Copyright © 2009 Diana Gabaldon
My father was always one to recognize both merit and shortcomings. Consequently, while he was often generous with praise, all his compliments came with a “BUT…” attached. “This is wonderful, BUT…”
In fact, I remember only three unqualified compliments from him. Twenty years ago, he told me that my swimming stroke was perfect. Fifteen years ago, he told me that my children were beautiful. And on Christmas day ten years ago, he told me that my enchiladas were as good as his.
That Christmas Day was the last time I saw him. But he’ll always be with me, in the pull of water past my arms, in the faces of my children–and in the smell of garlic and chile, floating gently through the air of my kitchen.
For them as don’t know, an enchilada is an item of traditional Mexican food, composed of a tortilla (mostly corn tortillas) rolled into a cylinder around some type of filling (traditionally cheese, but can be anything from chicken or beef to spinach, mushrooms, and seafood, particularly in nouveau Southwest or turista restaurants), covered with a spicy sauce, and baked. (Some restaurants don’t bother rolling their enchiladas, and just sprinkle cheese and fillings between flat tortillas, but we Do Not Approve.)
The traditional (cheese) form requires:
Garlic (one head)
olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of a large saucepan)
flour (a few tablespoons)
canola oil (or other light cooking oil) – enough to fill a small frying pan halfway
white or yellow onion – one
cheddar cheese – a pound will make 10-12 enchiladas
corn tortillas – these come in packages of 12, or three dozen. If you have more than two people coming to dinner, get three dozen. You can always make home-made tortilla chips out of the extras.
tomato sauce – three small cans
red chili (in any usable form; puree, frozen, powdered, or already mixed with the tomato sauce, which is my preferred variety; I use El Pato brand tomato sauce, which has the chili already in it)
I’m not giving quantities as such, because you can make enchiladas in any quanttity–but if you’re going to the trouble, you might as well make a lot of them. [g] (They freeze well, though the tortillas will degrade when frozen and give you enchilada casserole, rather than discrete enchiladas.)
As a rule of thumb, a pound of cheese and twelve tortillas will make about a dozen enchiladas; sauce for a dozen enchiladas takes about one to one-a-and-a-half cans of El Pato, and three-four Tablespoons of olive oil. I almost always use three cans of El Pato, and end up with 2 1/2 – 3 dozen enchiladas.
All right. For starters, mince four or five (or six) cloves of garlic finely. Cover the bottom of a heavy saucepan with olive oil (about 1/8″ deep) and saute the garlic in the oil (the bits of garlic should just about cover the bottom of the pan, thinly). Cook until the garlic turns BROWN, but be careful not to burn it.
Turn heat down to low (or pull the pan off the burner temporarily) and add flour a little at a time to make a roux (paste about the consistency of library paste). Add the El Pato (or plain tomato sauce) and stir into the roux. Add WATER, in an amount equal to the tomato sauce (I just fill up the El Pato cans with water and dump them in). Stir over low heat to mix, squishing out any lumps that may ocur. If you used plain tomato sauce, add chili to taste (or if you use El Pato and want it hotter, add extra chili)—roughly one large tablespoon of raw chile per can of tomato sauce.
Leave on very low heat, stirring occasionally, WHILE:
1) heating oil (I use canola oil, but you can use any vegetable oil, including soy, peanut, or olive) in a small, heavy frying pan. Heat over medium heat, and watch it as it gets hot; if it starts to smoke, it’s too hot–turn it down.
2) grating cheese
3) and chopping onion coarsely.
At this point, the sauce should have thickened slightly, and will cling to a spoon, dripping slowly off. Turn off the heat under the sauce, or reduce to low simmer. (If at any time, the sauce seems too thick, stir in a little more water.) Stir occasionally to prevent it sticking.
Now put out a clean dinner plate for assembling the enchiladas, and a baking dish to put the completed ones in.
With a pair of tongs, dip a fresh corn tortilla briefly (just long enough for the oil to sputter–2-3 seconds) into the hot oil. Let excess oil run off into the pan, then dip the now-flexible tortilla into the sauce, laying it back and forth with the tongs to coat both sides.
Lay the coated tortilla on the dinner plate (and put down the tongs [g]). Take a good handful of cheese and spread a thick line of it across the center of the tortilla (you’re aiming for a cylinder about two fingers thick). If you like onions in your enchiladas (I don’t, but Doug does, so I make half and half), sprinkle chopped onions lightly over the cheese. Roll the tortilla into a cylinder (fold one side over the cheese, then roll up the rest of the way, and put the enchilada in the baking dish. (They won’t have a lot of sauce on them at this point)).
When the baking dish is full, ladle additional sauce to cover the enchiladas thoroughly, and sprinkle additional cheese on top for decoration (I also sprinkle a few onions at one end of the baking dish, so I know which end is onion). Bake at 325 (F.) degrees for between 10-15 minutes–until cheese is thoroughly melted–you can see clear liquid from the melted cheese bubbling at the edge of the dish, and the enchiladas will look as though they’ve “fallen in” slightly, rather than being firmly rounded. Serve (with a spatula).
The method is the same for other kinds of enchiladas; you’d just make the filling (meat, seafood, etc.) as a separate step ahead of time, and use as you do cheese (for chicken enchiladas, brown diced chicken slowly in a little oil with minced garlic, onion, red and green bell pepper, and cilantro (coriander leaf)–bell pepper optional, and in very small quantity; for beef, you can use either ground beef or machaca).
It usually takes me a little more than an hour to do three dozen enchiladas, start to finish. Once the sauce is made, cheese grated, etc., though, the assembly is pretty fast.
Hope y’all enjoy them!