- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Holidays are a great excuse to pull out the stops, and Father’s Day is no exception. Yet Father’s Day is not as commonly thought of as a brunch holiday as is Mother’s Day, and I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because many celebrate with a barbecue in the middle of the afternoon. Why not try something new and make a hefty, spicy, colorful, festive brunch for dad? It could be the beginning of a delicious tradition.

How about some over-the-top, south-of-the-border home fries? This hearty Mexican-inspired dish is eminently doable and is fantastic, better than anything you could get at most restaurants.

Serve the fries with scrambled eggs, salsa and a bowl of watermelon chunks that have been soaked in lime juice and splashed with tequila. To properly crisp home fries, you need to perform three simple cooking processes:

• Boil the potatoes.

• Fry them in hot oil until brown and crisp.

• Add the onions and seasonings.

Homemade home fries are actually straightforward, and the Mexican accouterments are a great opportunity to experiment with team cooking with your children.

You can boil the potatoes up to several days in advance. Prepare all the other ingredients ahead, too, then assemble just before serving. You can also store the completed recipe in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Home fries reheat beautifully, either in a hot, lightly oiled frying pan or spread on a tray in a 350-degree oven. Any type of potato will work, and you can combine kinds. Waxy varieties such as Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes hold together well, whereas russets are drier and more powdery but fry up nicely, even though they may fall apart.

Potatoes that fall apart are actually fine for home fries and can lead to an interesting texture.

Mexican home fries

You can cut the tortillas into any size and shape. Children love to do this with scissors. For a milder flavor, remove and discard the seeds from the chilies. (Wash your hands after handling these or any other chilies.) You can also substitute canned green chilies.

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Prepared potatoes (recipe follows) or about 2 pounds leftover cooked potatoes (see note)

3 or 4 corn tortillas

Salt

1 to 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, optional

1½ to 2 cups chopped onion

2 teaspoons cumin

1 cup diced (any color) bell pepper

3/4 cup minced Anaheim and/or poblano chilies

3 to four cloves garlic

1 cup cooked pinto beans, optional

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Freshly ground black pepper

Hot red pepper flakes or cayenne

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS:

1 cup (packed) grated Monterey Jack cheese

Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds

Sour cream

Salsa

Minced cilantro and/or parsley

Place a 10-inch skillet or saute pan over medium heat. After several minutes, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, wait about 10 seconds, then swirl to coat the pan.

Turn up heat to medium-high, and add half the potatoes, spreading them in a single layer in the hot oil. Let them sit without being stirred for 5 minutes. (Turn down heat if potatoes begin to brown too quickly.) During this time, cut tortillas into small pieces (about 2-inch strips, but the shape is unimportant) and set aside.

After 5 minutes, sprinkle in about 1/8 teaspoon salt and turn potatoes over, using a metal spatula and spreading them in a single layer again. Let them sit over the heat for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until golden.

Scrape from bottom to loosen the potatoes, and toss them around in the pan. Cook for another minute or two, then transfer to a plate or a bowl, scraping out and saving all the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Repeat this procedure with remaining potatoes, using another tablespoon of the oil and a little more salt.

After transferring the potatoes, scrape out the pan (saving the scrapings) and wipe it out with a damp paper towel. Return pan to heat, and when it is hot, add another tablespoon of oil. (You can also melt in some butter.) Wait 10 seconds, then swirl to coat the pan.

Add onion; saute over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes until soft. Stir in cumin, bell pepper, chilies and salt to taste, and saute for about 5 minutes longer. Add tortilla pieces and garlic cloves, and continue to cook, stirring often, for about another 10 minutes.

Return potatoes to pan, adding the beans, if desired, and stir to combine. Saute over medium heat for another 10 to 20 minutes, or until everything is done to your liking.

Sprinkle in lime juice and add black pepper, red pepper flakes or cayenne, and possibly more salt to taste. Serve hot or warm, with any combination of the suggested toppings. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

PREPARED POTATOES:

2 pounds potatoes

Scrub potatoes and cut into ½-inch cubes. (You should have about 5 to 6 cups of cubes.) Place them in a large saucepan, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Cook until just tender, then drain and set aside.

If you are going to make home fries right away, no need to cool them first. Just proceed with recipe.

If you are doing this step in advance, store the prepared potatoes in fresh water in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Drain and dry completely before using. (You don’t need to bring them to room temperature before using.)

Note: Leftover cooked potatoes (4 to 5 cups of any kind) will also work for home fries. Even baked potatoes, though crumbly, will work, and it’s OK to include the skins. Just be sure to cut them up.

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