It started from such a good place. Unlike Pizza French Toast, which began as an attempt to salvage a series of bad decisions, Cheetoquiles actually began with a series of good decisions.
Let me go back.
I do not like salsa. (We’ll all pause here for your righteous outrage and calls for the revocation of my food writer cred card.) I shall repeat. I do not like salsa. This comes from the fact that I do not like raw tomatoes, nor raw onion, and I have that genetic enzyme that makes cilantro taste like soap. I also have an embarrassingly limited tolerance for spicy heat, being a total wuss. So as you can imagine, salsa is not my jam.
I like cooked tomatoes, cooking removes some of the weird mealy mouthfeel and deepens the flavors, turns the off-putting slippery jellylike innards into sweet juice, and removes the acidic tang. I like cooked onions, cooking takes the sharp bite and halitosis-inducing properties and turns them into sweet oniony goodness. As much as I don’t like the raw versions of these two ingredients, that is how much I love the cooked versions.
The cilantro thing is not my fault, because, DNA and science. I can stand it when it is used judiciously as a balanced part of seasoning a dish, but anything that is cilantro-forward is like licking a Yankee Candle for me.
OK, back to making good decisions. I was at my dear friend Shannon’s house and she offered me some salsa and I politely declined, citing my dislike of salsa. She was perplexed, as she knows of my love of Mexican food, having eaten with me at many of Chicago’s finest Mexican dining establishments. I said it was the raw tomato/raw onion/cilantro/spicy thing. She said her salsa is a cooked salsa, all the ingredients are roasted, including the Serrano pepper sans seeds, which tempers its heat, and that there is only a small amount of cilantro in it. Normally I would have declined, but Shannon is a good friend and an extraordinary chef, so I grabbed a chip. Mind. Blown. Rich tomato flavor, bolstered by undertone of onion and the tiny hint of garlic, light back-of-the-throat heat, but nothing palate killing. Bright lime, a bit of salt and just a teeny hit of cilantro right at the end, more a pale vegetal backnote than anything Ivory-like. It was freaking delicious, and my husband watched in total shock as I went back for more. And by more I mean half the bowl.
Shannon, in addition to being a good friend and extraordinary chef is also very generous and shared her recipe with me so that I could make it for myself. Which I did. In part because I’m working hard on the whole healthy eating thing, and I know many people who use salsa as a low-calorie condiment and now that I knew there was a salsa I liked, I wanted to see how I could enjoy it beyond as an accompaniment to tortilla chips, which are my nemesis, an open bag is an empty bag, and while salsa isn’t onion dip (which I love, because I am a girl of complexities), salsa’s healthiness does not offset a half a bag of deep fried tortilla pieces.
This is where things started to go off the rails.
My husband loves chilaquiles. They are his favorite breakfast. He lived for a time in a Mexican neighborhood of Chicago, and got addicted to them. I have never made them before, they always seemed like a restaurant dish, in no small part because we never had salsa in the house.
But with the new magic salsa, I thought I could make him a treat and whip up some weekend chilaquiles for him. Alas, no tortilla chips in the pantry, see: nemesis. Also, it a weekend in the holiday season in Chicago, so all of Wisconsin, Indiana and the full population of the suburbs are driving our streets in their gigantic SUVs, visiting various holiday activities and shopping up a storm. It is not a time to be out and about. But the local grocery delivery service, my best pal in trying times, delivers right to my door within two hours, and I do not have to put on real pants or navigate the crowd-swollen streets of my fair city. I had some other items we needed, so I placed an order, added a bag of our favorite tortilla chips, and hit the checkout button. So excited was I to surprise my honey with his favorite breakfast on Sunday morning, hot and delicious, I neglected to complete the most important part of the delivery ordering process, the replacement items. Because if you do not request a specific item to replace one that might be out of stock, you get their best attempt at a logical replacement, which depending on your shopper can be totally acceptable or wildly wrong.
You can see where this is going.
Instead of specifically requesting our second favorite brand of tortilla chips, I had left the replacement tab on “Best Match." Which according to our shopper on this day, turned out to be a bag of Cheetos. Original flavor crunchy Cheetos. Which I suppose are both salty and crunchy and come in a sack from the same aisle as what I ordered, but to my mind this is where they clearly part company with tortilla chips.
There I was. Cozy Sunday morning. Lovely hubby had shoveled the bit of snow that had fallen and brushed off my car. Salsa freshly made, eggs and shredded cheese at the ready, and no chips, just Cheetos.
But then I thought about those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, aren’t those essentially salsa-flavored Cheetos? Don’t people love them? There is cheese going on the dish anyway…
And Cheetoquiles was born. Out of necessity, out of love, and frankly out of laziness, because I really did not want to have to leave the house to go buy damned tortilla chips.
But like so many accidents, a genius dish was born. This is not to say that Cheetoquiles is a replacement for Chilaquiles, they are different sides of the same coin. Culinary cousins. But they are really really delicious. The Cheetos retain a decent amount of texture despite their salsa bath, and maintained it to the very end of the dish, not sogging out like tortilla chips do by the end. The cheesy flavor was indeed a good match for the salsa and I used less cheese than I would have had I been using tortilla chips. My husband was not just surprised, he was delighted and while they won’t replace Chilaquiles in his heart as his favorite breakfast? He’s not gonna kick Cheetoquiles out of bed for making his fingers orange, if you get my meaning.
photo by stacey ballis
Ingredients (for each person you would like to serve)
1/3 cup salsa of your preference
1 cup crunchy Cheetos
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup shredded cheese of your preference, I used cheddar
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro to garnish (optional depending on your enzyme situation)
How to Make It
This all happens quickly, so have a serving plate or bowl at the ready, and be sure all of your ingredients and such are pre-measured and at hand. Take a large nonstick skillet and place it over medium heat with the salsa in it.
Take a medium nonstick skillet and place it over medium heat with the oil in it. When the salsa begins to bubble and thicken a bit, turn the heat down to medium-low and let it reduce. While the salsa is reducing scramble your eggs in the olive oil.
When your eggs start to look like they are getting close to your preferred level of doneness, turn off the heat under the eggs. Turn back to your salsa, and toss in the Cheetos, mixing quickly to coat all of the Cheetos with the reduced salsa and warm them through, seriously like maybe 45 seconds.
Immediately move the salsa-coated Cheetos to your serving plate or bowl and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top. Give your eggs one last toss around in the pan, they should now be your preferred doneness from carry-over cooking, and top the Cheetoquiles with the eggs.
Garnish with chopped cilantro if you like that sort of thing. Scarf down immediately. If you want to get all fancy with avocado, sour cream, crumbled chorizo or pickled jalapeños no one is gonna argue with you. Well, except me, because I don’t like avocado either, but that is a discussion for a different article…