Enchiladas 101

Enchiladas are an ancient preparation that has evolved differently over time depending on specific locations, and hence, it may evoke particular flavours and images to different people, depending on their background. Elaborate techniques, generous toppings and fusion recipes have contributed to a high traffic of enchilada recipes on the web but, in recent years, traditional and more authentic recipes have been making a comeback. Many South Western versions in the United States call for wheat flour tortillas, and although a few might be authentic to Spanish towns in the region (once part of Mexican territory), strictly Mexican enchiladas are always made with corn tortillas.  Their origin may be traced to pre-Hispanic cultures, and the method was as simple as taking a grilled corn disc and dip it in any kind of sauce seasoned with chiles. In Nahuatl, the name for the corn discs was tlaxcalli, whereas chillichiles in Spanish, of course, referred to the spicy vegetables. When the Spaniards arrived, they compared tlaxcalli to Spanish omelettes (tortillas), which are also round and flat, and chilli were a new vegetable unknown to them, which some confused with peppercorns, so they called them “chilli peppers.” From there, the Spanish name given to the dish was “tortillas enchiladas” (tlaxcalli in chilli sauce), and shortened afterwards to simply “enchiladas.”

Basic Red Enchiladas – Enchiladas Rojas

Printable recipe: Basic Red Enchiladas

Ingredients (serves four)

8-12 corn tortillas
2 cups red hot pepper sauce (try my guajillo sauce, or canned)
½ cup water, or as needed
Fresh cheese (panela, feta, cotija); crumbled
Sliced white onions
Vegetable oil, for frying

The sauce may be any spicy Mexican sauce; to go with the seasonal colours of the fall foliage, I chose my roasted guajillo red sauce for this basic enchilada.  That recipe may be followed using other dry red peppers, as well; in some Northern Mexican states, ancho peppers would be the choice, and around Mexico City, cooks would probably pick a blend of mild (guajillo, ancho) and spicy  (de árbol, chipotle) peppers.  I had also bought a can of red enchilada sauce, for the first time in my life:

enchilada sauce red.jpg

I found it bland, and my husband only eats green enchiladas (see end of the post); one of my daughters thought it was “ok”. In other words, it was fit for human consumption, but not our first choice.  If it were not possible to make the sauce at home, I would recommend buying a bottled red taquera sauce, or even start with tomato sauce and add a few pickled chipotle peppers or hot sauce (this last option technically called “entomatadas” – in tomato sauce.)  In the end, I decided to stick to my original choice of homemade guajillo sauce, which I poured in a shallow pan over medium heat, and added enough water to obtain a good consistency for dipping (the canned sauce would not have required water).  I brought it to boiling point, then let it simmer over very low heat, to keep it hot:

diluted guajillo sauce

Starting with warm corn tortillas (microwaved as directed in the package, or warmed up in a dry skillet), the big question to ponder was: “to fry or not to fry?” Surprisingly enough, fried foods were unknown to native populations in Mexico, but the technique was embraced once introduced by the Spanish conquerors.  I personally prefer not to fry my enchiladas, but I prepared one of each for comparison in this post.  The first tortilla was dipped in the simmering sauce, coating both sides (photo below, left), rolled and placed on a serving plate.  The second was very slightly crisped in a frying pan with vegetable oil, flipping once (photo below, middle); after that, it was dipped in the sauce and rolled, as the first (photo right):

This is how they looked next to each other: on the plate:

comparing crisped and soft enchiladas.jpg

The fried enchilada (top of the photo above) looked pale in comparison to the non-fried one (bottom of the photo above); the reason was that the oily surface of the crisped tortilla prevented the sauce from sticking on or being absorbed.  More sauce was poured over both enchiladas:

plain red enchiladas with no toppings

This would be the most basic form of enchiladas, but nowadays, the minimum toppings are crumbled fresh cheese and sliced onions as the norm on the finished plate:

Basic red enchiladas with cheese and onions

In terms of taste, I must confess that fried corn smells delicious, and gives the tortilla a beautiful texture.  However, in this particular case, once the enchiladas had been coated with sauce and toppings added, in my opinion the fried component became a distraction, and I preferred to focus on the delicious flavours of the sauce, soaked in by the soft tortilla.  In future posts, I will talk about other enchiladas, with fillings, baked, as well as a couple of ways in which clever Mexican cooks have turned this basic red enchilada into scintillating  fiesta platers.

Note: As mentioned earlier, my husband does not care for red enchiladas at all, but loves green ones.  The recipe for basic green enchiladas is identical to the one described above, the only change being the use of green salsa instead of red (bottled, or check my recipe for cooked tomatillo sauce):

Basic green sauce enchiladas

I am joining Fiesta Friday #244 with Angie @ Fiesta Friday; this week, she is pondering the value of social media platform improvements. Co-hosting this week, Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com shares her family recipes with detail and beautiful pics, and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes has great product reviews and ethnic recipes.

I am joining What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up #169 graciously hosted by Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.

19 thoughts on “Enchiladas 101

  1. love enchiladas! red sauce, I will try yours. I’ve used Kathleen Kennedy’s simple sauce of roasted tomatoes and chiles for years when I had a good tomato crop. Sometimes it even makes it into the enchiladas and not just eaten with a spoon!


  2. I like both corn and flour tortillas – for me it depends on who is eating them as to what I use in recipes. I make my own red enchilada sauce which I prefer over the green. Isn’t it fun to be able to make choices as to what tortilla you use, the enchilada sauce and any toppings? Fiesta Friday does love their Mexican or Tex/Mex food. Thanks for sharing this week with Fiesta Friday…


  3. I love enchiladas – Cheese or meat (especially carnitas) – Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party! Have a wonderful week and hope to see you at next week’s party too!

    Liked by 1 person

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