This is the time of year when the tamale cookers come out and you can find street vendors in parking lots selling homemade tamales and food trucks loaded with both sweet and savory tamales. But for me, living here in the Southwest, it is as much about the enchiladas as the tamales.
Enchiladas first entered Mexican cuisine in the mid-19th century. Reportedly, they are an invention of Mexican miners who would roll food into a hot, fresh corn tortilla. This tradition dates back to the Aztecs, who would wrap corn tortillas around fish and eat them. Nowhere is it indicated that this activity involves sauce or cheese. The cheese was an addition by the Spanish.
What we see today is far from what was eaten even 100 years ago. Now enchiladas are stuffed with everything from green chili chicken to just cheese. My spouse’s family filled them with potatoes, hamburger, and peas. While potatoes are a common stuffing for enchiladas, I had not heard about peas. The ingredients in most enchiladas are more about what is available vs. what is desired.
I grew up on enchiladas stuffed with cheese and smothered in an enchilada sauce. My mom used the sauce from a can, but the real treat for me was being able to dip into one of my grandmother’s enchilada dishes. She lived in old Mexico during the times of Pancho Villa (early 20th century, 1910-1918). That’s where she learned to cook. Her enchilada sauce was made from ancho chilies and stuffed with either chicken or vegetables from her garden. I loved the smell coming out of the oven: the warm corn tortillas smothered with ancho chili sauce and cheese.
These days I’m vegan; so no meat and no using real cheese. I wanted to come up with a good substitution that would satisfy even an omnivore diner. Sure I could have gone the route of mushrooms, but that’s the easy way. There are many different vegetables that can be stuffed inside the middle of a corn tortilla. I opted for eggplant and chayote. It’s what was in the refrigerator at the time.
Let’s get to the fun part: the recipe. The most complicated part, really, is the preparation. Cooking and pureeing the chilies and making the stuffing — and making sure you have lots of room to roll the enchiladas.
Remember: if some of these ingredients don’t agree with you or you can’t find them, feel free to experiment. You can use mushrooms, grilled vegetables, potatoes, and green chilies or whatever suits your taste. Let your imagination run a little wild. The show stopper is going to be the sauce.
Enjoy! And let me know how they work out for you.
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 standard eggplant, small dice
- 1 chayote, small dice
- 1 red pepper, small dice
- ½ yellow onion, small dice
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp epazote
- 1 tsp lime juice
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 ancho chili pods
- 3 - 4 cloves of garlic
- ½ onion, rough chop
- 4 cups water
- Corn tortillas
- Vegan chedder “cheese”
- Place the mole ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Cook on medium heat until the chili pods are softened and pliable, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Carefully remove the stems and seed cores from the chili pods, then strain out the liquid. Reserve the liquid for the puree.
- While the chilies are cooking, heat up a large saute pan and add the oil. Once the oil is hot add in all of the vegetable ingredients. Saute until the eggplant starts to soften. Then include the spices, turmeric, cumin, coriander, epazote. Saute for another minute or two, then deglaze with lime juice, add salt to taste, adjust seasoning. Set aside.
- Puree the chilies in a blender, adding the cooking liquid slowly until sauce is smooth but not runny. Pass through a fine mesh sieve. Set aside.
- To assemble the enchiladas: Heat mole up in a saute pan. Drop in about a ¼ teaspoon of cumin. Dip a corn tortilla into the sauce on both sides. Set onto a cookie sheet. Fill ¼ of the way with the vegetable mixture and cheese. Roll enchiladas and place in a casserole dish that will fit the tortillas.
- Cover tortillas with additional sauce and “cheese.” Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Serve hot with garnishes.
- Serve garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, and black olives. You can add a dollop of Poblano Cream? if desired.