Few things are better in life than homemade Mexican food. My parents always tell me that was one of the beauties of living in El Paso back in the late 70s and early 80s, before the city it was across the border from became known as one of the most dangerous places in the world, and back when labour was cheap.
People sometimes think Mexican is a bunch of grease and yellow cheese, and while Tex-Mex, which is close to my heart, might fit under that category more often than not, real Mexican is just as varied and regional as Italian cuisine (which others might argue is just a bunch of pasta and pizza; also, this is not the case). If you need any proof of this, I recommend the cookbook The Taste of Mexico by Patricia Quintana from 1986. This is also-pre Mexican explosion. Before it became trendy to make guacamole tableside in a molcajete and charge and arm and a leg for it. I think this book is the real deal. I’m really drawn to cookbooks that divide their foods by region, so you don’t feel like you’re getting a whole big mish-mash of what one might perceive as Mexican. And with the divisions in Quintana’s book, you see where seafood is a large player, get a taste of Mole Poblano, and see everything in between from various stews to different preparations of meats.
Enchiladas aren’t too cryptic to most Americans. You know it’s a tortilla, basically stuffed and rolled, covered in sauce and then baked. Depending how they’re prepared, they can be pretty Tex-Mexy. In The Taste of Mexico, I found a recipe for Enchiladas Potosinas where you make the corn tortillas yourself with a bit of chile ancho so they come out a brilliant dark red, stuff and lightly fry them, and then serve. In my book, these are not typical enchiladas. From what I’m used to, these were more like a take on empanadas or perhaps a gordita of some sort. Along with some guacamole, a sprinkle of queso fresco, and perhaps some sour cream, you garnish them with cilantro and onion…the only necessary condiments in real Mexican cooking which you’ll quickly find is tradiontal fashion after visiting a taco truck.
“Do you want everything on it?”
“Cilantro and onion.”
“Yeah, sure. Everything.”
from The Taste of Mexico, Patricia Quintana, 1986
In the Tangamanga market in San Luis Potosi, local cooks prepare this typical dish on braziers while hungry market-goers huddle around them eagerly awaiting the fresh enchiladas.
For the stuffing
¼ c vegetable oil
½ cup white onion, chopped
1 c salsa verde (recipe to follow)
Salt to taste
2 ½ c queso fresco or ricotta or feta
For the dough
6 oz chiles anchos, lightly roasted, seeded, and deveined
2 cloves garlic, whole
1 tsp salt
2 ¼ lb fresh masa or equivalent made with masa harina
3 c vegetable oil
For the garnish
1 c queso fresco, crumbled
1 c white onion, finely chopped
2 c guacamole
Prepare the stuffing: heat oil in a frying pan. Sauté onion until soft. Add green sauce. Salt, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool. Stir in cheese.
Prepare the dough: soak chiles in water to cover for 25 minutes. Drain, and reserve soaking water. Blend chiles in a metate, blender, or food processor with garlic, salt, and a little soaking water. Add chile mixture to masa, and knead until dough is smooth and not sticky. If necessary, add more soaking water.
Divide dough into 24 balls, 2 inches in circumference. Make tortillas, using a tortilla press. Heat tortillas on a hot comal or griddle, turning once. Immediately place 1 teaspoon of stuffing in the center of tortilla, and fold over, like a turnover. Repeat, using all tortillas. Keep hot. Heat oli in a saucepan for 10 minutes. Fry enchiladas in oil over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. They should remain soft. Drain on paper towels.
To serve, place enchiladas on a platter. Garnish with cheese and onion. Serve with guacamole.
The enchiladas can be made ahead through filling and folding. Freeze, and thaw at room temperature until partially thawed. Fry immediately.
Makes 24 enchiladas.
1 qt water
12 tomatillos, husked
7 medium cloves garlic, whole
4 to 8 chiles serranos (vary according to preference of piquancy)
3 Tbsp white onion, coarsely chopped
Salt to taste
¾ c cilantro leaves, with a bit of stem
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add tomatillos, 4 garlic cloves, 4 or more chiles, and onion. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, and remove from heat. Drain, and reserve cooking water. Cool.
Meanwhile, puree 3 garlic cloves in a molcajete or food processor, adding salt to taste. Add cilantro, and blend. Add tomatillo mixture. Add a little cooking water, and blend. The sauce should have a slightly thick consistency. Correct seasoning.
To serve, pour green sauce into a molcajete, and garnish with onion and cilantro.
Makes about 2 cups.
3 c masa harina
½ tsp salt
1 ½ to 2 c lukewarm water
Mix ingredients in a bowl with a fork. Gather into a ball, and kenad dough until smooth and no longer sticky. Cover with a towel, and allow to stand for 1 hour.
To make tortillas, line the base of a tortilla press with a sheet of plastic wrap or wit ha plastic sandwish bag. Pinch off balls of dough from the masa. (The size will vary, depdning on desired tortilla diameter; the balls are usually slightly bigger than a walnut). Center the masa on the lined tortilla-press base. Cover the masa with a sheet of plastic wrap. Lower the top of the press, and push down the handle. Open. The tortilla will have plastic wrap on the top and bottom.
Carefully peel away the plastic on top. Place your left hand under the tortilla. Flip the tortilla onto the right hand, so the plastic is on top. Carefully peel away plastic. Flip tortilla onto a preheated, very hot griddle or comal. When the tortilla begins to dry on the edges, flip it over. Cook until the top begins to puff. Tap lightly with your fingertips to allow even puffing, and let cook briefly, about 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Remove tortillas from the griddle, warp in a napkin or clean towel, and serve.
Preparing dried chiles
The first step in preparing dried chiles is careful washing. Since they often are sun-dried on the ground, the chiles usually are dusty and dirty. Next, remove the stems (if the chiles are not to be stuffed), and slit the chiles length-wise in order to remove the seeds and veins. Preheat a griddle, and roast the chiles very lightly, turning to roast on all sides. The dried chiles will puff and reconstitute slightly. Be careful not to burn them. Burned dried chiles produce an acrid taste.