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Huevos rancheros a sublime breakfast

Among the many things I enjoyed on my trips to Green Valley, Ariz., when my parents lived there was the drive down to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The highway glides through the beautiful desert landscape from south of Tucson to the Mexican border. D...

Among the many things I enjoyed on my trips to Green Valley, Ariz., when my parents lived there was the drive down to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

The highway glides through the beautiful desert landscape from south of Tucson to the Mexican border.

Depending on the time of day we headed south, we sometimes packed a lunch to eat in Tubac at the Presidio State Historic Park amongst remnants of a military fort established by the Spanish in 1752. We'd also visit Tubac's Center of the Arts and the showrooms of the many artists who live in the community.

Another stop we often made was at the Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Co. in Tumacacori. Established in 1943, the company produces picante sauce, green chili salsa, chili powder, chile paste and barbeque sauces made from fresh Arizona chilies. The spicy aroma that envelopes visitors to their shop provides a heady experience.

I always bought chili powder and sometimes Chile de Ristra, a string of dried chili pods to use in sauces. My suitcase smelled deliciously of chiles for months after my trips to Arizona.

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When we planned to go to Nogales early in the morning, we'd wait to have breakfast at a Mexican restaurant on the Arizona side. That's where I ate my first huevos rancheros, that exquisite meal of perfectly fried eggs, fresh warm tortillas dipped in red sauce and refried beans. It is truly sublime.

Dishes such as this are served in Mexico at almuezo, a second breakfast served to ranch hands and farm workers after early-morning chores.

The following recipe tells how to make the elements of huevos rancheros from scratch with the exception of homemade tortillas. But be sure to buy good tortillas from a Mexican restaurant or the Jimenez Tortilla Factory in south Moorhead. Canned beans, chiles, red sauce and salsa may be used, but the dish won't be as good as the one I remember from Nogales.

Huevos Rancheros

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 tablespoon oil

1¼ cup red chile sauce

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce

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2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano

1 tablespoon fat (bacon drippings, lard or butter)

3 to 4 cups refried beans (or a 1 pound can)

Grated Jack cheese if desired

6 hot fried corn tortillas

12 fried eggs

Avocado slices to garnish

Fresh cilantro

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Cook onion in oil until softened. Add red chile sauce, tomato sauce and oregano. Bring to a boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cut fat in pieces and mix with beans. Heat beans in a non-stick pan using more fat if desired. You may sprinkle beans with grated cheese.

Dip tortillas into red sauce, coating both sides. Place tortillas on individual plates and spoon sauce evenly over tortillas and top each with 2 hot fried eggs. Garnish with avocado and cilantro. Accompany with hot beans. Serves 6.

Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos)

1 pound dried pinto or pink beans, cleaned

5 cups water

1 large onion, diced

½ cup bacon fat, lard or butter

Combine beans and water in a pan with water and onions. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat for 2 hours. Return to heat, bring to a boil and simmer slowly until beans are very tender, about 3 hours. Mash beans with a potato masher and add fat. Mix well and continue cooking, stirring frequently until beans are thickened and fat is absorbed. Salt to taste. Makes 5 to 6 cups.

Note: The best beans are made by using a generous amount of fat - bacon drippings, lard or butter. In Spanish the prefix "re" may mean "thoroughly" so the term "refried" does not mean "fried again."

Red Chile Sauce (Salsa de Chile Rojo)

10 to 12 (about 6 ounces) whole dried ancho, pasilla or California chiles

3 cups hot water

½ cup tomato paste

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ cup vegetable oil

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

¼ teaspoon ground cumin seed

Put chiles on a baking sheet. Toast lightly in a 400-degree oven for 3 to 4 minutes, just until they give off a mild aroma. Do not burn chiles or they become bitter. Remove from oven, cool and remove and discard stems, seeds and pithy material inside chiles. Rinse in cool water, drain briefly and cover with hot water. Let stand 1 hour. Put chiles in a food processor or blender with enough water to blend and process until smooth. Add remaining water, tomato paste, garlic, oil, salt, oregano and cumin. Simmer sauce slowly for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes 3½ cups. Left over sauce may be frozen.

Tomato and Green Chile Sauce (Salsa Cruda)

6 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

½ cup diced green chiles

Zc cup minced onion

Salt to taste

Minced jalapeño chile to taste

Combine ingredients. Makes 3 cups.

To peel fresh green chiles, wash and wipe dry. Arrange close together on a broiler rack. Preheat broiler and put rack underneath so chile tops are about 1 inch below heating unit. Turn chiles often until blistered and lightly browned. Do not let them get limp. Watch closely. As each chile is done, put it into a plastic bag. When chiles are blistered, close bag and let stand until cool enough to touch. Remove one chile at a time, and peel by using a sharp paring knife to carefully pull away the skin. If a piece of skin won't come off easily, leave it on. Lay each chile flat and cut lengthwise to within ½ inch of the stem. Reach in with a spoon and remove seeds, core and pith. Cut off the stem and top. Rinse out remaining seeds and drain chiles.

Resources: "Mexican Cooking Made Easy," published by Sunset Books (1975); http://whatscookingamerica.net/Eggs/HeuvosRanchos.htm

Readers can reach Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

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