Cooking Diaries: Enchiladas from Scratch

Many Saturdays ago, I wandered down 24th Street in the Mission when I came across La Palma, a small “Mexicatessen” where business was already booming at 9 am.   There was a small provisions store up front, somewhat sparse by Mexican grocery standards, but I saw that most of people in the store were looking at a big menu in the back full of burritos, tacos, tamales, huaraches, pupusas and other masa based specialities.  There is a tortilla machine on the side, churning out piping hot corn tortillas.  It was the right start to a day for making an enchilada sauce based on an adobo, a chili based puree with tang from vinegar.

I had learned about adobos from Truly Mexican*, an amazing treasure of a cookbook I had found in the used section of Green Apple Books, a glorious bookstore in the Inner Sunset.  It is a fat, coffee-table sized book with beautiful pictures that lends itself to browsing while munching on a snack or having dinner alone.  Over time, I’ve built up plenty of theoretical knowledge about the myriad Mexican sauces/dips such as adobos, moles, salsas, guacamoles and pipianes.

The enchilada sauce I tried out is based on Adobo D.F. from Truly Mexican, with the primary flavoring coming from ancho chiles (dried poblano peppers).  The ancho chilies give it a slightly bitter, raisiny quality that is complemented by the side notes of chocolate, cinnamon, garlic and vinegar present in the sauce.  Although it takes a little time to deseed and devein the dried chiles, it’s the perfect activity to do while watching TV.

While tasting the sauce while making it, it had a slight bitter taste from the anchos.  However it went perfectly with the queso fresco and the final dish has a beautiful complexity.

Serve with curtido, refried beans, avocado slices and wedges of lime.

Ancho Chocolate Enchilada Sauce (a finishing sauce based on the Adobo D.F.) in Truly Mexican.  This recipe by Rick Bayless is a good equivalent especially if you add a piece (1/6 of a wheel) of Mexican chocolate when you’re cooking it.

For Assembling the Enchiladas

  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • 16 small corn tortillas
  • 4 oz. queso fresco, crumbled
  • 1/2 a white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Other garnish ideas:  sauteed vegetables, corn, avocado, sour cream or crema

Arrange two frying pans on the stove.  One will be used for lightly frying the corn tortillas to make them pliable.  Fill the other with the enchilada sauce.

Put a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in one frying pan over medium high heat.  Hold the enchilada sauce over low heat in a second frying pan.  The sauce should have the consistency of heavy cream.

Dip a corn tortilla into the hot oil and cook on both sides until it is pliable.  Drain the oil and then place it in the pan containing the enchilada sauce. Make sure that both sides of the tortilla are covered in enchilada sauce and then fold into quarters, leaving in the pan.  Repeat 3 more times and then transfer all four folded tortillas to a plate.  Top with queso fresco, white onion and cilantro and any other garnishes.  Repeat for other plates and serve hot.

* If you are looking for a Mexican technique book, I cannot recommend Truly Mexican enough.  Santibanez introduces the most common ingredients, how they are combined to make foundational sauces in Mexican cooking and how these can then be used in entrees.  It’s probably not the right book for someone who doesn’t know an enchilada from a taco but if you already like Mexican food and are looking to up your game, it’s Uh-Mazing

Cooking Notes: Grilled Pineapple Slices and Ice Cream

This is a simple dessert that is the perfect finish to a meal on the grill.  I wouldn’t fire up a grill just to make these but if you’re already making veggie burgers, halloumi kebabs or soft tacos stuffed with grilled veggies, this is a quick easy to make dessert that is a perfect ending.

Grilled Pineapple and Ice Cream

  • Fresh Pineapple sliced into 1/3 – 1/2 inch thick pieces (we bought a pre-peeled and cored pineapple and cut them into half rings)
  • Vanilla ice cream (or another favorite)
  1. Make sure your grill is still warm enough after making your main meal.  Add a few extra charcoal if not.
  2. Lay out your pineapples on a lightly oiled grill topper over your grill.
  3. Cook until the slices are warmed through and there are grill marks on the bottom.
  4. Flip slices over and grill the other side.
  5. Arrange slices of pineapple with scoops of ice cream.
  6. Enjoy the sunset but go inside if the mosquitos are getting bad.

Cooking Notes: Pasta Pomodoro

A lot of what I eat doesn’t come with a formal recipe.  When I first started cooking, I could not understand how people could cook without recipes yet as I’ve cooked more (and perhaps, become more used to my mother’s cooking notes), more and more of my cooking repertoire are these recipe-less dishes.  In some cases, I will get around to converting these notes into formal recipes but in many cases, I’d like to save and share the dish.

Pasta pomodoro is all about tomatoes.  It’s incredibly delicious IF you have good tomatoes.  If you can’t get tomatoes from your backyard or a farmer, it won’t taste the same.  It’s a simple, quintessential summer dish that I like making during the summer when my bag of produce from the farmer’s market inevitably has tomatoes.  \If I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll have pasta pomodoro with a glass of milk.  If I’m feeling fancy, it’s with a glass of red wine.  Here are my notes:

Pasta Pomodoro

  • 1.5 cups peeled and crushed fresh tomatoes (plum, early girl or another meaty variety)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (approximately)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (approximately)
  • Capellini or another long skinny pasta, enough for one serving
  • Hunk of parmesan cheese for grating
  1. Set a pot of water, generously salted, to boil the pasta.
  2. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly and making sure that the garlic does not burn.
  3. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook over medium-low heat until you reach a desired amount of cooked-ness.  Personally, I like my tomato sauce cooked at least for 15 minutes as I don’t like very raw sauce.
  4. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.  If you are using capellini, it will probably take about 5-7 minutes or even less.
  5. Remove the pasta and add to a plate.  Top with sauce.
  6. Grate a generous amount of fresh parmesan cheese atop the pasta.