Recently some friends of mine came over for an impromptu weeknight dinner. In deciding what to make, I established two things: one, that I hadn't cooked anything Mexican in a while, so that'd be the direction I'd take; and two, that I wanted to spend as little money as possible.
A look in the fridge revealed a dire lack of produce, but in the freezer I found a stack of corn tortillas, as well as a small container of chipotles en adobo. Those items would help things along. One benefit cooking almost exclusively with vegetables is that it helps keep those grocery bills down, something that—as a student and freelancer living in New York City—is always at the forefront of my mind.
Once I settled on Mexican with tortillas and chipotles, I started to think of what kind of meatless dish I could make, and that's when it came to me: chilaquiles. I hadn't eaten them in a long, long time, so they sounded good, and though they wouldn't be super-quick to prepare, it would still be a relatively easy process.
The versions I've eaten in New York tend to be made with crisp-fried corn tortillas or tortilla chips, blanketed with green or red salsa, layered with shredded meat, and finished off with a generous amount of melted cheese. Sometimes the chips remain crisp; sometimes they're soggy. I like 'em both ways.
What I came up with was a riff on these dishes, by no means the same in preparation but pretty similar in terms of flavor. In the interest of cutting down on prep time as well as keeping the end result a lot healthier, I decided not to fry my tortillas, but rather to crisp them up in a warm oven, then crumble them into manageable pieces before layering them in a baking dish with some homemade red salsa, shredded cheese, and a mix of vegetables: a sort of Mexican lasagna, if you will.
What resulted was one of my all-time favorite vegetarian main dishes to date: the filling—a mix of roasted sweet potatoes, black beans and green onions— is sweet and subtly spicy; the homemade salsa, made from flash-roasted vegetables, is sneakily spicy; and, well, who doesn't love a generous layer of melted, almost-crispy cheese? This is one mutt of a dish I'll be returning to again and again this winter.
About the author: Lauren Rothman is a former Serious Eats intern, a freelance catering chef, and an obsessive chronicler of all things culinary. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and follow her on Twitter @Lochina186.