A typical Mexican breakfast: big on color and flavorAs a tribute to my recent visit to Mexico, here's a post I wrote a while back, which has been simmering in my food-obsessed mind and deals with a dish that goes back to the earliest of my fond food memories.
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When I first met Matt, he (unknowingly) taunted me with stories of his family's dedication to something highly valued by little old me - homemade breakfasts. Every night his mom boiled the potatoes ahead of time for homemade hash browns. In the morning, it was as if a fairy had magically and effortlessly done the work. The table brimmed with a veritable cornucopia of goodies: a pot of steamy American coffee, eggs any-style, toast with real butter, homemade jam, sometimes (and probably often) delicious homemade scones. The list goes on.
Suddenly, 22 year-old-unmarried-me started to panic. Should I learn to make scones?! Was this a deal breaker?! (That is what I get for getting involved with a gringo!) My sister and I had grown up eating cereal for breakfast every day during the week. It was only on the weekends that my parents had the time to go "all out" (and "all out" they went!) with the breakfast thing. Besides, up until the ripe age of sixteen, I had never even heard of a scone (and the only reason I found out what it was, was because a quirky viola player made some for the high school orchestra bake sale and I, of course, stole one).
When I thought of delicious breakfasts I couldn't escape my roots: Mexico.
My thoughts were of delicious corn tortillas underneath freshly fried eggs, with homemade refried beans and my dad's salsa roja smothering the entire plate. I thought of tongue-numbing chile con queso (the real Mccoy, not that orange stuff you get at the local Tex-Mex joint) made with fresh queso Oaxaca and charred tortillas warmed on the comal. My mother's molletes came to mind - bolillos (Mexican white, French-style rolls) smothered in butter, beans and cheese and then baked, to later be topped with homemade salsa or pico de gallo. Migas, chilaquiles, Machaca, Huaraches, a fresh papaya salad and fresh squeezed orange juice...the list goes on. I wasn't going to bake scones for my kids (well, unless Matt really insisted)!
Since then, we've come a long way in melding our early morning tastes. Matt eats tortillas and loves refried beans (as long as they have plenty of cheese on them), and I learned to make pancakes from scratch and even put a little butter on my toast. Still haven't made scones, but with two men in the house, my guess is that will come soon too. :)
But of all the Mexican breakfasts I treasure (and let's be honest, there are many), there is one that still and always will stand out in my mind as the proverbial "holy grail" of Mexican breakfasts. It is the only thing I can say I've consistently eaten without fail my entire life, and will probably continue to do so as long as there is breath in me. It is the first thing I learned to order on my own in a restaurant (at the age of 2) and, to this day, is enough reason to make me get up and cook on a weekend: Huevos Rancheros.
I can't tell you how many times this dish has been butchered unnecessarily at even the most reputable of breakfast and brunch restaurants (including "Mexican" ones). It's enough to make me shake my fists at the sky.
*much shakeage of little angry Brenda fists*
When it comes to Huevos Rancheros, it's three strikes you're out in my book of Mexican authenticity. A sample list of possible strikes:
Strike 1: Flour tortillas
Strike 2: Marinara-like salsa
Strike 3: any form of chili powder
Strike 4: Orange cheese (e.g. cheddar-jack cheese medley)
Strike 5: Cumin in ANY quantity
Yuck. And worse still is, all the ignoramuses (ignorami?) assuming that's actually what people in Mexico eat for breakfast and either turning their noses up at it or believing the Mexican palate is that much like theirs! There is a time and place for Tex-Mex and I will be the first to admit it. But that time and place is not at my breakfast table when there are good corn tortillas in the fridge just begging to be eaten.
Here's my (Mexican!) family's way of making Huevos Rancheros. While the dish can be labor intensive because it requires making of beans and salsa ahead of time, once you have all the components, it's a breeze to make. And if you're pressed for time, there's NOTHING wrong with most canned pinto beans which you can then mash and refry.
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Even as a two or three year old (who, of course, learned to talk WAY before she learned to walk), I was an early riser with only one thing on her mind: food. I would toddle my way to my mom's bedroom and gently - but persistently - shake her awake demanding "mi huevito." To her credit, my mother, was good enough then to always get up and make me the following delicious little meal to start the day right. She still does the same thing when I'm home even now. For the grown ups, either red or green salsa will do. Just don't forget to make it fresh!
Some people like to garnish the dish with sliced avocado. We also sometimes add a side of warm Mexican rice from the night before. You can also substitute scrambled eggs if you don't like fried (sunny-side up), but I think part of the greatness of this dish is how the yolk runs into the salsa, runs into the beans, runs into the eggs. It's a melding of flavors uniquely Mexican and its heartiness is guaranteed to tie you over until the next culinary dalliance strikes.
4 tbsps corn oil
4 large eggs
4 corn tortillas
1/2 cup shredded Queso Oaxaca (substitute: shredded mozzarella)
or crumbled Cotija (substitute: feta)
1 batch homemade red or green salsa
1 batch homemade refried beans
salt & pepper to taste
1. Heat half the oil in a medium non-stick pan over medium heat. Fry 1 or 2 of the tortillas (depending on the size of the pan), allowing them to heat through with oil (flimsy) but not allowing them to become crisp. Repeat for the second batch of tortillas, laying them on the serving plate as shown here:
Tortillas should be slightly flaccid, but start to firm up on the edges.
2. Add the remaining oil to the pan and crack the first two eggs into it. Fry the eggs without breaking the yolk and without turning them over. Using a spatula or spoon, gently splash some of the hot oil onto the eggs while they cook so that the top area gets cooked too. Season with salt and pepper. Once the whites are opaque and slightly golden-y crispy and the yolks look firm (but NOT opaque) serve onto the tortillas (one egg per tortilla). Repeat for second batch of eggs.
Not quite done. The whites are still too translucent and not golden.
3. Reheat your refried beans in a separate small pan. Add a dash of water if necessary and bring them to a rapid boil, seasoning as you see fit with salt and pepper. Do not allow the beans to thicken too much - Mexican refried beans tend to be a little runny.
4. Once the eggs have been cooked, pour the red salsa into the hot pan and fry it, bringing it to a quick boil and adding salt if necessary.
5. Pour the hot salsa over the eggs on the plates. Serve a helping of beans on the opposite side of the plate and scatter the fresh cheese (I prefer the stringy Oaxaca, but the salty, feta-like Cotija is also a great choice if you can get it!) allowing it to melt from the heat of the beans.
Serve and consume immediately and greedily.
Breakfast at mom's house