What do you call a meal you can whip up in minutes, that uses pantry and fridge staples, and is oh so satisfying? A win-win-win, that’s what I call it. This recipe for beef chilaquiles has been just that for me over the last 10 or 15 years I’ve been cooking for a family. I usually make this with chicken! Just goes to show you how versatile this recipe is – you could make it with virtually any protein you have leftover in the fridge. If you have nothing and no time, pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and you’ll still have dinner on the table in about 15 minutes. Read on to find out how! 

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When I first started cooking I was obsessed with Real Simple Magazine and their “5 ingredients or less” recipes they would have in each issue. Some of these recipes were really good, and some I’ve outgrown (a memory of making chicken curry with 1/2 and 1/2 comes to mind and makes me laugh). This recipe isn’t from Real Simple, but it’s kinda in that same vein. Inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe, I have tailored this to fit my family and included examples of the many ways this beef chilaquiles (chill-eh-khee-leis) can be made depending on what you have in the fridge, pantry or freezer. 

beef brisket chilaquiles easy dinner

So what is chilaquiles?? 


It’s like a thick tortilla soup? It’s like a Mexican casserole made instantly in your bowl? An excuse to eat chips! That’s it 🙂 

It’s a thick sauce made from meat and/or whole beans, chopped veggies like onions, corn, peppers, and a sauce (tomato and chipotle-based, like in this version, or any style you like). 

Historically, chilaquiles is a way to use up old tortillas and it could be made for breakfast. You might even see eggs added or see the dish garnished with toppings like Mexican crema, queso fresco, raw onion, and cilantro. 

Just be warned, these are the Americanized, easy, what can I use up version – I’m not claiming to be super authentic here in any way. Which is why I use tortilla chips and sour cream. 

It’s classic Mexican comfort food AND a way to use up what you have. Smart! 

chipotle chili in adobo

Let’s talk about Chiptole Chili in Adobo


Dial the heat up or down, depending on your taste, just by adding more of the chipotle chili in adobo. I don’t use this ingredient much, but I freeze whatever I have leftover from the can and save it for the next time I want to add Mexican-style heat. I just chop off a frozen chunk of chipotle chili and add it to my dish. Easy peasy! 

So the original recipe I made this from called for way too much chipotle chili in my opinion! I have used much less here, and then I encourage you to taste it at the end and decide if you need to add more. 

Okay, let’s make the Chilaquiles already!


Start by sauteeing onions and garlic, adding spices, and building flavors by adding the chipotle chili and the tomato sauce. 

chilaquiles easy dinner

Then add in anything that’s frozen like corn, chopped bell peppers from the freezer (I love the ones from Trader Joe’s!). 

beef brisket chilaquiles easy dinner

Finally, add in your protein that is already cooked – I used chopped leftover beef brisket here, but you could also use shredded chicken or canned or homemade beans. 

For beans, black beans and/or pinto beans work well in this dish, but I’ve also made it with white navy beans! 

I like to leave all the toppings on the counter and let folks make their own, layering in a bed of chips in a bowl, ladle over the sauce, then top it with things like chopped cilantro, green onions, avocado slices, feta or shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and more hot sauce if they want. 

How to mix it up: variations on the dish

I’ve been thinking that if you had some leftover cooked and cubed sweet potato or leftover cooked butternut squash that would be delicious in here. Sometimes I add enchilada sauce if I have leftovers of that sitting around.

The sauce can really be whatever sauce you like on enchiladas, so Verde chilaquiles or even Mole chilaquiles would be so yummy! I love pureed pumpkin added in the colder months. 

Want to make it extra comforting?? Add some mushrooms in the beginning and saute those with the onions and garlic, and then swirl in a drizzle of cream at the end. Voila: creamy chilaquiles! 

Here’s the recipe for this version of chilaquiles I made today – but be warned, the version I make tomorrow will probably be something completely different (but equally delicious). 

Beef Chilaquiles

A great way to use up leftovers in a tasty way! You can make this with beef, chicken, pork or just beans or lentils. You can also add any veggies you want to throw in there, and the sauce your family likes the best. Use this recipe as a template and customize it as you need to!
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Easy Dinner, Leftovers
Servings: 6
Author: Pickle Jar Studios


  • Saucepan
  • Knife
  • Cutting Board


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1-2 tsp chipotle chili in adobe canned
  • 1 - 14oz can chopped tomatoes including liquid
  • 4 cups cooked beef, chicken or pork shredded or chopped
  • 1 can beans pinto or black beans
  • 1/4 cup corn frozen or fresh
  • 1/2 cup mixed bell peppers frozen, optional
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 tsp pepper or to taste
  • 1/4 cup cilantro for topping
  • 1/4 cup cheese for topping
  • 1 green onion sliced, for topping
  • Sour cream for topping, optional
  • Sliced black olives for topping, optional
  • 5-6 cups Tortilla Chips for serving! You could use fried tortillas also


  • Combine oil and onion in a large saucepan with deep sides, or a dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Add in the garlic and the spices and cook another minute.
  • Add tomatoes with their liquid, chipotles in adobo, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer rapidly until slightly thickened, 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Add the meat and cook, stirring, until hot, about 1 minute. Add in the beans, corn, and bell peppers if using. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • Divide chips among shallow bowls; top with sauce mixture. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, sour cream, and cheese and serve (or let folks build their own!)

More easy use-what-you-have dinner ideas: 


Looking for more recipes like this? Pizza Night is a great example of the same “use up what we have” idea. 

Kristi and I talk about canned goods and how to use them on the podcast and this recipe is a way to use up those staples!