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What are Chilaquiles?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chilaquiles, pronounced chee-lah-KEY-lehs, are a popular Mexican dish traditionally made from three basic ingredients: corn tortillas, salsa and cheese. The foundation of chilaquiles is the tortillas, which are cut up into quarters, strips or squares or broken into pieces and then fried. Next, the fried tortillas are simmered in red or green chili sauce until they absorb some of the sauce and become a bit soft, and then cheese is sprinkled on top. A variety of other ingredients can be added to the dish, such as eggs, beans, meat and more, depending on personal preference.

Chilaquiles can be eaten for any meal and often are enjoyed for breakfast or brunch when egg is added. The dish often is considered a comfort food, something Mexican mothers traditionally make to use up leftovers in the kitchen, most notably tortillas that are turning stale. Various chilaquiles recipes often call for day-old or slightly stale tortillas. Tortillas that are too fresh or soft can fall apart when mixed with the other ingredients. When there are no stale tortillas in the house, drying out the tortillas in the oven often is recommended.

There are many regional variations to the dish in Mexico. For example, a white sauce is used with the dish in Sinaloa. In Mexico City, a spicy red sauce is used, and the dish is topped with the strongly flavored Mexican herb epzote, which has been used in Mexican cooking since the days of the Aztecs. The name "chilaquiles" is thought to come from "chil-a-quilitl," a word in Nahuatl, an indigenous language of Mexico that comes from the Aztecs, that means "herbs or greens in chili broth." The name of this dish sometimes is written as "chilequiles."

A similar tortilla-based dish is called "migas," which is popular in Tex-Mex cuisine. The term Tex-Mex refers to dishes often found in the Southwestern United States, such as Texas, that blend ingredients from American and Mexican cuisine. There also are variations in the use of sauces and cooking styles.

Migas always contains egg along with the tortilla, salsa and cheese. There also can be preparation variations, such as the salsa being added at the end in migas rather than used to simmer the tortilla as in chilaquiles. Nevertheless, there are many debates between aficionados of Mexican and Tex-Mex foods about whether chilaquiles and migas are the same thing or different dishes.

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