There are few better teachers – or creative constraints – than necessity.
The best of my cooking over the past year has arisen out of leftovers that urgently needed using: wilting spinach and stale sourdough that turned into ribollita, old takeaway pulao that was reborn as fried rice. Striving to avoid food waste has become less a slogan and more a challenge – one taken up with some gusto and humility, and one that has pushed me to the outer limits of my knowledge.
There are few better examples of necessity cooking than chilaquiles – stale tortillas sliced, fried into chips and mixed with salsa before being topped with eggs and all manner of garnishes. I had a packet of tortillas left over after making black-bean tacos, and to the question they posed whenever I opened the fridge door, these chilaquiles answered.
Of course, necessity isn’t totally, ahem, necessary. You can always buy tortillas fresh and fry them directly. (Just be sure to use 100% corn tortillas – prepackaged flour tortillas don’t fry well.) You can also make your chilaquiles with a salsa verde rather than this roja or use chipotles in adobo rather than guajillo and arbol chillies. Really, chilaquiles are more a category than a specific recipe, and while they’re often associated with brunch, they’re delicious at any time of day.
In this case, I went with an earthy, tomato-led salsa base – I knew those flavours would go happily with Le Marmot, a gluggable red from southern France made with Cinsault and Grenache. Both grape varietals tend to love a hearty stew or a tomato-based dish, and it helps that Le Marmot brings brightness as well as earthiness and is light enough of body to serve as a suitable foil for spice.
So go ahead: See all those fridge leftovers not as a problem to solve, but as the delicious beginnings of something entirely new. Especially if there’s wine involved.
Chilaquiles with Tomato and Guajillo Salsa
Loosely adapted from Rick Martinez
For the salsa:
2 dried guajillo chillis
2 dried ancho chillis
700g tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeños, roughly chopped
1-2 tablespoons fresh oregano
4-5 cloves garlic
Fine sea salt, to taste
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Juice of 1 lime
For the fried tortillas:
20 small corn tortillas, approximately
300ml vegetable oil, approximately
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, to taste
200g feta cheese, crumbled
Greek yoghurt or sour cream
2 avocados, pitted and sliced
4-6 eggs (one per serving)
Large handful coriander, roughly chopped
1. First, make the salsa. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chillis and place in a large bowl. Pour over boiling water and leave the chillis to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
2. To a blender, add the tomatoes, jalapeños, fresh oregano, garlic and sea salt. Add the rehydrated chillis as well as 200ml of their water. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes until uniform. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
3. Add the vegetable oil to a Dutch oven or other large pot and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and season with salt to taste. Cook for roughly 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly, or until the onion is softened and translucent. Season with the cumin and dried oregano before adding the blended salsa.
4. Turn the heat down to low and cook for roughly 30 minutes, or until the salsa has reduced to a nice, thick sauce. Remove from the heat, add the lime juice and stir through. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
5. Next, make your homemade tortilla chips, or totopos. Using kitchen shears, cut each tortilla in half and in half again; you should have four triangular-ish pieces. Repeat until all have been cut.
6. In a large frying pan, add the vegetable oil (it should come roughly ½ inch up the pan; add more if needed). Place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add a tortilla piece to test it; it should start sizzling immediately. Add a batch of tortillas in a single layer, ensuring the pan isn’t too crowded, and fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until slightly golden and entirely crisp. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined bowl, season with flaky sea salt while fresh out of the oil and repeat with the remaining batches of tortilla pieces.
7. To make the chilaquiles, place the large pan containing the salsa over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until warmed through. Turn off the heat and gently mix in the tortilla chips until they are coated in the salsa. Meanwhile, fry the eggs separately.
8. To serve, divide the chilaquiles between plates. Sprinkle over the crumbled feta, dollop over the sour cream or Greek yoghurt, and divide the avocado slices between servings. Top each plate with a fried egg, garnish with coriander and a squeeze of lime juice, and serve right away.
Claire M Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our Natural Wine Killers wine subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings plus expert tasting notes for three amazing wines like this one every month.