Enchiladas Rojas, Red Tortillas are Traditional

Enchiladas Rojas, Red Tortillas are Traditional

Enchiladas Rojas are delicious, delicate and they are  traditional.  You can buy red tortillas at the grocery store, but I suggest you make some. You can make the red tortillas several days before and keep them in the fridge until you make the enchiladas.

I’ve said many times before, that the tortilla is not a wrap for a filling.  It is the thing itself:  a well made corn tortilla, cooked on a comal, immersed in carefully blended chiles, accentuated by the slightest of queso fresco and onion bits.

Enchiladas Rojas pop with flavor, red corn tortilla infused with complex chile sauce
Enchiladas Rojas pop with flavor, red corn tortilla infused with complex chile sauce

In my family, when my amá (mom) made enchiladas, she always used red tortillas. Always. My nephew, Adrian, once chastised me for using a regular tortilla instead of a red one.  “That’s not our family tradition,” he decried.  He was right.  So, here’s an adaptation of our mom’s family enchilada recipe.

What Is An Enchilada?

What is an enchilada?  The dominant narrative is wrong.  An enchilada is not the cheese and tortilla casserole dish that looks like lasagna or moussaka.  The cheese and tortilla casseroles that we all love are adaptations of another Mexican dish, the pastel Azteca. 

Pastel Azteca is cooked in a casserole, and the focus is on cheese and other ingredients, layered with tortillas. Enchiladas, on the other hand, are corn tortillas that are infused with unique combinations of chiles and spices.

I’m resigned to the fact that what is actually a pastel azteca will continue to be called enchiladas.  That’s ok, language is constantly changing, but it’s still interesting to acknowledge the original iteration of enchiladas. There is no English word that accurately translates “enchilada,” the past participle of the Spanish verb, “enchilar.”  Merriam-Webster translates enchilar as “to season with chili,” but that does not describe this dish. “Enchilar” means that the tortilla has not just been seasoned, it has been thoroughly infused with chiles and transformed.

Recipe for Enchiladas Rojas

1.  Devein and de-seed 6 Guajillo chiles.  Place them in boiling water, turn off the heat and let them re-hydrate for 20 minutes.

2.  Drain the chiles, discard the water, and place them in a blender with 2 cups of water.  Blend until you have a completely smooth, velvety purée.  Drain through a fine mesh sieve to make sure there are  no bits of chile left unblended.

3.  Add two more cups of water and set aside.

Enchiladas Rojas start with Red Guajillo Chiles
Enchiladas Rojas start with Red Guajillo Chiles

4. In a large bowl, place 4 cups of white  corn flour (called masa harina) and add the four cups of chile, slowly incorporating it into the corn flour to form a moist, firm masa that looks like the picture below.

Let red masa rest for 20 minutes
Cover with a damp cloth

5.  Cover the masa with a damp cloth and let stand for 20 minutes to rehydrate the corn. ( I use non-GMO corn flour, masa harina, that I buy online. )

6.  Using a tortilla press like the one described in this previous blog, make round masa balls, flatten them with the tortilla press, and lay them gently onto a medium hot comal.

Slide the tortilla off your hand

7. Cook for about 20 seconds. The tortilla will release and you can easily pick it up without a spatula (go ahead and use a spatula if you need it to lift up the edge).
Cook that side for another 20 seconds and turn it over. Do this one more time.  You’ll see that the tortilla puffs up with steam.  It forms an outer leaf that is crisp and toasty while the inner masa cooks just enough so that it remains moist and meaty.
8.  Make  a batch of enchilada chile purée according to the recipe for enchiladas here, and dip a cooked, red tortilla in the hot chile sauce, leaving it for about 8 seconds, until the tortilla is soft but not falling apart. You’ll get the feel of it.Dip the tortilla in Red Chile adobo to soften it9.  Lay the chile-infused tortilla on a plate and add 1 Tablespoon of crumbled queso fresco and a smattering of finely diced white onion.  Make sure the onion is diced very small. Enchiladas filled with tiny bits of white onion and queso fresco10.  Roll three of these tortillas next to each other.  You’ll taste the flavorful corn saturated with chile, and the combination is spectacular. Pour plenty of chile on top and then sprinkle some more queso and onion. Handmade tortillas are saturated with red chile!Enjoy— that’s real Enchiladas Rojas,  red enchiladas!

NOTE: For more Enchilada recipes, see my book, Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes

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3 thoughts on “Enchiladas Rojas, Red Tortillas are Traditional”

  • Thank you for sharing how to make red enchiladas. I remember the old fashion red enchiladas but, no one seemed to have the recipe….Thanks you so much

  • Thank you Adan, you always seem to send me a recipe I am thinking of making! I just got back to Boston from McAllen, TX and wanted to make some Enchiladas. They remind me of my mother who ordered these when we went out to restaurants and then criticized them as not being “authentic”. I am sure she will approve of your recipe.

  • Fantastic, Love the comment , It is not about the filling , the tortilla com chiles that is the thing. Thanks Adan!

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