In Mexico, stale tortillas rarely go to waste. Instead, they are transformed into something so delicious it appears almost too simple to be so satisfying.

Chilaquiles are—at their most basic—fried tortilla chips cooked briefly in salsa. But with a range of toppings, they can amount to so much more, a blank slate that exemplifies the power of contrasting flavors and textures using everyday ingredients. The chips absorb flavor as they become simultaneously crunchy, chewy and soft, with toppings that are cooling or fiery, creamy or crisp. Maybe all of the above.

Just don’t call them nachos. Unlike their Tex-Mex cousin, chilaquiles mostly are eaten for breakfast with eggs on top. And where nachos are all about the melty baked cheese, chilaquiles are about the sauce, and they get merely a sprinkling of cheese. The salsa (the name of the dish comes from Náhuatl Aztec for “submerged in chili”) can be smoky red from chipotles and charred tomatoes, or bright green from tangy tomatillos and boiled serranos, or even chocolaty rich with deep, dark mole.

Besides the cheese and salsa, other common toppings for chila­quiles include bright ingredients that balance the richness, such as tangy sour cream, onion and fresh cilantro, but it rarely stops there.

“You can use any number of sauces or toppings, like eggs in the morning or chicken later, but we put everything in it,” says Mariana Alfarache, chef of Lalo! in Mexico City, where topping options include avocado, chorizo and bacon. “It’s one of the most adaptable dishes we have.”

With such a range of options, we focused on maximizing the flavor of pantry ingredients most cooks already have on hand. We opted for a red salsa, starting by charring onion and garlic to pull out the aromatics’ natural sweetness while adding smoky bitterness. Canned fire-roasted tomatoes and chipotles offered a convenient way to double down on that smokiness, and cumin added earthy depth that contrasted with the tangy brightness of the tomato.

After blitzing those ingredients in a blender, we reduced the salsa in a skillet to bring out the tomato’s jammy richness, then tossed the chips in the sauce. With most of the liquid cooked out of it, the salsa coated the chips instead of making them soggy.

To lighten the dish, we skipped deep-frying tortillas in favor of baking them, though bagged tortilla chips work well, too. Chopped onion and cilantro added freshness to balance the roasted, rich flavors in the salsa. Scrambled or fried eggs make it a full meal, but of course, feel free to add your own favorite toppings.