Let Mexican molletes be your weeknight hero

COMFORT FOOD: Molletes (Refried Bean and Cheese Melts). Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post

This time of year, I'm on the prowl for dinner in the fewest minutes possible.

That's because, this holiday week, not only am I super busy at work, but I'm prepping dishes each night after work for my own Thanksgiving feast, so that Thursday morning I will be able to rise, shine and dine without being a zombie by the end of the day.

We've got more winter holidays on the horizon, so, when I stumbled across molletes (moh-YEH-tehs) on cookbook author Pati Jinch's website, I was delighted. Crispy bread. Love it. Refried beans. I'm there. Pico de gallo. Yes, please. The headline that caught my eye said: "No Way Not to Fall in Love." Totally agree.

As Jinich pointed out, the recipe requires only three ingredients and can be ready in about 10 minutes. She calls the open-faced refried bean and cheese melts "one of the most comforting foods I have eaten since I can remember." In Mexico, molletes are eaten at breakfast, lunch or dinner, and they are typically served with a side of pico de gallo.

The first night I made them, I ate them that way, but then felt a wave of DIY freedom when I read Jinich's note that she gathers optional toppings to make her sons "feel empowered in the kitchen, different from one another and like they are fully enforcing their free will on my territory." (I haven't yet, but, when I have more time, I plan to try them with crumbled bacon or crispy chorizo, as Jinich, host of the public television series "Pati's Mexican Table" and author of three cookbooks, "Pati's Mexican Table," "Mexican Today" and the new "Treasures of the Mexican Table," suggests.)

Getting started

For the version shared here, because I didn't have access to a bolillo or telera, I picked up a baguette. It's this simple: You slice the bread in half along its equator. Add a generous portion of canned (what I used) or homemade refried beans, top with your favorite cheese that melts well – I chose a pepper jack – and bake it in the oven until the bread is crisp around the edges and the cheese is bubbly.

I chose to pull some of the plush bread from the interior of the baguette and to crisp the bread in the oven before adding the beans, but that's strictly optional. I just like the crunch this produces. (I've read that some people slather the bread with a little olive oil or butter before toasting, but I didn't find that necessary.)

Then, serve the Mexican comfort food with whatever you like, such as store-bought or homemade pico de gallo, sliced avocado, pickled jalapeño, cilantro leaves and a squeeze of lime.

Biting into the warm, cheesy sandwich after a long day at work feels like a reward for my diligence. And the good news for me and mine is that we love them so much, we can eat molletes several nights in a row, jazzing them up with various salsas and cheeses. Perfect for this busy week and the hectic, wintry weeks to come.

Molletes (Refried Bean and Cheese Melts)

Adapted from cookbook author Pati Jinich.

Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes

4 servings

Food writer Pati Jinich describes molletes – open-face sandwiches of refried beans, melted cheese and pico de gallo – as "one of the most comforting foods I have eaten since I can remember." In Mexico City, individual bolillos are commonly used. Here a loaf of French or Italian bread stands in. To get crispy bread, hollow out the loaf and toast it first before filling. Use one of the cheeses recommended, or queso fresco or cotija. Serve them as is, or dress them up as we suggest with a few extra toppings.

Ingredients

1 (16-inch) loaf French or Italian bread

1 (15-ounce) can refried black or pinto beans

2 scallions, white parts separated from green, thinly sliced and divided

2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated or crumbled Oaxaca, mozzarella or pepper jack cheese

1 cup pico de gallo, store-bought or homemade

1 avocado, pitted and sliced (optional)

Pickled jalapeño slices (optional)

Fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems (optional)

1 lime, quartered (optional)

Directions

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Halve the bread across the equator, then remove all but about 1/4 inch of its interior. Place cut side up on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted. (If you place the bread removed from the interior of the loaf on the same baking sheet, you can toast, cool and then blitz it in a food processor to make breadcrumbs.)

In a medium bowl, combine the refried beans and scallion whites. Spread the refried bean mixture evenly inside the toasted bread. Top generously with the grated cheese. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bread is lightly toasted around the edges. (This is a good time to slice your avocado or make pico de gallo, if you choose to do so.)

Transfer the bread to a cutting board and slice crosswise into 4-inch lengths. Serve warm, topped with pico de gallo, and avocado, jalapeño, cilantro, scallions greens and lime wedges, if using, on the side.

Nutrition information per serving (two 4-inch molletes with about 1/4 cup pico de gallo) | Calories: 656; Total Fat: 21 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 50 mg; Sodium: 1267 mg; Carbohydrates: 81 g; Dietary Fiber: 9 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 31 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.

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