How To Learn Spanish While Making Huevos Rancheros (Recipe)

avatarMille Larsen
14 mins read

Having been an avid reader of AutoLingual for a while now, I've been wanting to do a guest post and when I finally got around to asking Randy about it recently he came up with a very interesting suggestion: do a recipe in Spanish and dissect it the way you do those Shakira music videos. That's actually a spectacular idea — so good, in fact, I might continue the recipe theme in the future on my own site.

He suggested a popular Latin American dish, I agreed it ought to be something popular but also fairly easy and not too complicated. I almost went with arroz con pollo, but finally decided on huevos rancheros since they meet the criteria and everyone loves making breakfast food no matter what time of day it is.

What Is It?

Huevos rancheros are "ranchers' eggs", originally a Mexican dish eaten as breakfast by farmers prior to starting their day, it has spread and is very, very common throughout all of Latin America. It's an extremely simple dish, consisting basically of eggs (usually 2 per serving), corn tortillas (frequently substituted by wheat tortillas, though most Mexicans consider this an abomination to be avoided unless you absolutely cannot get corn tortillas), a bit of butter, and some fresh salsa that you make right then and there (again, the stuff in the can/jar is to be avoided if at all possible). That's it: corn tortillas, eggs, salsa (rice and refried beans are frequently paired with it, but aren't technically considered part of huevos rancheros).

It sounds simple, and it is, but there are a billion ways to screw it up, and there are a lot of incorrect recipes out there and people serving something called "huevos rancheros" that really aren't. Cheese isn't part of it, sour cream isn't part of it - these things are frequently added at Tex-Mex restaurants to please the American palette and their expectation that all Mexican food will involve cheese and sour cream.

Here's la receta (the recipe):

Los Ingredientes

  • Aceite de oliva

  • cebolla mediana, picada (aproximadamente media taza)

  • 1 lata de 15 onzas de tomates enteros, preferentemente asada al fuego, si los puede conseguir (o 1 - 2 grandes tomates frescos madurados en la planta, cuando en temporada)

  • La mitad de una lata de 6 onzas de chiles verdes Anaheim en cubitos

  • Chipotle chile en polvo, salsa de adobo, o comino molido al gusto (opcional)

  • 4 tortillas de maíz

  • Mantequilla

  • 4 huevos frescos

  • 2 cucharadas de cilantro fresco, picado (opcional)



  • Olive oil

  • medium onion, chopped (about a half cup)

  • 1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted, if you can get it (or 1 -2 large fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, when in season)

  • 1/2 6-ounce can diced green Anaheim chiles

  • Chipotle chili powder, adobo sauce, or ground cumin to taste (optional)

  • 4 corn tortillas

  • Butter

  • 4 fresh eggs

  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Let's analyze a few things up there, from the top down: you'll noticed the word picada used a couple of times, it means "chopped" and it comes from the verb, picar, which, of course, means "to chop" but only in reference to vegetables. If you were talking about chopping meat, you'd use trocear, if you were referring to wood or anything else, you'd say cortar, which is the general verb used to mean "to cut". Interesting, huh?

Lata pops up a few, times and means "can", cucharada is how they say "tablespoon", and I'd like to note something important about the word salsa: this simply means "sauce" in Spanish, and doesn't refer specifically to what we know as salsa in English. To a Spanish-speaker, any kind of sauce (alfredo, marinara, gravy, etc.) is salsa. You see this in action in reference to "salsa de adobo" ("Adobo sauce"), which is a type of hot sauce based on chile peppers, garlic, and vinegar ("adobo" means "marinade", by the way).

You see the phrase asada al fuego is used to mean "fire-roasted" in reference to fire-roasted tomatoes: asada means "roasted" and comes from the verb asar which means "to grill", fuego means "fire", and al is a contraction of a ("at") and el ("the"), so with asada al fuego you get, more literally, "roasted at the fire", make sense?

Where it says: "1 - 2 grandes tomates frescos madurados en la planta, cuando en temporada", I'm sure you've determined that grandes tomates means "large tomatoes", and possibly that fresco means "fresh". Now, madurado means "ripened" and comes from the verb madurar which means "to ripen or mature" and en la planta means "on the vine" (planta means "plant", so it's literally saying "on the plant").

Where it says "La mitad de una lata de 6 onzas de chiles verdes Anaheim en cubitos", mitad means "half" and, as I mentioned, lata means "can", but what's interesting is how they say "diced", which is en cubitos — now, the way you say "cube" is cubo and you can make nearly anything "small" by adding -ito/-ita to the end of it, so the way you say "little cubes" (which you would since you're talking about cubes of food) is cubito, so en cubitos literally means "in little cubes", or "diced".

Instrucciones (Directions)

  1. Haga la salsa por primero por ablandar la cebolla en un poco de aceite de oliva en una sartén grande a fuego moderado. Cuando transparente, añada los tomates y el jugo que los tomates se envasan. Quiebre los tomates con los dedos mientras los pone en la sartén. Si está utilizando tomates frescos, cortelos en primer lugar, entonces añada. Tenga en cuenta que los tomates frescos llevarán más tiempo para cocinar porque los tomates enlatados ya están cocinados. Añada chiles verdes picados.



  1. Make the sauce first by softening the onions in a little olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Once translucent, add the tomatoes and the juice the tomatoes are packed in. Break up the tomatoes with your fingers as you put them in the pan. If you are using fresh tomatoes, chop them first, then add. Note that fresh tomatoes will take longer to cook as canned tomatoes are already cooked to. Add chopped green chilies.


Notice that "medium heat" is said by a fuego moderado which literally means something like "at moderate fire," and below that you'll see that "at a simmer" is expressed similarly by saying a fuego lento, which literally means "at slow fire."

The normal word for "to add" in Spanish is agregar but that's typically used in reference to making something bigger or better, when you mean "to add something to something else" as we do here, you use the verb añadir and if you read a lot of recipes in Spanish you'll notice that "añadir" is always the verb of choice when they're telling you to add a certain ingredient.

Notice the expression Tenga en cuenta is used to mean "Note" as in "Note the following...", tenga en cuenta literally means "take into account".

Añada el chile adicional a gusto, cualquiera polvo de chile chipotle, salsa de adobo, el chile en polvo regular, o incluso de comino molido. Lleve a fuego lento, reduzca el fuego a bajo, y deje que cocer a fuego lento mientras usted hace el resto de la cocina, revolviendo ocasionalmente. Reduzca a templado después de haber estado cociendo a fuego lento por 10 minutos. Añada sal al gusto, si es necesario.


Add additional chili to taste, either chipotle chili powder, adobo sauce, regular chili powder, or even ground cumin. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and let simmer while you do the rest of the cooking, stirring occasionally. Reduce to warm after it has been simmering for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste if needed.

The way they say "to taste" is a gusto, which is actually also the literal translation since gusto is the word for "taste", though gusto can mean many other things and is frequently used with other meanings (e.g. "mucho gusto" where "gusto" does not mean "taste").

  1. Prepare las tortillas. Caliente el horno a 150 ° F, ponga los platos de servir en el horno para mantener caliente. Caliente una cucharadita de aceite de oliva en una sartén grande antiadherente a fuego moderado-alto, cubriendo la sartén con el aceite. Uno por uno (o más si el pan es lo suficientemente grande), caliente las tortillas en la sartén, un minuto o dos en cada lado, hasta que se caliente, blanda, y hay bolsas de burbuja de aire en el interior de ellos. Luego, quite y apilelos en una de los platos de calentamiento en el horno para mantener caliente mientras se sigue cocinando el resto de las tortillas y los huevos.


Prepare the tortillas. Heat the oven to 150°F, place serving plates in the oven to keep warm. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet on medium high, coating the pan with the oil. One by one (or more if your pan is big enough) heat the tortillas in the pan, a minute or two on each side, until they are heated through, softened, and pockets of air bubble up inside of them. Then remove them and stack them on one of the warming plates in the oven to keep warm while you continue cooking the rest of the tortillas and the eggs.

You'll notice that there are a lot of verbs here in the command form, properly known as the imperative, e.g. preparar and calentar. Preparar means "to prepare" and you see the imperative of it several times above as prepare, which is the 3rd person formal imperative. And with calentar, which means "to heat", the same form of the imperative is used which is caliente in this case.

In Spanish, with verbs ending in "-ar", the 3rd person formal imperative is made by simply taking the normal 3rd person formal present form of the verb and changing the -a to an -e. The 3rd person formal present form of preparar is prepara, as in usted prepara la comida ("you are preparing the food"). So to make the command form we just say prepare instead. Additional imperative forms seen above include ponga which is the imperative of poner ("to put"), quite which is the imperative of quitar ("to remove"), and apile (seen above as apilelos = "pile them") which is the imperative of apilar ("to pile" or "to pile up").

  1. Fría los huevos. Usando la misma sartén que utilizó para las tortillas, añada un poco de mantequilla a la sartén, a unas dos cucharaditas por 4 huevos. Caliente la sartén a fuego medio-alto. Raje 4 huevos en la sartén y cocine por 3-4 minutos para yema líquida, más para huevos más firme.


Fry the eggs. Using the same skillet that you used for the tortillas, add a little butter to the pan, about two teaspoons for 4 eggs. Heat the pan on medium high heat. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes for runny yolks, more for firmer eggs.

Again, the imperative makes several appearances, such as right at the beginning of the first sentence with the verb freír, which means "to fry", and the imperative of which is fría. You also see an interesting verb that I'd like to talk about a bit because it not only has its literal meaning you see here, but also is used in a couple of common colloquial expressions that mean something else entirely, and that's rajar, which literally means "to crack or to slice".

You see the imperative used at the beginning of the last sentence where it tells you to crack two eggs: "Raje 4 huevos en la sartén y cocine por 3-4 minutos para yema líquida, más para huevos más firme." — by the way, yema means "yolk," and "runny yolk" is expressed by saying yema líquida. Líquido/a is the way "runny [anything]" is expressed in Spanish when talking about food ("tengo mocos" is how you say "I have a runny nose").

Now, back to rajar. When it's made reflexive, rajarse now means "to flunk, fail, slander, or fire [from a job]" in Colombian and Chilean slang. (e.g. ¡No te rajes! is a way of saying "Don't give up!") And if you look at the literal translation you can read it as "Don't fail yourself!", and this was actually used as the title of a telenovela that's still running called ¡Anita, no te rajes!

Nifty, huh?

Por Fin

Para servir, cuche un poco de la salsa en un plato caliente. Cubra con una tortilla, entonces un huevo frito. Cubra con más salsa, espolvoree con cilantro si lo desee.

Sirva uno o dos huevos / tortillas por plato, dependiendo de su apetito.

Hace 2-4 porciones, dependiendo de su apetito.



To serve, spoon a little of the sauce onto a warmed plate. Top with a tortilla, then a fried egg. Top with more sauce, sprinkle with cilantro if desired.

Serve either one or two eggs/tortillas per plate, depending on how much you want to eat.

Makes 2-4 servings, depending on your appetite.

Concerning the first sentence that beings with "To serve...", the way you say "to _\_" (in the context of "to do this") where the blank is a verb, sometimes ending in "-ing" in English when it's "for ___" (e.g. "for serving"), you simply use para + [infinitive], as in this example where it's Para servir which translates as "To serve" or "For serving."

The word used for plate is plato, which is the correct choice when it refers to a plate for food. If you wanted to refer to a plate of glass or metal, you would use the word placa instead, which is used to refer to a plate of material, a patch of ice on the road, or a solar panel ("placa solar").

Notice the last part of the second sentence where it says: "...espolvoree con cilantro si lo desee." That word at the end is desear, which means "to desire", and you'll notice that it ends in "e" instead of "a" as it should if it were in the normal present tense. That's because it's not, it's in the subjunctive because the author is expressing a potential desire that you may have (i.e. there's uncertainty, and when there's uncertainty to express you use the subjunctive). If this confuses you or you'd like to learn more about how the subjunctive works in Spanish (it's complicated), I've got a really good article that explains the Spanish subjunctive that I recommend.

That's it! I really hope you learned lots of Spanish and ended up with some tasty sort of salsa-drenched-egg-and-tortilla concoction. If you've got any interest in learning Spanish or just language-learning in general (I frequently publish stuff that's not language-specific) then I'd love it if you came over and checked out my site where I show you how to teach yourself Spanish using all sorts of interesting techniques like translating and analyzing Shakira's music videos(I'm going to do a new artist next, not sure who yet).