Monday, November 15, 2010

Recipe Box: Leftover Corn Tortillas (Chilaquiles, Chips, Soup)

Yesterday's recipe post on Tacos leaves most people with a large stack of corn tortillas and only a few days to a week to use them up (more if they have artificial preservatives; check the package).  They're good for tacos for a few days (wrapped tightly in the fridge) but you have more options for the leftovers than just using them to hold various fillings.

Chilaquiles (reposted from ideas for leftover Pico de Gallo):

This was my absolute favorite breakfast when I visited my parents in Mexico, even if it doesn't quite taste the same in Michigan somehow :-) I've found that cooking it in well-seasoned cast-iron makes it taste more authentic:

For each serving:
2 Leftover soft corn (masa flour) tortillas
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons salsa ranchero or 1/2 cup leftover Pico de Gallo
1 Tablespoon fresh cream (can substitute sour cream in the U.S.)
1 tablespoon fresh salsa (or to taste)
1 teaspoon olive oil

cut the tortillas into strips and cook in the oil on medium-high until crispy or browned
turn down heat
add eggs and salsa
cook over medium low heat until eggs are to your liking
serve with a dollop of fresh cream or sour cream and fresh salsa. This can be a main dish for breakfast or a "side dish" with eggs and toast

Homemade Tortilla Chips:

Sometimes you get these in good Mexican restaurants (more often it's commercial corn chips dipped in the deep fryer to imitate homemade).  They're a really simple, efficient way to use up all your leftover tortillas at the end of the week. 

You need:
1 medium cast-iron or uncoated steel pan
1 cup vegetable shortening
6" tortillas (each tortilla will make 6 chips; your only limit is how long you want to spend on this).
Salt in shaker (sea salt or table salt)
paper towels.

Put the pan on medium-high heat with the shortening until it is all melted.  The oil should "fizz" a little when you put in the tortillas, but not smoke.  If the oil begins to smoke, turn it down a notch and continue to monitor.  If you're using a deep fryer or thermometer, you're looking for about 350-375 degrees F. 

Slice the tortillas into six pie-shaped wedges. 

Line a plate with 2 to 3 paper towels or napkins. 

Cook in a single layer in the pan until lightly browned and crispy (1-2 minutes). Remove to paper towels with a fork or metal spatula to drain and shake salt liberally over the layer. 

Start a new layer of chips.  When it is almost done, dump the first batch into a large bowl and add another paper towel to the layers on the plate. 

Repeat until you have enough chips. 

Note that you can flavor the chips at the salting stage, adding a sprinkle of lime juice, ranch dressing mix, etc.  Try making them dessert chips by using a mix of cinnamon and sugar instead of salt. 

Tortilla Soup

The Gumbo of the south, there are so many varied recipes for tortilla soup that you could almost toss some leftover tortillas into anything and apply the name.  Purists will argue for their particular variation as the most authentic, of course, even if the same claim is made for vastly different recipes.  I highly suggest you either experiment with the very basic recipe here, or Google "tortilla soup" and try some of the recipes you find. Most are based on fresh regional vegetables and use the leftover corn tortillas as a thickening agent much like flour. 

Very Basic Fresh Recipe:

6 six-inch leftover/stale corn flour tortillas chopped into small pieces (1/4 to 1/2 inch), plus 2-4 same for garnish cut into 1/2" strips.
6-8 cups chicken broth
10 oz chicken breast, cut into 1/2" cubes.
4  Roma tomatoes
3 whole green chili peppers (or jalapeno for a spicier soup, or green bell peppers for a very mild soup)
1/2 medium onion (approx 1 cup) diced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup fresh cilantro

Sour Cream

You should be able to make this all with one pan and one soup pot.  The pan should be uncoated steel or cast iron, medium size frying pan.  You could even make it all in the soup pot if it's uncoated steel or cast iron, mixing all the ingredients at the end.  We'll assume a separate pot for the purpose of this recipe. 

Add the chicken broth and the 6 small-chopped tortillas to the pot on medium heat, stirring occasionally until at a simmer, then reduce to medium-low. 

Roast the tomatoes and peppers:  In the dry frying pan on medium heat, let the tomatoes and peppers toast, turning occasionally until each side is a little darkened.  Remove from the pan and let cool on the cutting board while you heat the olive oil in the pan.  Once they're cool enough to handle, chop the tomatoes into chunks and mince the peppers.  Add to the soup pot.

Once the olive oil is hot (a drop of water will pop and sputter) add the tortilla strips and fry 2 minutes or until crispy.  Set aside on paper towels to cool.  This will be garnish.

In the remaining oil, cook the onion, garlic and dried oregano until the onion is translucent.  Add onion and garlic to soup pot.

In the remaining oil, cook the cubes of chicken until browned.  Add to soup pot. 

Cook soup for 30 minutes.  (note, you can also assemble all of the above and use as a slow-cooker recipe, but the flavors will be less distinct when you finish). 

While the soup is cooking, chop the fresh cilantro, pit/peel/cube the avocado and slice the limes.  Use the cilantro, sour cream, fried tortilla strips, avocado and squeezes of lime as garnish to individual taste when you serve the soup at the table.

As I said, there are many, many variations on this soup!  You can easily go vegan by subbing vegetable broth and tofu for the chicken products (check the tortilla package for animal products).  You can add some crunch with fresh shredded cabbage added at the table, or up the iron with sauteed spinach added in the last ten minutes of cooking.  Many tortilla soups are tomato-based, which can be done by adding 8 oz of tomato paste and doubling the fresh tomatoes in the recipe.  Some also add fresh corn and black beans for a midwestern taste.

Finally, if you don't have access or money for fresh veggies, you can fake this recipe by mixing chicken soup with a jar of tomato and onion salsa, using sour cream and crumbled corn chips as garnish.  It isn't as good as the fresh, but when making do it might just make it :-)

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