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The colors of Mexico: huevos rancheros

Published Aug. 28, 2005

In recognition of Cinco de Mayo, the Culinary Institute of America suggests serving huevos rancheros, or ranch-style eggs. They're colorfully appropriate as well as tasty.

Cinco de Mayo, a major Mexican holiday, is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when Mexican forces under Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza defeated French invaders at Puebla.

It took them five more years to drive out the French, but the victory gave the Mexicans hope that they could triumph. Both Mexicans in Mexico and Mexican-Americans in the southwestern United States (especially Arizona, Texas and southern California) commemorate the day with parades, speeches, feasts and dancing.

Foods that include the predominant colors of the Mexican flag, green, white and red, are especially suitable for the feasts and huevos rancheros, with their avocados, sour cream and salsa, fit the bill perfectly.

Eggs paired with zesty salsa and warm corn tortillas can make hearty breakfast, brunch or dinner entrees. Refried beans, avocado, cilantro, green onion and sour cream make up the CIA's interpretation of the dish. To complement the heat of this spicy combination, serve with a side of chilled sliced fruit.

Huevos rancheros can be made in a variety of styles, using different preparation techniques and a variety of ingredients. In its simplest form, the dish is made up of a corn tortilla, eggs and ranchero sauce.

Among possible variations: Poach the eggs in hot ranchero sauce instead of frying them separately; serve the tortillas alongside the eggs rather than using them as the base of the dish; or offer red or green salsa instead of traditional ranchero sauce.

Eggs are the fundamental component of huevos rancheros. They are an ideal ingredient, nutritious and inexpensive. The recipe below suggests fried eggs, although you can use scrambled or poached eggs.

When frying eggs, use a smooth-surfaced skillet or griddle that is heavy enough to cook evenly. If using a nonstick pan, add a small amount of flavorful fat, oil or butter to enhance flavor and to provide a crisp edge along the perimeter of the eggs.

The rich and creamy texture of the avocado supplies a flawless garnish. When you're selecting an avocado, keep in mind that they often are hard when they reach the market. Plan to buy them several days before you expect to use them. Ripen avocados at room temperature until they give slightly when pressed.

To prepare, cut in half lengthwise around the pit. Twist the two halves in opposite directions to loosen one half from the pit. Strike the pit carefully with a knife to lodge the blade in the pit, then draw it out. Scoop out the flesh in one piece with a large spoon.

Huevos Rancheros

Four 6-inch corn tortillas

1 cup canned refried beans

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegetable oil

8 large eggs

Salt and black pepper, freshly ground

{ cup grated Monterey Jack

1 avocado

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

{ cup prepared salsa

{ cup sour cream

\ cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

1 green onion, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the bias

Preheat the broiler.

Heat the tortillas by toasting them one at a time in a dry cast-iron skillet or directly over a gas flame until lightly toasted. Place on a baking sheet, spread each tortilla with \ cup of refried beans and cover to keep warm.

Working in batches as needed, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it is very hot but not smoking and the foaming has subsided.

Crack the eggs directly into the hot butter and reduce the heat to medium-low or low. Fry the eggs, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the eggs from sticking. Season the eggs with salt and pepper.

Fry to the desired doneness, about 2 minutes for "sunny-side up," 3 minutes for medium yolks and 4 minutes for hard yolks. Or, once the whites are just opaque, turn the eggs and cook for 30 seconds more for "over easy," 1 minute more for "over medium," or 2 minutes more for "over hard."

Top each tortilla with 2 fried eggs and 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese. Slide the tortillas under the broiler to melt the cheese.

Meanwhile, dice the avocado and toss with the lime juice to prevent the avocado from discoloring.

Top each serving with 2 tablespoons salsa and 2 tablespoons sour cream. Divide the avocado among the tortillas. Garnish each tortilla with 1 tablespoon cilantro and 1 tablespoon green onion, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 400 calories, 18g protein, 30g carbohydrates, 23g fat, 680mg sodium.

Source: Recipe from the Culinary Institute of America's "Cooking at Home with the CIA," (Wiley, 2003; $40).