Molletes. They’re the Mexican equivalent of the American grilled cheese. Essentially, it’s stuff that you scrounge from the fridge, and in Mexico, that’s typically beans, cheese, and salsa. And it makes an insanely satiating comfort food fix any time of day. But lest you think this is a no-brainer, there’s an art to it, including properly toasting and buttering the bread, adding just the right amount of beans and cheese, and then carefully melting that queso under the broiler until golden and bubbly. And as you probably already surmised, although this recipe makes ample to serve you and a few others, it can easily be scaled down to make just one. You know, for emergencies.–David Leite

Two people reaching for traditional molletes on a platter with a bowl of salsa in the middle.

Traditional Molletes

5 / 4 votes
This molletes is really more something you commit to memory than it is a recipe. It’s just refried beans on toast smothered with cheese and broiled until bubbly. Essentially Mexican grilled cheese.
David Leite
CourseMains
CuisineMexican
Servings4 molletes
Calories279 kcal
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large rolls, preferably teleras, Portuguese, kaiser, or ciabatta, split
  • 1/4 cup (or a little more) refried beans, either pinto or black
  • 6 ounces Chihuahua cheese or provolone cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Pico de Gallo or salsa

Instructions 

  • Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 500°F (260°C).
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat until it’s nice and hot. Spread the butter over the cut sides of the roll halves. Place the rolls, cut sides down, in the skillet and let them go, untouched, until lightly golden brown and crisp, which ought to take just a minute or so.
  • Spread a thin layer of beans over the toasted side of each roll. Top with a thin layer of cheese. Place the molletes in the oven just until the cheese has melted and turned golden brown in a few spots, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Serve the molletes immediately and pass the Pico de Gallo or salsa on the side. 

Notes

*What is chihuahua cheese?

A Mexican semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk, queso Chihuahua has a semi-firm texture with a pale yellow color. Its mild, buttery taste and meltability make it perfect for use in molletes. The author recommends substituting provolone if you can’t find Chihuahua. A mix of mozzarella and white cheddar will also give you a good approximation of meltiness and flavor.
Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales

Adapted From

Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales

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Nutrition

Serving: 1 molleteCalories: 279 kcalCarbohydrates: 20 gProtein: 15 gFat: 16 gSaturated Fat: 9 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 37 mgSodium: 843 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2012 Roberto Santibañez. Photo © 2012 Todd Coleman. Photo © 2021 Guajillo studio. All rights reserved.


Recipe Testers’ Reviews

There are times when you need something more than a grilled cheese sandwich. A mollete is what you eat during those times. With a fried egg, this’d be the perfect breakfast antidote to cure your ails from the night before (you know where I’m going, don’t you?). I’ve made these a few times and found that toasting the rolls until they’re lightly golden brown is key–any darker and they just get too crispy from their time in the broiler, so keep a close eye on them. Chihuahua cheese can be difficult to find in my area so I used a shredded Mexican blend and it worked nicely.

Delicious, very simple, and comforting snack or lunch. I really like the combination of beans and cheese with the salsa. Would be nice with some sliced avocado on top as well. As much as I love butter, I’m not sure it was necessary here and would’ve been okay with just the beans, cheese, and salsa. Quick and very satisfying! I used provolone, which was tasty, but I’d try experimenting with different cheese next time.

Who knew half a sandwich could be so satisfying? This takes no more than a few minutes to put together and results in a lovely meal that’s perfect for anyone. Because this recipe was so simple, it left time for me to visit with family and friends and still produce a dish that was unique and comforting. Everyone looked on with anticipation at the bubbly cheese on the half kaiser roll. The taste proved to offer even more than the first look. The light layer of beans offered a perfect touch of depth and delight at the first bite. This recipe works just as written, is super simple and quick, and produces a great meal.

For such a simple sandwich, this was a huge hit! I didn’t expect to like it and was sure my son who doesn’t eat beans wouldn’t like it, but everyone devoured these. My in-laws were visiting and said it reminded them of the beans on toast they used to make when they were first married using baked beans, bacon, and cheese, but they loved the Mexican twist. This’ll be a great recipe to have with a bowl of soup on those nights that I end up not having time to cook a full meal.

Living in Chicago, home of Rick Bayless, we’ve got a lot of opportunities to eat this sort of sandwich on a regular basis: four varieties are included on his Tortas Frontera restaurant menu, and two of these restaurants are located inside of O’Hare Airport (the travelers among you can try out the real thing if you’re visiting!). On his menu, a mollete is described simply as a warm open-faced sandwich. Made at home with this recipe, it was a pretty special version of a warm open-faced sandwich: simple details, such as buttering and toasting the bread before assembling the sandwich, elevate it above an everyday experience.

I felt like I was cheating using a kaiser roll, but it toasted up quite nicely. I used refried pintos and the more traditional option of Chihuahua cheese. And I used salsa, as opposed to pico de gallo. The amount of cheese called for in the recipe created more than a thin layer of cheese atop the beans, but I went ahead and used it all anyway. As a result, I left my sandwiches in the oven a bit longer, to make certain the cheese was nice and melty all the way through.

Depending on what else you’re serving with these sandwiches, one might not be enough. I served mine with sliced avocados and easily ate 2 of the sandwiches, meaning this recipe would serve 2, not 4. Additionally, the 1/2 cup of pico de gallo or salsa divided by 4 would’ve meant just a couple of tablespoons per sandwich and we preferred more (that’d depend on the heat of the salsa, I imagine). Ours wasn’t very spicy so we used maybe double the amount of salsa per sandwich. I’m now thinking of making a variety of these for a brunch, serving them alongside a plate of colorful citrus slices, for an enticing change of pace from the usual eggy brunch items.

Strangely enough I had never made these before. What was I thinking? These suckers are addictive. We already want to make them again. I love the crisp buttery rolls, topped with the creamy refried beans and gooey provolone. Just when you think this is delicious enough, out comes the homemade pico de gallo. The flavor combination is just…so…delicious. And talk about simple. This recipe practically put itself together, which is nice during the holidays. I’ve a feeling this may be our lunch tomorrow.




About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


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8 Comments

  1. How interesting!

    I have yet to encounter this in SoCal where Mexican has risen to the status of just “food”.

    I’ve always thought of quesadillas — with whatever’s on hand to add — as Mexican grilled cheese.

    I look forward to trying this and discovering queso Chihuahua one day when I take a break from no-carbing.