photo credit: gourmetsleuth


Pronounced [chee-lah-KEE-lehs]. This dish is popular from the U.S. border all throughout Mexico and downward into Guatemala because it is a popular way to use stale corn tortillas. he dish consists of tortilla strips cooked in a sauce with meats or vegetables, or scrambled with eggs.

Chilaquiles History

The name chilaquiles (sometimes spelled "chilequiles") is derived from the word chil-a-quilitl which means "herbs or greens in chili broth" [In Nahuatl] or "a broken-up old, sombrero".

As with most dishes there are regional versions. In Sinaloa, Mexico the chilaquiles are prepared with a white sauce.

Mexico City is known for using a spicy tomato sauce and always tops each serving with an ample sprig of epazote.

In Guadalajara cazuelas are kept simmering filled with chilaquiles that become thick in texture similar to polenta.

Recipes Dating Back To 1898

Recipes for chilaquiles have been found in a U.S. cookbook published in 1898. The book was Encaracion Pinedo's El Cocerina Espanol (The Spanish Cook). She included three recipes one for Chilaquiles tapatios a la mexicana, Chliaquiles a la mexicana, and Chilaquiles con camarones secos.

About The Dish

Depending on the dish the tortillas are cut in strips or broken into pieces and topped with a sauce or layered, casserole style. Chilaquiles are frequently eaten as a breakfast food.  One traditional variation mixes the tortillas strips with freshly scrambled eggs and roasted chiles.

molcajete with fried tortilla strips
fried tortilla strips en molcajete ready for use in the chilaquiles recipe

Basic Chilquiles Recipe

Based on a recipe from / Serves 6 


  • 1 dozen stale corn tortilla
  • 2 1/2 cups Mexican-style tomato sauce (below)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 fresh or canned jalapeño chilies, or to taste, seeded and minced
  •  (wear rubber gloves)
  • 2 cups grated Monterey Jack (about 1/2 pound) or a combination of 1 cup Longhorn or Cheddar and 1 cup Monterey Jack.
  • 1/3 cup Crema 

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 35-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained
  • 1 onion, chopped coarse
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped coarse
  • 2 fresh or canned jalapeño chilies, or to taste, seeded and minced (wear rubber gloves).   You can also used canned chipotle chilies to add a nice smoky flavor.
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 

In a blender purée the tomatoes with the onion, the garlic, and the chilies. In a large skillet heat the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking, add the tomato purée, and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and black pepper.

Directions (Chilaquiles)

In a skillet heat 1/2 inch of the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking, in it fry the tortillas in batches for 10 to 20 seconds, or until they are pale golden and almost crisp, and transfer them as they are fried with a slotted spatula to paper towels to drain. In a bowl stir together the tomato sauce, the broth, and the chilies. In a greased 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish layer the tortillas, the Monterey Jack, and the tomato sauce, beginning with a layer of the tortillas and ending with a layer of the Monterey Jack, and bake the chilaquiles, covered with foil, in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 20 minutes. Drizzle the crema over the chilaquiles and serve. 

Tortilla Tips

This is not time to use your freshest corn tortillas. Start with stale tortillas or you can dry them in the oven. If the tortillas are too fresh and soft or thin they will disintegrate when mixed with the other ingredients.

Sources And Credits

  • Authentic Mexican - By Rick Bayless
  • The Cuisines of Mexico - by Diana Kennedy

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.