Sra. Juana’s Chilaquiles in Green Sauce


My Mexico

Published by Clarkson Potter

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Friends who stay at Rancho San Cayetano, the small hotel about a mile from where I live, always rave about Juana’s chilaquiles in green sauce that are served at breakfast time. Chilaquiles means “broken up old sombrero” but is in fact stale corn tortillas broken up and served with a lavish topping of cream cheese, chopped onion, and sometimes chorizo or shredded chicken. It is a very popular breakfast dish in central Mexico in particular, and each area has its own, slightly different version. Here in the eastern part of Michoacan the tortilla pieces are fried crisp and remain al dente when the sauce has been added; elsewhere they are often cooked to a softer consistency. Since Juana has to provide for late risers who amble into the breakfast room throughout the morning, she cooks the sauce separately and adds it to the fried tortillas just before serving.


The most difficult cheese to find a substitute for is queso fresco. In Mexico it is traditionally sold in small round cakes about 2 inches (5 cm) thick. When made correctly, it is an unsophisticated but delicious cheese that is crumbled on top of antojitos (masa snacks), enchiladas, etc., or used for stuffing chiles and quesadillas.

To make queso fresco, whole milk is clabbered, the curds are drained, and then they are ground to fine crumbs. They are then pressed into wooden hoops and left to drain off the excess whey. The cheese should be creamy colored, pleasantly acidy, and melt readily when heated. Very few commercial copies of queso fresco in the United States fulfill those requirements, with one notable exception that I know of (I hope now I shall hear of others), made by the Mozzarella Cheese Company in Dallas (2944 Elm Street, Dallas, TX 75226; 214-741-4072). Once you find a good one, always buy extra and freeze it for up to 3 months.

For many antojitos the dry, salty cotija or añejo cheese may be used, but it will not-and should not-e-melt easily. Several good ones are distributed in the United States, but alas, they are cut into pieces from a large wheel and often no brand name is put on the package.

For stuffing chiles, etc., use my standby, Muenster (domestic, not imported) that melts easily.


Cooking Methodpan-frying, sauteeing



Total Timeunder 1 hour

OccasionFamily Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian


Mealbreakfast, brunch

Taste and Texturecreamy, crunchy, savory

Type of Dishsauces


  • 12 ounces (340 g) tomates verdes, about 14 medium, husks removed and rinsed
  • 4 serrano chiles or to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for frying
  • 8 5-inch (13-cm) corn tortillas, cut into ½-inch (13-mm) squares and left to dry overnight
  • ½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped white onion
  • 2/3 cup (164 ml) roughly chopped cilantro
  • ¾ cup (188 ml) crumbled queso fresco or substitute (see Notes)
  • 1/3 cup (83 ml) crème fraïche or sour cream thinned with a little milk


  1. Put the tomates verdes and chiles into a small pan, cover with water, and cook over low heat until soft but not falling apart. Drain off all but 1/3 cup (83 ml) of the cooking water. Transfer to a blender jar with the garlic and blend until smooth.

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet, add the sauce with salt to taste, and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until slightly reduced and seasoned-about 5 minutes. Keep warm.

  3. Heat oil to a depth of about ¼-inch (7 mm) in a deep skillet, add the tortilla pieces, a few at a time, and fry until crisp and light gold. Drain on paper toweling and continue with the remaining pieces. Drain off all but ¼ cup (63 ml) of the oil in the pan. Add the tortilla pieces and the onion, cover, and fry over low heat, shaking the pan from time to time, until the onion is translucent; it should not be browned.

  4. Add the warm sauce and cook, stirring to mix well for about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, topping each portion with a generous amount of cilantro, cheese, and cream.


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