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Tortilla tale: tips from a legendary cook - Food Adventures in Cooking

Elena Zelayeta--a jolly little woman who got stuck in San Francisco as a child in 1910 with her vacationing family when the Mexican revolution broke out--did more than anyone else to bring the lively flavors of Mexico to our everyday tables. By the time I began writing for Sunset, in the late 195 Os, she was a nationally recognized expert, with an enormously popular downtown restaurant, Elena's Mexican Village, and her own frozen-foods company. Amazingly, she had been blind for decades.

Nevertheless, in her kitchen, Elena led me through the intricacies of huevos rancheros. The key to this dish of eggs layered with beans and chili sauce, she advised, is to have all of the components ready, then fry the eggs and heat the tortillas at the last minute. When she began flipping tortillas directly over a gas flame, though, I gasped. "Well," she said, "this is probably too dangerous for you." Somewhat sheepishly, I took (and still take) a more cautious route to warming the tortillas, and sometimes a purchased shortcut to the sauces.

Huevos Rancheros Grande PREP AND COOK TIME: About 20 minutes

NOTES: If desired, stir a can of diced green chilies into the green salsa. Or, instead of salsas, use red and green chili sauces, canned or homemade. Cotija cheese is available in many supermarkets and in Latino grocery stores. You can make the beans up to 3 days ahead; chill airtight. Reheat to use.

MAKES: 6 servings

   12 corn tortillas (7 to 8 in.)

    2 tablespoons butter or bacon fat

    6 large eggs

    3 cups finely shredded iceberg lettuce
      Bacon black beans (recipe follows)
      Canned chunky tomato salsa
      (see notes), heated
      Canned green (tomatillo) salsa
      (see notes), heated

1 1/2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
      (about 6 oz.; optional)

    6 tablespoons packed crumbled
      cotija or feta cheese
      Sliced avocado (optional)
      Thinly sliced fresh jalapeno chilies
      Sour cream (optional)

    2 limes, rinsed and cut into wedges

1. Stack tortillas, seal in foil, and heat in a 375[degrees] oven until hot, 10 minutes.

2. In a 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat, melt butter. Break eggs into pan, slightly apart; cover and cook just until whites are almost firm and yolks are still soft, about 3 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, spread 1/2 cup lettuce on each plate. Lay tortillas on lettuce and spoon beans over tortillas. With a wide spatula, transfer an egg to each serving. Spoon tomato salsa around one side of eggs, green around the other side. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, then cotija.

4. Garnish as desired with avocado, jalapeno chilies, sour cream, and lime wedges; add salt to taste. Enclose remaining tortillas in a linen napkin to keep warm, and serve alongside.

Per serving: 414 cal., 41% (171 cal.) from fat; 20 g protein; 19 g fat (7.4 g sat.); 43 g carbo (7.2 g fiber); 664 mg sodium; 236 mg chol.

Bacon black beans. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat, stir 4 oz. Chopped bacon (4 slices) until crisp and brown, 5 to 7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Spoon all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan (save for huevos, preceding, if desired, or discard) and add 2 minced or pressed garlic cloves and 1 cup chopped onion. Stir often over high heat until onion is limp, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse and drain 2 cans (15 oz. each) black beans; add to pan along with 1 cup fat-skimmed chicken broth. Stir often until most of the liquid is evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir bacon into beans. If beans have gotten too dry, thin with a little more broth.

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