Enchiladas: Aztec to Tex-Mex, written by Cappy Lawton and Chris Waters Dunn, features over 100 recipes for rolled, folded, and flat enchiladas, salsas, salads, and accompaniments from Mexico, Central America, and Texas. The enchilada dates back to pre-Columbian times in Mexico and has become an integral part of the cuisine with hundreds of varieties and fillings. This book showcases some of the best the enchilada has to offer, from Enchiladas Huastecas con Pollo from the Huastec people of the Gulf of Mexico, Papadzules from the Mayan peninsula, the open-faced Enchiladas Tultecas from north central Mexico, Enchiladas Berenjenas that are wrapped in eggplants instead of the traditional corn tortilla, and so much more.
Cappy Lawton grew up in San Antonio and first had a career as an aeronautical designer. Like many Americans, his initial exposure to enchiladas was of the Tex-Mex variation. During his first visit to Mexico in his 20s, he was struck by the amazing variety of foods and flavors. He transferred to the restaurant business and has designed, developed, and operated over 29 restaurants in Texas. In 1997, he bought the oldest continuously operating Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, La Fonda on Main, with his wife and gradually expanded the menu to incorporate authentic Mexican dishes to the previously Tex-Mex offerings. He is also currently the owner of Cappy’s and Cappyccino’s.
Chris Waters Dunn is a food writer from San Antonio. He originally worked in Nashville as a songwriter and record producer. After retiring, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and now holds a graduate degree in creative writing from the University of Denver. He provided much of the research for the enchiladas and history in the book.
The chapters are divided based on ingredient: Ingredients, Fundamentals, Accompaniments (Guarniciones), Pork (Carne de Cerdo Enchiladas), Beef (Carne De Res Enchiladas), Poultry (Pato y Pollo Enchiladas), Seafood (Mariscos Enchiladas), Dairy (Lácteos Enchiladas), Vegetable (Verdura Enchiladas), and Tex-Mex Enchiladas.
This book is so much more than the recipes. It is also a valuable teaching tool for essential Mexican staples and cooking techniques. Every aspect of the enchilada is explained in precise detail, from the homemade tortilla base to preparing the ingredients and assembling the final dish. You will learn about the history of the enchilada, how corn has become such an essential component to Mexican cuisine, and the development of the tortilla. Fresh and dried chiles are described with the flavor, heat, most popular uses, and how to prepare them. I particularly enjoyed the fun facts and tidbits. I had no idea that birds were immune to the irritating eggiest of capsaicin so they can spread the chile seeds or that salt is used to help moderate the chiles in recipes. There is also a guide to cheeses, their background in Mexico, descriptions, and substitutions if available, plus additional information on tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, avocados, nopales (cactus paddles), huitlacocohe (corn fungus), and herbs (Mexican oregano, epazote, cilantro, canela, Mexican mint marigold, hoja santa).
I found the section on making corn tortillas from scratch incredibly helpful. I have tried here and there in the past, but often had the water percentage off, ending in a too crumbly or too sticky dough. The instructions are precise and and to the point. I am finally able to get a good “feel” of the dough. I made the tortillas using dried masa, but there are also instructions on how to make tortillas using fresh white corn masa and how to dye the dough red (ancho or guajillo chiles), green (cilantro), black (cooked black beans), and other flavoring ideas. If you aren’t ready to try to make your own tortillas or don’t have the time, information is also included on how to prepare store-bought tortillas.
Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric. Some of the recipes include a headnote and tips with background information on that particular Enchilada. The name of the dish is provided in Spanish and occasionally English.
The absolutely beautiful photos were taken by Andréa Caillouet, Chris Waters Dunn, Sunni Hammer, Gabriel Ibarra, and Mark Menjivar. Many of the enchiladas have a vibrant full page photograph of the finished dish.
This book is a great pick for those who enjoy enchiladas or want to learn more about this part of Mexican/Tex-Mex cuisine. Nearly every recipe is gluten-free, minus the ancho chile gravy for the Tex-Mex Enchiladas. Every step of preparation is explained thoroughly, making it perfect for home cooks and those unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine. Having access to an International Food Market that specializes in Mexican ingredients is helpful, particularly for fresh items such as certain cheeses and chiles. The book also includes recipes for many staples such as Mexican chorizo, Cecina (Mexican Salted Dried Beef), Crema Mexicana (Mexican Cultured Cream), Queso Fresco, and rendered lard. Most of the recipes involve multiple steps for the tortillas, filling, sauce, and accompaniments/garnishes. Some of these steps may be prepared in advance to help split up the work for assembly.
Enchiladas Rojas de Queso are made by filling red corn tortillas with queso asadero and a chipotle sauce, rolling them up, then covering with more chipotle sauce. The enchiladas are broiled, then served garnished with queso fresco. I made the homemade red corn tortillas from the book using ancho chiles. If using store-bought, make sure the red chiles are dyed red from chile paste and not food coloring. I found ancho chiles at my local supermarket. They are also available at International Food Markets specializing in Mexican ingredients or on Amazon:Casa Ruiz Brand Chile Ancho – 1lb RESEALABLE Bag – Ancho Chili Peppers – Dried Pablano Pepper – Mild to Medium Heat – Sweet & Smoky Flavor.
Make sure all of the tortillas are covered with the chipotle sauce to keep them protected from the broiler.
Queso Asadero is a white, semisoft cheese made from cows milk. It may also be packaged as Queso Quesadilla. The cheese is pressed into a brick shape and melts well for queso fundido, rellenos, and quesadillas. If you are unable to locate it, then substitute with Monterey Jack cheese.
Queso Fresco is a crumbly, unaged cheese with a mild flavor. It is made with cows or a mixture of cows and goats milk. It is located in many larger grocery stores and International Markets featuring Mexican ingredients. If you are unable to locate it, you can make your own or use a mild feta.
If you are unsure if the consistency of the tortilla dough is right, test one ball of dough before forming the remaining. If it is too crumbly, add a little more water. The pressed tortillas should be thin enough to roll with smooth edges, but not so thin that they tear when removing from the plastic.
For the dried masa, I used Maseca Instant Corn Masa (Instantánea de Maís). Lawton and Dunn recommend White Wings Corn Tortilla Mix.
Chipotles en adobo are morita chipotles preserved in a tomato chile sauce called adobo. They can be found canned in the international section of most larger supermarkets.
I also made Mexican White Rice, Enchiladas Pachuqueñas, Enchiladas de Camote (Sweet Potato), and Tex-Mex Beef Enchiladas.
A variety of recipes for accompaniments are provided to serve with the enchiladas. I tried the Mexican White Rice, but you will also find Cilantro Rice, Primavera Rice, Moros y Cristianos (Whole Black Beans and Rice), Black Bean Rice, and Mexican Red Rice. I generally “cheat” with a rice cooker, so I tend to get nervous about preparing rice on the stove. This recipe was practically fool-proof. White rice is sauteed with onion and garlic, then simmered briefly before transferring to the oven. After cooking, it is fluffed with a little butter. I liked the ease of cooking in the oven and forgetting about it until the timer goes off.
Enchiladas Pachuqueñas are made by dipping tortillas in a poblano cream sauce, filling with a poached chicken queso fresco mixture, folding over, and garnishing with sliced radishes, iceberg lettuce, more poblano chiles, and queso fresco. I absolutely loved these enchiladas. The sauce was flavorful, but not too spicy (though a note is included to toss in a serrano chile to bump up the heat). Roasted poblano chiles are pureed with onions, peanuts, and French bread, strained, cooked, then mixed with heavy cream.
Enchiladas de Camote are made by filling corn tortillas with pureed sweet potato. They are deep-fried until crisp and topped with a chipotle sauce, queso fresco, and fried sweet potato strings. These enchiladas were fairly easy to make, but absolutely delicious. I loved the contrast of crisp tortillas with the smooth sweet potato filling.
The Tex-Mex Enchiladas were a favorite with my San Antonio-born husband. I used the beef filling, but there are also recipes for cheese, chicken, and brisket enchiladas. The beef was seasoned with onion, garlic, cumin, bay leaves, serrano chiles, potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes. After rolling, the tortillas were covered in an Ancho Chile Gravy, topped with cheese, and baked until melted and bubbly.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Trinity University Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Enchiladas Rojas de Queso (Red Enchiladas with Cheese)
Adapted from Enchiladas: Aztec to Tex-Mex
2 1/2 pounds (1.13 kilos) roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
1/2 medium yellow or white onion, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons (4 grams) garlic, minced
2 large chipotles en adobo, destemmed and minced
Kosher salt to taste, about 1 tablespoon (9 grams)
2-4 ancho or guajillo chiles, cleaned, destemmed, deseeded
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup (237 ml) warm water
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) dried masa
3 cups (360 grams) grated Queso Asadero or Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups of the chipotle sauce
Vegetable oil for softening the tortillas
1 cup (120 grams) crumbled Queso Fresco
To make the sauce: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
Arrange the tomatoes on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in the preheated oven until the tomatoes soften and the skins begin to crack and burst, turning occasionally, about 25 minutes. Turn off the oven and turn on the broiler to blacken the skin in a few spots for about 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
In a large saucepan, drizzle oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, but not brown, 3-5 minutes. Mix in the garlic and chipotles en adobo. Cook for another minute, then remove from heat. Transfer to a blender with the blackened tomatoes and puree until smooth. Season with salt. Strain through a medium mesh strainer into the saucepan if using immediately and keep covered over low heat or into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
To make the red tortillas: Place the dried chiles in a bowl and fill with hot water. Allow to soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain and place in a blender with the salt and warm water. Process until smooth, then strain through a medium mesh strainer into a large bowl.
Mix in the dried masa and knead to form a dough. Mix in about 1/4 cup (59 ml) water as needed until the dough is soft and workable. Cover with plastic and allow to rest for about 30 minutes.
Divide into 12 balls and cover.
Cut out rounds of plastic to fit a tortilla press.
Place a seasoned comal or iron skillet over medium high heat.
Place one of the balls of dough onto the prepared tortilla press just off center towards the hinge. Flatten the ball slightly by hand before closing the lid and pressing down. If desired, turn the tortilla 180 degrees and press again. Gently remove from the plastic, being careful not to tear.
Place the tortilla flat on heated comal or skillet. Cook until the edges begin to firm, about 30 seconds. Flip and continue to cook until the underside develops brown spots and freckles, about 1 minute. Flip one last time and cook until the underside develops brown spots and the tortilla is cooked through. Transfer to a cloth lined basket and repeat with remaining balls of dough.
To assemble the enchiladas: In a heavy skillet, pour in vegetable oil 1/2 inch deep over medium high heat.
Once the oil is 300 degrees F (150 C), place one prepared tortilla in the pan just long enough to soften, a few seconds, and transfer to paper towel lined plate. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
Arrange 1/4 cup (30 grams) of the queso asadero along the lower third of the prepared tortilla. Top with 2 tablespoons of the chipotle sauce. Roll up the enchilada and place in a broiler-proof dish in a single layer, 3 to a plate or all in a large serving dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
Cover with the remaining chipotle sauce, making sure the outside of all of the tortillas are completely covered.
Place in oven and broil until the filling inside the enchiladas are melted. Top with queso fresco and serve.