Feature photo by DDM

Most of the time, I don’t feel like I’m missing out by being a vegetarian. At just over two years without eating meat, I rarely have a craving for a hamburger or steak. I don’t usually miss the things I used to eat; rather, I crave the things that I never got the chance to eat and now can’t. I’ve never had French onion soup or steak tartar. Or chilaquiles.

Or rather, I had never had chilaquiles before I started working in a restaurant that served them. Chilaquiles, as apparently everyone but me knew, are pieces of dried tortilla coated and fried in a chile sauce and topped with cheese, eggs, and sometimes even more hot sauce. Working brunch was torture—my tables wouldn’t stop raving about how good our chilaquiles were, about the house-made chorizo and the perfectly poached eggs on top. And all I could think was “sausage, meat stock.” I stared enviously at my co-workers who would always order the dish after our shift and sit at the bar drinking Bloody Marys and making their way through the enormous bowl of guajillo-soaked corn tortilla strips and cotija cheese.

One day, though, an amazing thing happened: the kitchen told me that they didn’t make the chilaquiles with meat stock anymore. Those chilaquiles, sin chorizo, were mine.

They were everything I was hoping for. The dry tortilla strips had softened in the chile broth and the spice was offset by the sour cream and warm egg yolk. I ate my entire plate in under ten minutes and only wanted more. That’s when I decided I should learn to make my own.

If you want to be a vegetarian, you have to learn to cook. It’s that simple; if you don’t, you’re doomed to eating salads and cheese sandwiches for the rest of your life. There are vegetarians who eschew fake meat, feeling that if you’re going to give something up, you need to really give it up. I’m not one of those people. I have learned to like fake bacon and I happen to love fake chorizo, something I was sure could only improve the chilaquiles.

I used the recipe found here minus the chicken thighs and radishes and with the addition of Trader Joe’s brand soy chorizo. The most difficult—or at least most frustrating—part of this recipe is undoubtedly frying the tortilla strips which burn quickly if the oil is at the wrong temperature. Several recipes that I read got around this problem by using tortilla chips rather than frying their own strips, but I have an irrepressible need to make everything from scratch (cookies from a mix are the bane of my existence), so I made the strips myself. I also put a poached egg on top which adds a richness and some additional texture. By making the chilaquiles yourself, you can control the level of heat—I personally like mine so spicy that my eyes water, so I pour even more hot sauce on top of the eggs—as well as the crispiness of the tortillas.

The recipe requires a little planning; trips to the grocery store and some chopping and dicing are necessary. The preparation, though, is part of what makes them so good. When I was finished, my chilaquiles were even better than the ones at the restaurant, undoubtedly more due to my own sense of accomplishment rather than actual cooking technique.

There are a few other restaurants in my area that have vegetarian chilaquiles, and I plan to sample them all in the near future. I don’t know, though, if any of them will come close to the ones cut and soaked by me, fried in my own small skillet and eaten at the card table in my living room.

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