Stories from middle America

August 28, 2014

Back to School

huevos rancheros | COOP

For many, August marks the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Bathing suits are packed away, vacation photos are posted to social media, barbecue grills are scrubbed and covered, and stores stock their shelves with “Back to School” merchandise.

Parents, students, and teachers alike prepare for another year of essays, extracurricular activities, and school dances. Mornings are early and days are packed full, which means dinner can often take a back seat to homework and football practice.

For the last four years, I have worked toward earning my undergraduate degree in Secondary Education. It has been a long, tough road, but the final destination is in sight; I’ll graduate in December and (hopefully) join the staff of a Metro-area school as an English teacher. In order for that to happen, I’ll need to complete my semester of student teaching, which I began earlier this month in an 8th-grade classroom.

As most of you know, I absolutely love to cook. I love to try new recipes and experiment with interesting ingredients. Over the summer I had plenty of time to research, shop, and leisurely prepare dinner; this semester couldn’t be more different. I wake at 5:30 in the morning, spend the day in the classroom with students, attend meetings, grade papers, and complete my own homework. This is a level of busy I’ve not experienced in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of people have similar schedules and manage to get dinner on the table…I simply haven’t found my rhythm yet.

Or perhaps I’m just exhausted. As a frame of reference, it’s been twenty years since I was an 8th grade student. Back to school is tough.

I refuse to allow frozen pizzas or Chinese takeout to replace home-cooked meals, yet, I don’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen when I get home in the evenings. I’ve found that the trick is to have a rotation of dishes that can be altered or tweaked depending on preference or availability of ingredients.

For instance, I try to plan weekly menus based on a style of food, not necessarily the specific dish; Tuesday might be Taco Night, whereas Wednesday might be Pasta Night, and Thursday could be Sandwich Night. If I have a baseline idea of what I’m cooking, I can swap ingredients from week to week in order to keep things interesting and varied.

Take this week; I knew I wanted to prepare breakfast for dinner, but I didn’t want to fall back on scrambled eggs and toast. I wanted something with flavor, something that was simple, yet substantial enough to be categorized as dinner. Huevos Rancheros was the answer.

Huevos rancheros, translated to “rancher’s eggs,” is a popular and traditional Mexican breakfast dish consisting of fried eggs, chiles, tomatoes, beans, and lightly fried corn tortillas.

I know, right? Sounds delicious. And so easy.

There are several pantry staples you could always find if you popped over to mine and took a peek in my cupboards. Dried and canned beans of all varieties are one of them. They are so versatile and can easily take the place of animal protein in most dishes if you’re choosing to go meatless. Another are corn tortillas. They are inexpensive and keep well in the refrigerator. Canned green chiles, eggs, fresh or canned tomatoes, and feta cheese are always in stock. So you can understand why Huevos Rancheros was an obvious choice for a quick and delicious weeknight meal.

For this specific evening, I kept it relatively traditional. Though, if you wanted, you could change the flavor profile completely. Take an Indian approach and replace the beans with lentils, the corn tortilla with naan, and the Mexican oregano for cumin and curry. Or how about an Italian version with spicy tomato sauce, white beans, garlic, and sage on flatbread?

If you find yourself under a mountain of homework, papers to grade, and laundry to fold, take it easy on yourself and create an easy-to-substitute weekly dinner guideline. Make your first entry Huevos Rancheros. You can thank me later.

huevos rancheros | COOP

Huevos Rancheros
serves 2 (easily doubled)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano (if you don’t have it, that’s fine, regular oregano is fine)
3 – 4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
8 ounces canned roasted green chiles
1 teaspoon red pepper flake (optional)
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 can (15-oz) pinto beans (black beans or kidney beans would be great as well), lightly drained
canola oil for frying
4 corn tortillas
4 eggs
1 medium ripe tomato, chopped
crumbled feta cheese
fresh cilantro (garnish – optional)
freshly squeezed lime juice (optional)
hot sauce (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and oregano and sauté until onions are soft and translucent. Don’t rush this step and keep heat just so that it doesn’t brown the onions. After 8 or so minutes, add green chiles, stock, kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flake, if using. Allow mixture to come to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for at least 15 minutes, or until reduced by half.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water into a slurry. After chile mixture has reduced, add cornstarch slurry and allow it to simmer until slightly thickened. You don’t want it so thick that it won’t pour; keep an eye on the burner temperature and make sure mixture is at a gentle simmer. Once thickened, keep warm at low temperature until ready to serve.

Over medium-low heat, warm beans in small saucepan with a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Mash slightly and add a splash of chicken or vegetable stock if beans appear too dry. Decrease heat and keep warm.

In a nonstick skillet, add enough canola oil to cover the bottom, heat over medium-high until shimmering. One by one, dip corn tortillas into oil, lightly frying on each side, just until a little color appears. Place on paper towels to soak up any residual oil. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Pour the majority of the oil out of the skillet, then place over medium heat. Crack the 4 eggs into the skillet, season lightly with kosher salt and black pepper, and fry to desired doneness. I prefer over easy, which takes around 5 minutes. You may need to cover skillet slightly with lid in order to move the process along.

Divide tortillas among two plates. Divide beans among the tortillas, top with green chile sauce, eggs, and tomatoes. Sprinkle with feta cheese, cilantro, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and hot sauce, if desired.


  • Wise Owl Sly Fox

    What a fresh take on brinner!

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