Today I am celebrating “Cinco De Mayo”. “What? (you may say)…It’s already August”! Let me explain. I’ve had a hankering for some really mouth-watering enchiladas for the longest time…at least since April. When I get this feeling, the only thing that will satisfy me is a plate of good homemade enchiladas. No matter how good the enchiladas are at your favorite Mexican eatery, they are never the same as the ones you make at home. Sure, we are all accustomed to that plate of enchiladas you get while dining out that is drowned in a plate of sauce and yellow melted cheese with an order of refried beans and rice on the side. It isn’t that this familiar version isn’t satisfying…it’s just not what I am craving. My version is lighter and tastier, but is much more labor intensive, which is one reason I have been putting it off. The other reason is that making them at home is a real ‘kitchen-destroyer. When you get done there are ‘muchas’ dirty pots and pans as well as sauce and oil everywhere! I embarked on this mission a few months ago when I made the sauce (it has been resting very comfortably in my freezer ever since). But, I just can’t put it off anymore so today is the day we complete this culinary endeavor!
Enchilada comes from the word ‘enchilar’ meaning to cover or “coat” in chili and the best enchiladas start with some really good homemade sauce. Once you’ve had homemade you won’t want to use canned sauce again. It’s really not that hard to make and, as I mentioned, it can last in the freezer until you are ready for ‘Cocina-geddon’. I am using two kinds of dried chilies: guajillos and pasillas. If you’ve never used whole dried chilies, once you get the hang of it you will find many uses for them and may even just want to keep some in the pantry as a staple. This sauce recipe is for one batch that will make about 3 cups. I usually double it and freeze what’s leftover. Along with a great sauce, the other thing that is going to elevate these enchiladas is loading the plate with lots of fresh ingredients. Lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, avocado, crema, onions, jalapeños, and hot sauce all go on top. We are eating family style tonight, which means everyone gets up and assembles their own. I am using two kinds of Mexican cheese: Queso fresco and Cotija. Queso fresco and Cotija are easy to find, even in the large supermarkets…it is definitely worth seeking them out. I also recommend picking up some crema from the Mexican market if you are headed there, and some really fresh corn tortillas. You could use sour cream, but crema or crème fraîche is much nicer. Ok, let’s get started by making the sauce…ready?
Red Enchilada Sauce
- 6 dried guajillo chiles, toasted
- 3 dried pasilla chiles, toasted
- 3 large tomatoes, roasted and peeled
- 1/4 large yellow onion, roasted
- 2 cloves of garlic, roasted
- 1 1/2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
- Oregano (optional)
Start by toasting the chiles. Heat a ‘comal’ (or heavy frying pan or griddle) over medium heat and add the chiles. Use a spatula to flatten them slightly and toast them evenly on both sides. This should take 1-2 minutes. You are only looking for a little color so make sure not to burn them. After toasting the chiles, remove the stems and seeds along with the membranes and soak in warm water for 20 minutes, drain and set aside. Next, roast the tomatoes in the pan, or you can do it in the oven under the broiler. The idea is to char the skin. Once the tomatoes are charred, peel and set aside. Roast the peeled onion and garlic in the comal or pan to char. Finally, add all of these ingredients to a blender along with the stock and puree (in batches if needed) until smooth. Add the puree to a sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Add some salt to taste and a little oregano if you are feeling herby. Your sauce is ready to use right away or you could cool, cover and refrigerate (or freeze) if you are using it at a later time.
Now it’s time for the enchiladas. You could make a plate of enchiladas and adorn it with a little cheese and call it a day. This can be a great part of a meal or even a buffet, so I’ve included the recipe for basic enchiladas. However, later on we’re going to expound on this recipe and bring our enchilada to the ultimate level of deliciousness so hang in there!
Basic Red Chili Enchiladas
- Fresh corn tortillas
- Filling of your choice
- Oil for frying the tortillas
- Enchilada sauce
This is the messy part. No matter what you do, you are going to have oil and sauce everywhere! It also helps to have another set of hands. Start by heating some oil in a frying pan over medium heat. In another pan heat your sauce. Have a plate ready to stack the tortillas as they come out on the sauce. Place a tortilla in the oil for about 30 seconds then flip it over for another 30 seconds (you don’t want them crispy; you just want to soften them up). Let some of the oil drain back into the pan or over a paper towel, and then place it into the sauce. A minute on each side in the sauce is all you need. Remove the tortilla from the sauce and start stacking them onto a plate as you repeat the process with the remaining tortillas. The next step is where another set of hands comes in. You will be filling the prepared tortillas with any kind of meat, cheese, or veggie-filling you want. Today we are using chicken that was prepared by poaching a couple chicken breasts in water until cooked, and shredding it. When you are ready to assemble, get your ‘enchilada flunky’ to put some filling in each tortilla and roll them up, placing them on a clean plate. You will end up with a beautiful plate of enchiladas. You can spoon a little sauce over them and top with some crumbled cheese and call it a day, but I urge you to press on.
The Whole Enchilada
Place all the enchiladas you need in an ovenproof dish. Cover it with foil and put it aside. In the meantime, try coaxing your ‘enchilada flunky’ to clean the kitchen while you fix yourself a tall cocktail and take a well-deserved break. When you are ready to serve, put the covered enchiladas in the oven just long enough to warm through. Place two or three enchiladas on each plate and top with the following:
- Shredded lettuce
- Chopped tomatoes
- Sliced onions, sliced thin with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt
- Queso fresco, crumbled
- Queso Cotija, grated
- Avocado, sliced
- Crema (or crème fraîche)
- Jalapeños, sliced
- Hot sauce
Serve as is or with your favorite sides. In my case it is a bowl of beans and some Spanish rice. Remember to pass the tequila!
(Too much work? There is an easier way… stay tuned!)