Whether green or red, fried, baked, soft, or crunchy, chilaquiles are one of Mexico’s favorite breakfast dishes, one that’s particularly popular for weekend brunches in Chicago. And while the plate is an everyday meal, it shouldn’t be taken for granted as ordinary.
An early 20th Century priest, scholar, and linguist, Ángel María Garibay, sheds some light on the dish’s origin: The word “chilaquiles” comes from the náhuatl “to dip in chilies.” Others reference chilies and quelites (edible herbs), plus water. These are the fundamentals along with tortillas, which are commonly cut into triangles.
Despite its name, the plate as we know it today wasn’t documented in recipe books before the 19th Century, so it is not entirely pre-Hispanic. Besides, the cream and cheese on the dish, as well as a few of the meats, speak to the clash of cultures that gave Mexico some of its most representative dishes.
From casual dinners to tornabodas (wedding afterparties), chilaquiles enjoy a reputation as an effective cure for hangovers. Regional executions use local cheeses, meats, and salsas and treat the tortilla differently to achieve the desired consistency and balance.
In Chicago, cooks work with local ingredients and cater to multiple palates. While a wide variety of salsas and presentations are readily accessible, one of the most common elements of the traditional recipe, epazote, is not easily found. The pungent edible herb has been widely used since pre-Columbian times both medicinally and in the kitchen in Mexico.
The dish often appears on menus beyond Mexican eateries in Chicago. Here’s where to find them.
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