In the Mexican breakfast canon, molletes are one of the most easygoing dishes: cheap, comforting, and designed to use things you’d already have in your fridge. You cut open a roll, spread it with refried beans, top with a layer of grated cheese, then broil until bubbly. It’s almost like an open-face grilled cheese, if grilled cheeses came with salsa on the side. (They should.)

Typically, molletes arrive topped with beans and melted cheese, sometimes sprinkled with crumbled chorizo or some other cooked meat. Really, though, they could be a vehicle for anything: avocado, pulled pork, goat cheese, herbs, whatever. At home I like to add vegetables, or the odds and ends I feed my toddler when he agrees to eat and not throw food on the floor. Everything comes together quickly and the combo staves off hunger for hours.

Mexican molletes most likely originated from Spanish mollete bread, an oval-shaped, spongy bread native to Andalusia. (Some say it was an Arab bread before that.) Not all Mexican molletes are the same. The state of Puebla is known for a dome-shaped mollete filled with pastry cream and topped with a pumpkin-seed icing.

Like stir-fry or curry or toast, there aren’t many rules for molletes. But here are a few tips. 

Salsa is a must 

Pico de gallo, a chopped fresh tomato salsa, is the typical accompaniment, either homemade or straight from the jar if you don’t have time to make it. I like using salsa macha, an oily, sedimenty, super-hot salsa made from blitzed dried chiles. Xilli makes an excellent one using from moritas, a type of chipotle. It will last for months in your fridge.

Use good bread, if you have it

Tradition calls for bolillo, a squat, plump Mexican roll, or telera, a larger, flatter roll with lines indented in the top. If you can’t find them, any soft roll that’s hamburger-bun-sized or larger will work. I tried some from a Chinese bakery near my house and they worked excellently. Portuguese rolls or Filipino pandesal could work well, too. The bread should be sturdy enough to hold the condiments. And toast the bread lightly first: this adds necessary crunch among all that topping. 

Traditional Molletes

  • Yields: 4 servings

Typically an order of molletes includes two bread halves. I’m happy with one—the bread tends to be thick and all the toppings are pretty satisfying. Double the bread and add more cheese if you want each person to receive two pieces. 

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Make the beans. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add the garlic and onion wedge and cook, stirring constantly until they’re blistered and dark-golden on all sides. This won’t take long. Remove the garlic and onion pieces, or leave them in if you don’t mind pieces of onion or garlic in your beans.

  2. Add the beans and a little water and mash with a bean masher or the underside of a heat-proof cup. The ideal texture is a little chunky, but mostly smooth. Add more water if necessary to help the beans bind together. (If you add too much, it’s fine, just raise the heat and reduce.) Stir in salt to taste. (Note: I like the beans to be a little on the salty side, to stand up under all the toppings.) Remove the beans from the heat and set aside.

  3. To make the molletes, cut the rolls in half lengthwise, then toast lightly using a toaster oven, griddle, or a comal. Spread with a layer of refried beans and sprinkle on a layer of cheese. Broil for a few minutes until cheese has melted. (Keep a close eye—they’ll burn easily.)

  4. Serve warm, topped with fresh pico de gallo or another salsa.

Sweet Potato Molletes

  • Yields: 4 servings

These were inspired by my son, who has a tiny stomach but somehow manages to eat ungodly quantities of sweet potato every day.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  2. Rinse the sweet potato and prick all over with a fork, and place it on a foil-lined baking sheet.

  3. Bake the sweet potato for about an hour, turning about every 20 minutes, until tender when inserted with a knife.

  4. Remove the pan from the oven and let the sweet potato cool. Then slice it into thin rounds.

  5. To make the beans, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add the garlic and onion wedge and cook, stirring constantly until they’re blistered and dark-golden on all sides. Remove the onion and garlic if you want, or leave them in.

  6. Add the beans and a little water and mash with a bean-masher or the underside of a heat-proof cup. The ideal texture is a little chunky, but mostly smooth. Add water as necessary to help the beans bind together. (If you add too much water, raise the heat and reduce.) Stir in salt to taste (I like them salty!), then remove the beans from the heat and set aside.

  7. To make the molletes, cut the rolls in half lengthwise, then toast the bread lightly using a toaster oven, griddle, or a comal. Spread with a layer of refried beans. Add sweet potato pieces and top with a layer of cheese. Broil for a few minutes until cheese has melted.

  8. Serve warm with smoky salsa spooned on top, and honey if desired.

Poblano and Bacon Molletes

  • Yields: 4 servings

Charred poblano peppers, known as rajas in Mexico, go with pretty much anything: eggs, pizza, salads, rolled into a tortilla. You can freeze them, too, but mine always disappear quickly.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Char the poblano pepper over a gas flame, turning until the pepper is mostly blackened. If you don’t have a gas stove, you can broil the pepper or use a nonstick skillet.

  2. Place in a dish towel and wrap tightly. Let sweat for 15-20 minutes; this will make the skin easier to peel off. Remove the skin, then cut the chile open and scrape out the seeds. (Yes, it’s all slightly time-consuming and annoying, but I promise you the flavor is worth it.)

  3. Cut the chile into thin strips about 1 inch long. For a deeper flavor, sauté the peppers in a little butter. (Or if you don’t feel like it, that’s fine, too.) Mix the peppers with bacon and sprinkle on a little salt and some ground black pepper.

  4. To make the beans, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add the garlic and onion wedge, and cook, stirring constantly until they’re blistered and dark-golden on all sides.

  5. Add the beans and a little water and mash with a bean-masher or the underside of a heat-proof cup. The ideal texture is a little chunky, but mostly smooth. Add water as necessary to help the beans bind together. (If you add too much water, raise the heat and reduce.) Stir in salt to taste, then remove the beans from the heat and set aside.

  6. To make the molletes, cut the rolls in half lengthwise, then toast the bread lightly using a toaster oven, griddle, or a comal. Spread with a layer of refried beans. Add a layer of poblano peppers and bacon, and then a layer of grated cheese. Broil for a few minutes until cheese has melted.

  7. Serve warm with salsa spooned on top.

Lesley Téllez is a food writer, culinary tour guide, and author of Eat Mexico.