Photos by Alex Tepper
4 servings

In the Mexican breakfast canon, molletes are one of the most easygoing dishes: cheap, comforting, and designed to use things you’d already have in your fridge. You cut open a roll, spread it with refried beans, top with a layer of grated cheese, then broil until bubbly. It’s almost like an open-face grilled cheese, if grilled cheeses came with salsa on the side. (They should.)

Typically, molletes arrive topped with beans and melted cheese, sometimes sprinkled with crumbled chorizo or some other cooked meat. Really, though, they could be a vehicle for anything: avocado, pulled pork, goat cheese, herbs, whatever. At home I like to add vegetables, or the odds and ends I feed my toddler when he agrees to eat and not throw food on the floor. Everything comes together quickly and the combo staves off hunger for hours.

Mexican molletes most likely originated from Spanish mollete bread, an oval-shaped, spongy bread native to Andalusia. (Some say it was an Arab bread before that.) Not all Mexican molletes are the same. The state of Puebla is known for a dome-shaped mollete filled with pastry cream and topped with a pumpkin-seed icing.

Like stir-fry or curry or toast, there aren’t many rules for molletes. But here are a few tips. 

Salsa is a must 

Pico de gallo, a chopped fresh tomato salsa, is the typical accompaniment, either homemade or straight from the jar if you don’t have time to make it. I like using salsa macha, an oily, sedimenty, super-hot salsa made from blitzed dried chiles. Xilli makes an excellent one using from moritas, a type of chipotle. It will last for months in your fridge.

Use good bread, if you have it

Tradition calls for bolillo, a squat, plump Mexican roll, or telera, a larger, flatter roll with lines indented in the top. If you can’t find them, any soft roll that’s hamburger-bun-sized or larger will work. I tried some from a Chinese bakery near my house and they worked excellently. Portuguese rolls or Filipino pandesal could work well, too. The bread should be sturdy enough to hold the condiments. And toast the bread lightly first: this adds necessary crunch among all that topping. 

Traditional Molletes

Typically an order of molletes includes two bread halves. I’m happy with one—the bread tends to be thick and all the toppings are pretty satisfying. Double the bread and add more cheese if you want each person to receive two pieces. 

Sweet Potato Molletes

These were inspired by my son, who has a tiny stomach but somehow manages to eat ungodly quantities of sweet potato every day.

Poblano and Bacon Molletes

Charred poblano peppers, known as rajas in Mexico, go with pretty much anything: eggs, pizza, salads, rolled into a tortilla. You can freeze them, too, but mine always disappear quickly.

Lesley Téllez is a food writer, culinary tour guide, and author of Eat Mexico.

How to Make It

Step 1

Make the beans. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add the garlic and onion wedge and cook, stirring constantly until they’re blistered and dark-golden on all sides. This won’t take long. Remove the garlic and onion pieces, or leave them in if you don’t mind pieces of onion or garlic in your beans.

Step 2

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Step 3

Char the poblano pepper over a gas flame, turning until the pepper is mostly blackened. If you don’t have a gas stove, you can broil the pepper or use a nonstick skillet.

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