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Latin American Cuisine: Huevos Rancheros

Editor's Note: With Latin American Cuisine, we explore the wide world of food in South and Central America. Check back each week for recipes from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, and beyond.

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

As I drove from New York down through Alabama, west across Texas from Austin to El Paso, through New Mexico and Arizona to LA, (all before coming back up to San Francisco), I noticed that the time that elapsed between each successive serving of eggs with salsa and tortillas grew steadily shorter. Let's call it the Huevos Rancheros Maxim, which states that the closer you are to Mexico, the more likely it is that you'll be having said huevos for breakfast.

This poses a problem when you start heading back north or east again and you've already acquired a taste for them. In my case, the solution is to just start cooking them for myself.

The most traditional huevos rancheros—a dish designed to fill you up and keep you going halfway through a hard day of manual farm work—is made with a red tomato- and chili-based salsa with beans served on the side. I prefer a version made with a hotter, tangier green salsa of tomatillos and hot green chilies (I used some leftover Hatch chiles I had from my trip through New Mexico, but poblanos or Anaheims work well, too). To make the salsa, I broil the tomatillos and chilies in the toaster oven until they're charred and puffed before puréeing them with sautéed onions and garlic flavored with cumin, lime juice, and cilantro.

While the vegetables broil, I make my refried bean base. To keep things simple, I fry up some extra onions and garlic with those destined for the salsa to use as the flavor base for my beans. You can boil dried beans, but canned beans work just fine in this application. All you've got to do is add them to the onion and garlic base, cook them down with a bit of water and a bay leaf, and mash them up into a rough purée with either a potato masher or a hand blender.

To serve, I dip corn tortillas in a bit of water and heat them up in a hot skillet. The water causes them to steam as they char, which gives them a nice toasty flavor while keeping them soft and pliant (check out this video for a more in-depth look at how to do this).

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With the salsa and beans made and the tortillas warm, brunch is just a couple of fried eggs away. My wife says that this temporary West Coast transplant thing is really getting to me. I just ignore her and reach for the avocados.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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