Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce

securedownloadDecades ago I stood beside Dolores as she slid tortillas in and out of hot lard before filling them with grated yellow Longhorn cheese and chopped white onion. Rolled and moistened with red chili gravy, plates of enchiladas reached her Formica family table alongside a bowl of soft pinto beans. “And be sure to eat pineapple for dessert after having a chili sauce,” she cautioned, as she brought in molded lime jello studded with cubed pineapple. And there ended the first lesson.

Along Lazaro Cardenas street near the central market in Puerto Vallarta, a small sign reads Cenaduria Celia. The accordion doors don’t open until six in the evening when Señor Jorge walks out into the sidewalk beckoning passersby in for pozole or enchiladas. In the open kitchen, apron-clad women never miss a beat as the throng of locals and tourists alike pack the tables for traditional simple Mexican family suppers. There on a worn brown plastic plate I found the enchiladas of my expectations: memories fulfilled.

Basically a way to use up stale tortillas, enchiladas, a staple of the Mexican corn kitchen, take on the guise of whatever filling and sauce may be at hand. They can be gluten free and vegan, filled with beans; vegetarian with cheese and spinach; or more typically filled with shredded beef, pork or chicken.

In spite of what’s been said recently about simply softening the tortillas before filling, there’s no comparison in flavor or texture to tortillas that have been ever so lightly fried. Lard is the best, but even a few drops of olive oil will provide a remarkably tasty and chewy enchilada that will not dissolve into mush. First and foremost the tortillas must be corn—and stale. If you have fresh tortillas on hand, spread them out on the counter for an hour or so to dry out. Many recipes suggest dipping the tortillas in chili sauce and then the hot fat; however, if you don’t have a shallow wok-like Mexican two-bowled cooker, it’s more efficient to shallow-sauté tortillas and then dip them in the hot chili sauce just before filling and rolling.

True enchiladas are not smothered in sauce and topped with molten cheese. In Mexico enchiladas will most likely be assembled at the last minute, surrounded with a thin chili gravy, and sprinkled with some Coteja cheese and cilantro. Tacos may now be America’s favorite fast food, but enchiladas are still best made at home.

Red Sauced Enchiladas

5 dry guajillo chilis
1 dry ancho chili
2 cups boiling water
½ cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons good pork lard or oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dry oregano (Mexican if possible)
8 stale corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cooked beef, pork, chicken
¼ cup chopped red or white onion
½ cup chopped cilantro
Cojeta cheese or grated Romano

Wipe the chilis with a soft, dry cloth; remove stems, seeds and tear chilis into pieces (you should have a good cupful). Cover the chilis with boiling water in a small saucepan. Add onion, garlic and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and soak the chilis 15-30 minutes. Place the soft chilis and liquid in a blender, add more water if needed to puree easily. Push the liquid puree through a strainer to remove the chili skins.

Heat l tablespoon lard or oil in a heavy saucepan; add cumin and when it is fragrant pour in the chili puree which may sputter. Stir and simmer the chili sauce for 20 minutes adding crushed oregano and salt to taste.  Thin the sauce with water if necessary to make about 2½ cups of thin chili gravy.

To make the enchiladas: heat 1 teaspoon lard or oil in a heavy frying pan and have nearby a shallow pan of hot chili sauce and the shredded meat mixed with chopped onion and half the cilantro. Fry the tortillas on both sides in the hot fat replenishing as needed. Dip the softened tortillas in the chili sauce and add a line of filling across the middle. Roll each tortilla and place 2 to four filled enchiladas on each plate. Ladle over the hot chili sauce, garnish with a sprinkling of Cojeta or Romano cheese and fresh Coriander. Serve with black beans and wilted cabbage for a traditional Mexican experience.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at Amazon.com    http://amzn.to/9lOnZv

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