. for just 5 minutes or so, enough to dry them out and crisp them up a bit. Break the toasted tortillas into pieces the size of tortilla chips. (Alternately, you could use regular, unsalted tortilla chips in a pinch.)

Reduce/preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly cover the bottom of a medium-small casserole dish with a thin layer of the tomato and chile sauce.

Add a single layer of the toasted tortillas.

Cover the tortillas with shredded Monterrey Jack cheese. You'll need about 2 cups total for the entire dish.

Now another layer of the salsa rojo, followed by chips, then shredded cheese and repeat from the beginning. End with a final layer of the grated cheese. Pour into the dish 3/4 cup or so of vegetable or chicken stock. Do not stir.


Bake the chiliquiles at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 25-40 minutes, however long it takes for the chips to fully absorb the stock and also become golden brown on top. At least once during the cooking time, with a knife or fork, press the top layer gently down so that it comes into contact with the liquids.


Sour cream and/or pico de gallo make excellent garnishes. Above, at Cafe Drake HRV, we served ours with sauteed zucchini (calabacitas), radishes, baby spinach and a dollop of leftover, homemade hummus.

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