Huevos Rancheros

Forget the full English - Gillian Orr tries a new way to start the day

There's certainly something wonderful about a long, leisurely breakfast at the weekend. Whether you're catching up with family or gossiping about the previous night's events, a substantial dish is an absolute necessity for nattering over. A measly bowl of cereal or a limp slice of toast is not going to cut it. And if you're feeling a bit bored with all the greasy fry ups and eggs benedict on offer, you might be keen to try out something a little different.

The seasoned bruncher may have noticed that Mexican-themed breakfast dishes have been popping up on menus all over the country. Dishes such as breakfast burritos – tortillas bursting with scrambled egg, chorizo, avocado and beans – and huevos rancheros – fried eggs served on corn tortillas topped with salsa and accompanied with beans and guacamole – are among the most popular items. Not only do they inject some excitement into otherwise tired menus, Mexican breakfast dishes are often considerably healthier than your typical full English.

And if you're yet to be swayed, you should know that Jamie Oliver described huevos rancheros as especially good if "you've got a hangover you're trying to shake off".

Wahaca, the popular Mexican food chain founded by Thomasina Miers, this month opened a new restaurant in London's Soho and is for the first time offering a full breakfast menu, serving up delights such as sweetcorn fritters, Mexican eggs, breakfast tortas, Mexican doughnuts, as well as classics including huevos rancheros. Horchata, a beverage made from almond and rice milk with cinnamon, and avocado smoothies, can also be tried out. Mexican cuisine, with its variety of flavours and plethora of spices, most of which are native to the country, mean breakfast is a considerably more colourful affair.

"Food is intrinsic to the lives of the people of Mexico. They socialise, do business, see their family and friends, all over food," says Miers. "And breakfast is a huge part of the day for them; they ensure they eat really well. Breakfasts can go on for several hours and really form part of the day. Much more so than over here."

Miers points out that the main foods that make up a typical breakfast in Mexico are the perfect way to start the day. "Obviously corn is incredibly nutritious, gluten-free and full of vitamins and minerals, so those flat breads which you can use as a base for any of the egg toppings or beans are great," she says.

"The beans used are very nutritious and a healthy part of the diet. Beans, corn and chillies basically provide you with all the protein, carbohydrate, roughage and vitamins that you need so the indigenous diet is super healthy. Avocadoes again are so good for you. Then there are all the amazing fresh juices and smoothies made with incredible tropical fruits. I always think I eat incredibly well when I'm in Mexico and we're trying to recreate that with the breakfasts as well as having some really fun, naughty things like the doughnuts and banana breads."

And although critics might point out that Mexico is now the second most obese country on the planet, Miers insists this is down to the influence of the United States diet creeping over the border and classic Mexican dishes are really very nutritious.

Boho Mexica in east London recently started offering a weekend brunch menu due to popular demand. There they serve up Chilaquiles (corn tortillas with salsa, egg, cheese and a choice of meat), huevos con longaniza (omelette with longaniza – a similar meat to chorizo, black beans, sweet plantains and corn tortillas) and huevos motuleños (fried egg over a layer of sautéed tortilla & ham covered in a roasted tomato salsa topped with green peas and served with sweet plantains).

"Mexican cuisine lends itself well to breakfasts because there's a certain freshness to the flavours," says Enrique Vivas, director of Boho Mexica. "And a bit of spice is good. It doesn't end up feeling so rich or heavy. We've only recently started doing it, but each week is busier than the last."

And it's not only Mexican restaurants that are offering such dishes. They're creeping onto regular breakfast menus too. In particular they are increasingly being offered at American-style diners such as Lucky 7 in Westbourne Grove, London, alongside the usual piles of pancakes and bacon.

But where has this demand for foreign breakfast dishes come from?

"I think maybe this massive burrito craze has made people look into Mexican breakfast a bit more and realised it's more than just burritos," suggests Miers. "There's such a massive interest in other cuisines at the moment and it's an extension of that, too. The recession has meant so many new start-ups specialising in foreign dishes that there is so much diversity on offer. It's made people really curious."

Huevos Rancheros

By Milton Crawford

Serves 4

Olive oil
1 onion, diced
Large garlic clove, very thinly sliced
1 green chili pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
Handful of coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 can refried beans
4 corn tortillas
4 free-range eggs
1 lime
1 red chili pepper, de-seeded and finely sliced (to garnish)

Heat a little oil in a frying pan or wok and gently fry the onion, garlic and green chili for about five minutes, until the onion is softened but not coloured.

Add the tomatoes and half the coriander to the pan, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the mixture has thickened slightly.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C, and gently heat the refried beans in a saucepan over medium heat. Lightly brush the tortillas with oil. Place directly on a rack in the oven for approximately 10 minutes, until golden and slightly crispy.

In a separate, heavy-bottomed pan, fry the eggs gently in a little olive oil. Just before serving, add a squeeze of lime juice to the tomato salsa, and stir in.

To serve, place a tortilla on each plate (slightly warmed). Spread a quarter of the refried beans on each tortilla, followed by a little salsa, and top with the fried eggs. Spoon the rest of the salsa on and around the eggs. Garnish with the remaining coriander and the sliced red chili. Serve with wedges of lime.

Taken from The Hungover Cookbook, Milton Crawford (Square Peg, £6.99)