Comfort Food Inspiration:
Sunday after church at Grandma's
A dish for many
Written by Beatriz
It’s Sunday in a full house, children running around, tias chatting, cousins playing outside, uncles drinking some beer while watching TV, a nice smell coming from the kitchen. This is the scenario Cristian described to me as a typical Sunday afternoon at his grandmother’s house in East Los Angeles. Her house, he told me, is a place where the family can gather, especially after the typical catholic mass happening every weekend. The smell coming from the kitchen is usually of Chilaquiles, a quick and perfect dish to be prepared for many. It is his grandmother’s go-to when she hosted the family in the house, a memory Cristian remembers fondly and brought with him to Bloomington, Indiana.
“Kids were always running around in the house, it was packed, it was cozy, many conversations were happening at the same time. There were the adults talking, my grandpa watching the soccer game on the TV in the living room, and just all of us running around, inside and outside the house. She had a lot of birds outside, a big collection of birds, we would always hear different bird noises”
Both his grandparents are originally from Mexico. Eventually they were able to move all of their 9 kids from Mexico to the US. Cristian’s parents themselves met at church, where they still go to mass, and where Cristian was baptized. He grew up going to this church, along with a big family that grew over time since grandparents ' migration. His Grandma’s house is now always full. Macaria Ramirez, or Maca, is a generous cook, sharing her seasoning and recipes with the ones that visit her house. Her famous salsa roja is always in the fridge and ready to be used on dishes or be shared with anyone that may want it. Every Sunday, cooking was a tradition:
“She always made Frijoles, Chilaquiles, and Sopitas. There were so many of us, she had a lot of guests. The dishes were an easy thing to prepare and a comfort food. Every single time, not only when there were a lot of people, let’s say if I were to go visit her, she would ask right away, - quieres unos Chilaquiles?”
Finding the ingredients for these dishes was an easy task in the Valley, he describes, as the Mexican population is large. That is not the case in Bloomington, Indiana. As Cristian moved to the college town to pursue a PhD in Anthropology, he started cooking chilaquiles quite often, being able to find the ingredients for it in one specific shop in town, La Bonita.
“The dish has a lot of oil” he explains, ”so I try to complement it sometimes, exploring ways it can be healthier. I am bringing, incorporating nopales, cactus, with the meal, instead of the meat. It is not supposed to go together, but I have been experimenting”.
When we made the dish last spring, Cristian incorporated the nopales, which I have never had before. Throughout the chilaquiles preparation, I could tell why Maca would make it for a full house, it is a meal that is easy to make for lots of people. And that’s what Cristian did, we had help from friends from the IU First Nations' Center, chopping, cooking and bringing ingredients together. Salsa, fried tortilla chips, queso fresco, two eggs, sunny side up, cilantro, sliced onions and then the frijoles. Carnitas were also part of the dish, brought from Indianapolis by a friend from the center. The preparation and the eating were all done communally, in a loud house full of friends’ laughter. Although I was not present in Macaria’s house those Sundays that Cristian described, I imagine that his Bloomington chilaquiles sounded and tasted familiar.
Prep Time: 90 minutes
2 garlic cloves
8 cloves of garlic, minced
8 chiles de árbol
4 chiles de serrano
6 tortillas fried into totopos
1 finely chopped onion
Salt to taste
Carnitas to taste
For the salsa, toast/grill all ingredients on the stove top and then put in blender with salt and water.
For the Chilaquiles, add oil into a pan and fry the tortillas into totopos.
While they fry, prepare sunny side eggs that will go on top of the dish.
While the totopos finish frying on the base of pan, start adding layers of salsa, queso fresco, the chopped onions, and the carnitas.
Finally, add the sunny side eggs on top and serve.
Serve this delicious Chilaquiles accompanied by crema and enjoy!