Vegetarian Chilaquiles (not a vegan recipe…yet)

March 3, 2011

Vegetarian Chilaquiles

Vegetarian Chilaquiles or "Mexican Lasagna"


During a recent vacation in Mexico, one of the most popular dishes our group (made up of all omnivores, plus me) ate was chilaquiles, also known as Mexican lasagna. It’s quick to throw together and can be made with just vegetables, or enhanced with beans, if you so desire.

After eating refried beans and cheese at every meal in Mexico, I swore I didn’t want any more for awhile. Then the day after I got home, I went to the warehouse club, found queso fresco, and got the other ingredients to make chilaquiles and refried beans. I’m not regretting that decision. In fact, I made some to serve friends while I told them about my trip and showed them photos.

The first batch I made, I was skimpy with the tortilla chips, so there was too much filling. The second batch I was too generous with the chips, so it got too dry. You’ll soon find out what ratio works well for you.

It’s great comfort food, kind of chewy, warm, gooey if you use cheese, with as much of a spicy kick as you want. The top tortillas stay crunchy, but the ones inside get chewy and softened with the filling. And if you use a salsa made with fruit, you get sweet and sour in addition to the spicy and salty flavors. Yum!

Play around with this and have fun with it. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular dish. You’ll soon figure out your favorite combination of ingredients, but here is a basic vegetarian recipe to start with, followed with ideas for variations to try.

I’m planning to develop a vegan version of this, so stay tuned for that.

Vegetarian Chilaquiles

(these are approximate amounts; you can use more or less, to your taste)

2 TBS oil
1 green pepper, sliced
1 onion chopped
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
2 cups prepared salsa
8 oz queso fresco, crumbled*
about 11-12 oz tortilla chips

To make the filling, saute oil, green pepper, and onion until soft. Stir in tomato sauce and salsa. Mix well.

In a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish, spread a layer of tortilla chips about 2 chips deep.

Spread on about 1/3 of the filling. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the queso fresco.

Repeat twice more, using all the sauce. Then top with just tortilla chips and cheese. In other words, make sure the last layer on top is just chips and cheese, so your chips do not get all soggy.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 to 45 minutes, until cheese is melted.

!Buen Provecho!

*NOTE: Queso fresco is a soft, tangy cheese similar to ricotta. You can also use crumbled ricotta, or shredded jack or mozzarella.

Tortilla chips on the bottom

Tortilla chips on the bottom of the casserole dish

One layer of vegetarian chilaquiles

One layer is done. Repeat to fill the dish.

chilaquiles are ready to bake

Top with chips and cheese. These are ready to bake.

Variations:

    -Add fresh chopped chiles to the sauté mixture
    -Add canned chiles to the filling
    -Add cilantro
    -Make your own salsa
    -Try using a non-typical type of salsa. For example, the warehouse club had mango-peach salsa.
    -Add drained and rinsed, cooked black, pinto, or kidney beans to the filling
    -Use corn tortillas instead of tortilla chips
    -Add corn

The Secret to Those Delicious Pancakes

December 2, 2009

During my cooking class at May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand, one of the other students asked Duan, May’s sister and the woman in charge of the shop, what the secret was to their pancakes.

“We use a mix,” she replied, “and coconut milk.”

“Ah, it must be the coconut milk,” my co-student answered.

I hadn’t tried the pancakes yet, so I added that to my list of must-try’s.

Two mornings later, I was in the mood.

Pancakes with a tropical Thai twist

The cake was crisp around the edges of one side, and where it had soaked in honey, it tasted almost like coconut custard, even though the texture was completely different.

The honey had a fragrance of jasmine (pikake in Hawaii) flowers, a surprisingly light yet complex addition to the dish. I asked and found out it was longan honey, from the blossoms of the longan tree. Fruits are like chocolate brown, ping-pong balls and have a texture and taste similar to lychee.

The slices of mango, juicy and slick, made the cake feel not so rich, yet still luxurious.

Unfortunately, a trio of Brits sat at the table next to me and began smoking, which totally destroyed the delicate flavors and aromas.

I moved to a table far away, but all I could smell was cigarettes, so I gulped the last three bites down and left. No faster way to ruin a meal than cigarettes. What a shame, since I had been enjoying myself completely.

Oh well. I’ll have to try to re-create the dish at home and see if I can make it with whole-grained flour and no eggs.


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