May 2024
Local Food
Chef Molly Beverly

¡Que Viva la Cocina Mexicano!

Mexico has one of the greatest cuisines in the world. Even in the most remote nooks of rural Mexico the combination of corn, beans, chiles and tomatoes is fundamentally delicious and feel-good nutritious. I grew up on this food. That’s why right now I have a huge craving for chilaquiles with homemade salsa and frijoles refritos.

Chilaquiles are made with tortillas fried in a little oil, set up with scrambled eggs, doused with spicy salsa, topped with crumbled queso fresco (fresh cheese) and chopped fresh cabbage, radishes and red onions. It’s served, of course, with a side of refried beans. You can use up leftover tortillas and everyday ingredients available in every Mexican kitchen. It makes a superlative breakfast and is even better reheated for lunch. Add a bit of chicken or chorizo and it’s a campesino comida casero (country home-cooked) satisfying dinner. For me chilequiles are the epitome of comfort food. ¡Muy delicioso!

Chilaquiles served with refried beans covers essential nutritional needs using basic whole grains, lean bean protein, healthy fiber, invigorating chiles, and flavor-rich tomatoes balanced with earthy oregano, epazote, cumin, garlic and onions.

You can find my recipes for Chilaquiles, Salsa, Frijoles de Olla and Frijoles Refritos, and a bonus recipe for spiced Café de Olla, below.

Chilaquiles and frijoles refritos have been on the Mexican plate for thousands of years. Long before the Europeans arrived and the nation of Mexico existed, the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica developed cities, written language, mathematics, astronomy, science and food cultures built on corn, beans, chiles and tomatoes.


Chilaquiles are based on tortillas de maize. Maize (corn) originated from the wild teosintle, a tiny seeded tropical grass. It was selected by human hands “from a single domestication in southern Mexico about 9,000 years ago” (Wikipedia), and spread over time through all of North and South America. The maize is treated using an ancient process called nixtamalization, adapted from the Aztec word. Whole corn kernels are cooked in an alkaline bath of roasted limestone or wood ash. This process dissolves the hull, softens the kernel, adds calcium, and releases niacin (vitamin B3) and some amino acids, making it much more nutritious. Nixtamalization also modifies the starch structure so it forms a dough that adheres to itself, so it can be pressed flat into tortillas! The great Mesoamerican civilizations were built on this food, and I’m having it for breakfast.


Chilaquiles almost always come with refried beans. All the common beans (phaseolus vulgaris) originated in Mesoamerica and were domesticated about 8,000 years ago. Europeans had favas, lentils and garbanzos; Asians had soy, azuki and mung; Africans had blackeye peas and peanuts. But all the rest of the hundreds of kinds of beans we now enjoy come from wild ancestors in Mesoamerica.

When served with corn, beans provide protein equal to that of steak. They’re low in fat and packed with fiber and nutrients. A cross-cultural study of older people showed that of all food factors only one was associated with longer health and life: beans. The results were “plausible, consistent and significant across all populations” — an eight-percent reduction in risk of premature death for every two tablespoons (20 grams) of beans eaten daily! You can view a video and read about this science-based information in “Increased Lifespan from Beans” on

Excitement, Spice and Flavor

But what is life without excitement, spice and flavor? Salsa is where it’s at, and chilaquiles are doused generously. Chiles and tomatoes were also domesticated thousands of years ago in Mesoamerica. Most peppers worldwide, both hot and sweet, originated from a single wild relative, the chiltepin. (Exceptions are the habanero and tabasco, but even they originated in the Americas.) You can still find this wild relative growing on the Wild Chile Botanical Reserve in the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona.

Chiles are the zing; tomatoes are the umami. What is umami? It’s the subtle fifth taste, lending depth, full flavor and body, and humans have specific taste buds tuned to it. Tomatoes and chiles mixed with onions, garlic, oregano and salt, that’s salsa. Besides the exciting flavor, salsa provides a banquet of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-cancer agents.

Chilaquiles with frijoles refritos are low in fat and full of flavor and health-giving nutrients. And what a great backstory! Writing this has only made me more eager for a plate of chilaquiles con frijoles refritos with a cup of cafe de olla. ¡Que viva la cocina Mexicano!

Time to get cooking!


Wild Chile Botanical Reserve, Coronado Forest: “Increased Lifespan from Beans” :

“Tomato Sauce vs Prostate Cancer”:


Betty’s Chilaquiles

I found recipes for several different versions of chilaquiles, but I’ve always made it the way I learned it from my friend Beatrice Diaz. Serves 4

8 corn tortillas, preferably a few days old
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4-6 whole eggs (substitute Just Egg vegan product if desired)
Toppings: fresh or cooked salsa (recipe follows)
Chopped cabbage, red onions and/or radishes
Crumbled queso fresco or grated jack cheese

Cut tortillas into wedges. Heat oil over medium heat. Add tortillas and turn them around until they are sizzle-sealed but still limp. Then crack the eggs into the pan (or pour in Just Egg). Stir until eggs are set. Remove from heat. Top with your choice of fresh or cooked salsa and any of the other toppings. Serve immediately with refried beans.

Andrea’s Salsa

Makes about 6 cups
2 28-ounce cans of tomatoes, whole or chopped
1 large onion, cut into large pieces
3 jalapeños, more or less to taste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano*
1 hefty clove of garlic
1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped

Put everything in blender except green onions. Pulse until onions and jalapeños are fine chunks.
Pour into a pot and simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Cool to room temperature and add green onions. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate to store. Keeps for weeks.

* Mexican oregano has superior flavor. Look for it in the Mexican spice section in most stores.

Basic Frijoles de Olla

Makes about 6 cups

The longer they cook, the better they taste.

1 pound dried beans, pintos, black or mayocoba (aka peruano)
10-14 cups hot water
2 tablespoons crumbled dried or 4 tablespoons fresh epazote (optional)*
Salt to taste

Carefully pick through beans, removing stones and any defective beans.

Rinse beans and place in large pot. Add enough water to cover and epazote. Bring to boil, reduce heat and let simmer gently, covered, till soft, 4-6 hours. A crock pot or slow cooker is excellent for this. While cooking add more water to keep the liquid level up. Add salt to taste.

To make Frijole Borrachos (Drunken Beans) add a bottle of beer to liquid as beans are cooking.

* Epazote is delicious but to come by and difficult to grow. Mine took three years to come up. Occasionally you can find it in the Mexican markets in Prescott Valley.

Frijoles Refritos from Carlos

Makes about 6 cups

1 pound beans cooked as above or 2 standard cans of beans
6 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
Salt to taste

In a wide skillet heat oil and fry onion and garlic till golden. Add 1 cup beans and a little bean broth, and mash them well as they heat. Add remaining beans, one cup at a time with a more broth or water, mashing and heating as you go. Taste and adjust salt.

Bonus Recipe: Café de Olla

I can't let a Mexican breakfast escape without some Café de Olla. It's transformational.

Makes 6 servings.

8 cups water
1/2 cup brown sugar (or 4 ounces of piloncillo cone sugar)
2 cinnamon sticks
3 allspice berries or cloves, whole
4 ounces ground coffee

Optional additions: Pick one or all

1 ounce bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1 star anise or 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger or 2 slices of whole fresh ginger
pinch of mace
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 whole cardamom pods
4 whole peppercorns
2 slices reishi mushrooms
1 strip orange peel

Bring water to boil, then add sugar and all spices. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Add coffee. Bring to a quick boil and immediately turn heat off. Steep for 5 minutes, strain and serve. Traditionally served with no milk.

Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.