Seasons’ Eatings: Fall Harvest Chilaquiles
by Jessie Chien Bryson
Washington, D.C. - Valeria always provides such great recipes with equally stunning photos, as she did last week with her Butternut Cider Risotto. I adore her new twists on authentic Italian recipes, her use of bright and fresh ingredients, all wrapped up in the homey recipes she’s prone to create. With her apple cider risotto, I knew I wanted to play off her starch-base as well as her incorporation of oniony, garlicky, squashy fall flavors. And so, after receiving her recipe, I spent my weekend mulling over the perfect recipe that I could put my own spin on.
The following week, with Valeria’s inspiration fresh in my mind, I received an email from my friend Josefine, inviting me to help as her sous-chef at her underground supper club.
Let’s just call it happenstance that her supper club, which she holds sporadically every 4-6 weeks, coincided with my turn at the Relay. Josefine often employs ‘sous-chefs’; friends-turned-helpers in the kitchen that walk away with free food and some quality time in the kitchen. It was my turn at bat as sous-chef, and Josefine emailed me her plans for the upcoming weekend. As soon as I saw the menu, I found it fit perfectly with the inspiration I was given by Valeria. Josefine was going to make chilaquiles, a very tradtional Mexican breakfast dish, comprised of fried corn tortillas, shredded chicken, and red or green salsa, covered with cheese and baked. Just the type of dish and recipe I was seeking.
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Today, supper clubs have become somewhat of a trend, with professional and rookie chefs alike serving four-, five-, ten-course meals in basements, warehouses, and their own homes, ranging anywhere from $30-$90 per person, sometimes more for private or special dinners. Some have turned their forays into professional ventures, and others have stayed just as hidden as they have been since day one.
Josefine began her own supper club, or as she endearingly calls it her “undocumented kitchen”, two years ago when she noted a sudden abundance of these underground restaurants that came with prices comparable to a night out at a restaurant. An avid home cook, with strong influences from her Mexican upbringing, she decided that she would create her own supper club in her own home, providing homestyle Mexcian-influenced cooking for her friends, and friends-of-friends, for a nominal cost.
For her chilaquiles, Josefine and I scoured the markets and came up with a fall harvest blend of butternut squash, onions, mushrooms, and decided to cut out the chicken. Her ingredients were looking similar to Valeria’s recipe in so many ways, and I was getting excited to see (and taste) the outcome! We headed to the local Latino market and picked up two small chayote, a squash oft used in more homestyle Mexican cuisine. I had heard about this squash-like fruit popular in Mexican cooking, but had never tasted, let alone seen, what it looked like. It turned out to be much less cactus-y and squash-y than I imagined, and more reminiscent of a pear, or guava. Josefine explained that we would lightly roast or blanch the chayote, and the result would be a taste and mouthfeel like a cooked cucumber or asian winter melon.
We amassed the remainder of our ingredients: namely, the corn tortillas and mexican crema, at the local Latino Market, and rather than red or green salsa, decided to use a batch of homemade mole that Josefine had sitting in her freezer. Some people love the chocolate-y, nutty, spice-driven sauce that is called mole. But I’m not the hugest fan, so if recreating this recipe in my own home I think I’d use a smooth, tangy red salsa instead. And here lies the beauty of these recipes, the ones that take a spin on an old classic: you can keep making them your own.
Fall Harvest Chilaquiles
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Yield: One 10”x16” dish, serves 8-10
Note: Chilaquiles are traditionally a breakfast item. However I’m inclined to add a cup more of cheese on top and serve a large scoop of this Mexican “casserole” for dinner. Paired with a farmers’ market salad, of course.
- 1/2 medium butternut squash, cut into cubes
- 1 head cauliflower florets
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 cups cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered (depending on size)
- 2 chayote, cut into cubes
- 20 6” Corn tortillas, cut into triangles
- 2 cups smoked gouda, shredded
- 3 cups mole (or approx. 2 cups red, or green, salsa)
- 3/4 cup mexican crema (plus more, for serving)
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine the butternut squash, cauliflower, onion and mushrooms in a large baking pan or dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, or until vegetables just begin to turn color. Add the chayote, and bake for another 10 minutes. Set aside to cool (Can be done a day ahead).
- Combine vegetables, tortillas, and cheese, and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add mole and crema, and incorporate thoroughly. The mixture should be evenly coated and the tortillas damp, but not too wet and soggy.
- Set oven to 400 F. Spoon mixture into a large 10″ x 15″ baking dish, and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until heated all the way through. Remove the foil, and bake for another 10 minutes, uncovered. Take the chilaquiles out of the oven and allow them to sit for 10 minutes in the pan before serving.
- Serve with crema, chopped cilantro, and best: a poached egg!
Jessie Chien Bryson recently returned from two years in Guangzhou, China, where the locals were said to eat anything with four legs but a table and anything that flies but a plane. She currently writes and cooks from Washington, D.C., where in between trips to Whole Foods, keeps her own diary of food, travel, and ex-expat adventures at www.jessbopeep.com