Let’s hear it for leftovers

By Lisa Zwirn
Globe Correspondent / August 26, 2009

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Many outstanding dishes began with leftovers. Consider corned beef hash, turkey Tetrazzini, fried rice, even French toast. Chilaquiles is another meal in which the cook can make good use of stale tortillas, leftover chicken, and commercially prepared salsa. Put it all together, add a sprinkling of queso fresco or Monterey Jack cheese, some crumbled sausage, if you like, and you have the popular Mexican breakfast dish. It happens to make a great supper, too.

“My mother used whatever she had in the refrigerator,’’ says Epigmenio Guzman, owner of Tu Y Yo restaurant in Somerville. The Veracruz native adds that the dish is often prepared “very spicy to cure a hangover.’’ (Not sure mom would approve of that.)

Chilaquiles (pronounced chee-lah-KEE-lehs), says Guzman, is inexpensive to make and has lots of flavor. You can fry up a batch of corn tortillas cut into wedges or, if you’re in a rush, buy a bag of chips. Add cooked and shredded chicken - a store-bought rotisserie bird is perfect for this - or skip the meat and serve salsa-coated chips with fried or scrambled eggs. You can make your own tomatillo or tomato salsa or reach for a jar. Crumbled cheese adds flavor and tempers the salsa’s heat. Mexican queso fresco (fresh cheese) is difficult to find here, so substitute ricotta salata, Monterey Jack, or grated Parmesan.

The final decision is how crisp or soft the chips should be. Crunch lovers will quickly coat the tortillas with salsa, spread them on a platter, add the toppings and immediately dive in. Everyone else can take their time and let the chips absorb the sauce. Guzman says most Americans prefer chilaquiles crunchy and even restaurants in Mexico have adapted.

Just a few bites will bring familiarity. The spicy tortillas sprinkled with toppings are the precursor of decked out nachos.

Tu Y Yo, 858 Broadway, Somerville; 617-623-5411;