Huevos Rancheros

…might not seem like an obvious brunch choice for a rainy Saturday in North London. Surely “ranch eggs” are made for eating under the open sky, as fuel for a hard session of mending fences or herding livestock or (and here my lack of ranch expertise betrays me) dressing salads.  Or, moving into more familiar (and indoor) territory, huevos rancheros, along with the works of Maya Angelou, provide sustenance for disenfranchised New Yorkers who sing about “La Vie Boheme” in Jonathan Larson’s “Rent”.

However, even for indoor-dwelling convention-bound Londoners like us, huevos rancheros is a very satisfying brunch – a sprightly (and relatively healthy) alternative to a fry up, with freshness from the tomato salsa, cooling influences of guacamole and sour cream against the flavours of eggs and bacon,  texture from crispy tortilla, melted cheese and velvety black beans.
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The beans, guacamole and salsa can be made ahead (cover the guacamole with cling film pressed into the surface) and then the assembly and cooking done when it’s time to serve, or else I’d prioritise the guacamole and salsa (and make a bit extra) and serve them with tortilla chips (I like the plainest, cheapest supermarket own brand varieties).

Recipe: Huevos Rancheros

This is not a million miles from a fry up, but lighter and healthier because of a few  key substitutions, namely toast -> corn tortilla, ketchup -> tomato salsa, bacon -> black beans (cooked with a bit of bacon for flavour!)

Replacing the piggy elements with black beans also reduces the overall costs substantially – for a super budget version, use 250g dried black beans and soak overnight, then rinse and cover with water before bringing to the boil and simmering for 20 minutes. For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon and maybe add diced carrot to be cooked with the onion instead.

Serves 6 (with 3-4 spare servings for seconds)

2x 350g cans black beans (or dried beans, see above)
60g cooking bacon
2 onions, diced small
8-10 corn tortillas (1 per serving)
8-10 eggs (1 per serving)
300g grated mozzarella
1 small carton sour cream (reduced fat is fine)
4 ripe avocados
2 limes
6 medium tomatoes
3 spring onions, finely chopped
Small bunch of coriander, stems removed and chopped
Chili sauce, to serve

  1. (Steps 1-4 can be done in advance, then just reheat the beans when you start on the tortillas) fry the bacon in a large saucepan (non-stick if possible, so that you don’t need to add any oil), then add the diced onions when the fat begins to render. Stir occasionally, but mostly leave the onions to soften and turn gold whilst you get on with the guacamole and salsa.
  2. For the quick salsa, wash and quarter the tomatoes, and use the food processor to blitz into roughly 7mm chunks – this should only take a few pulses, go carefully to avoid ending up with puree. Grind in sea salt and about ½ tsp sugar to taste, then mix with the spring onions and coriander in a serving bowl – this can go straight on the table for brunchers to serve themselves  later  (or snack on now with tortilla chips).
  3. If the onions are translucent and fragrant by now, add both cans of beans (or your cooked beans). Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, and stir every so often to stop them sticking. If not, make the guacamole and then some back to this step.
  4. Roll the limes with your palm on the countertop to release the juice, then have and squeeze into the guacamole bowl. Halve the avocados, lever out the stones with a teaspoon and scrape the creamy jade flesh into the bowl of lime juice. Add a tsp of flaky salt and mash with a fork (if you happen to have any roasted garlic around, this is a wonderful addition but I think it’s unrealistic to make some specially). Throw it to the wolves at the table.
  5. When the beans are soft, but not breaking up, you are ready to get going on the tortillas. I like to have two small frying pans on the two front hobs, with the beans simmering on a back one. Using a medium/high heat with both hobs, when the frying pans are hot place a corn tortilla on each and wait for the tortillas to puff slightly.
  6. Flip the tortillas and sprinkle with a thin layer of cheese, then break an egg onto each cheese covered tortilla from a low height. The eggs might slip off – this is fine. Wait for the cheese to start to melt, and the albumen to turn milky, then slide your widest non-stick spatula under the tortilla and carefully turn. The egg will fall off but the cheese should adhere. Place the tortilla, cheese side down, on top of the egg and leave for a minute or so – the egg while should be cooked, but the yolk should still be a bit runny. Ideally the cheese will be beginning to burnish and the edges should go lacy.
  7. Serve on a large plate with a scoop of black beans, then bring to the table for brunchers to add their own guacamole, sour cream, salsa and chili sauce.
  8. Repeat from step 5 until you run out of ingredients or appetite, whichever comes first.

Variations: Some people like to add chili flakes to their salsa, but I prefer to keep it mild, with everyone adding chili sauce to their own taste. Apparently chorizo would be a more authentic substitute for bacon, and I expect any mild grated cheese (reduced fat?!) could be substituted for the mozzarella.

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