Stop Calling it tex-mex! A Texas Mexican Enchilada
This video was produced by The Southern Foodways Alliance and screened at the annual symposium where I spoke about “The Art of Cooking.”
Filmmaker, Ethan Payne, succinctly, visually, shows the differences between tex-mex and the Mexican food of Texas, an important distinction.
Making this distinction helps to understand the Native American history and roots of Texas Mexican food, a heritage that has existed for over 10,000 years in the region that is now Texas and Northeastern Mexico. Sure, use the term, tex-mex, for those people and restaurants that want it, but do not use the term for those who have a different name for their food.
I’m glad to share this recipe because its history makes it quintessentially Texas Mexican in two ways.
1. It grounds us in our region. The discriminating blending of different types of chiles links us to the other communities in our geographic region who also combined chiles in different variations to make different dishes. Think Guanajuato, Puebla, Oaxaca, etc.
2. It integrates Texas Indian with European ingredients. Actually its success as a fine dining culinary dish results exactly from the successful integration of native Texas ingredients with immigrant European ingredients: a beautiful culinary marriage. In this case, chiles with flour; and Mexican oregano with cumin. The same happened in another region famous for Mexican cuisine, Oaxaca, with mole using wheat bread as a thickener for chiles.
Adapted from the book, “Truly Texas Mexican: A Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
Ingredients (serves 6)
4 Chile Ancho
1 Chile Pasilla
1/4 tsp cumin
2 garlic cloves
1/8 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp salt
2″ sprig of Texas Mexican oregano if available, otherwise, Mexican oregano (see the difference in the pic)
1/4 cup all purpose wheat flour
8 cups water
18 corn tortillas
1 white onion
2 cups shredded or crumbled cheese (We used queso fresco but over time processed yellow cheese has gained favor. The industrial revolution spawned Kraft’s processed Velveeta cheese in 1928. Industrially processed yellow cheeses entered the Texas Mexican kitchen and changed the flavors. Be that as it may, just make sure that the cheese you use has a mild, unobtrusive flavor and has the least possible fat. Remember it is the chiles that play the “Prima Donna” role in this dish, which is why it’s called Enchiladas.)
1. Wipe clean and remove the seeds and veins from the chiles.
2. In a molcajete make a paste of the chiles, cumin, garlic cloves, black peppercorns and oregano. Alternately you can use a blender and one cup of the water to make a very fine purée. Just make sure there are no chunks nor granules. This chile-spice combination is the focal point. It is what you want to taste first and throughout. All the other elements of the dish play supporting and contrasting roles.
3. Finely dice the onion. The picture shows how small the dice are. My sister, Nieves Ortega, reminded me yesterday about how important this fine dice is. Onions, for some reason, are a naturally delicious combination with chile. You want your mouth to easily taste chile-onion as a principal…”yum!” .
4. In a saucepan or large skillet, add the water, flour and salt and stir until the flour is dissolved.
5. Use some of the flour-water to dissolve and remove all the paste from the molcajete and add this to the saucepan, whisking all the while to dissolve lumps. If you have used a blender, add the purée to the saucepan.
6. Bring to a boil, then simmer rapidly, for about 25 minutes until the flavors are blended and all the raw flour taste is gone. The chile will thicken and reduce. You should have about 3 cups. Taste and adjust the salt
7. While keeping the chile hot over medium heat, use tongs or a spatula to place a corn tortilla in the hot chile for about 8-12 seconds until it is heated through and soft but holding its structure. If too long, it’ll fall apart. If too short a time it will not soften properly. You’ll get the feel of it.
8. Place the tortilla flat on a warm platter and add 2 Tbsp cheese and 1/2 Tbsp diced onions
9. Roll them and arrange seam down on six warm plates. Repeat with all the tortillas, three per plate.
10. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the very hot (temperature) chile in each plate and garnish with additional diced onions.