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