The Fascinating History of Enchiladas
Enchiladas are tortillas dipped in chili sauce and stuffed with various fillings, such as meat, chili sauce, cheese, chorizo sausage, or fish. They are then rolled up and baked. The word enchilada, which first appeared in print in 1885, is Spanish American and means “filled with chili.” Enchiladas are a staple in Tex Mex restaurants. A magazine called “American Food and Drink” described enchiladas as “a Mexican dish prepared more for tourists than for the local population” in 1949.
The street vendor version of enchiladas found in Mexico does not resemble what you would get served in a Mexican restaurant in the United States. The corn tortilla dipped in chili sauce you would get from a Mexican street vendor is a far cry from the floppy, bland tortillas swimming in molten cheese and red sauce in a US Mexican restaurant.
Traditional Style Enchiladas
There is anthropological evidence to suggest that the indigenous Mexicans living around the Valley of Mexico lake region used to eat corn tortillas folded up around small fish, which could have been the precursor to modern enchiladas.
A traditional process for making enchiladas was to place a tortilla on a plate then pour some red chili sauce from a kettle over the top. Sprinkle over some grated cheese then add another tortilla. Add more chili sauce, more cheese and top the lot with chopped onions, an egg fried in hot lard and some lettuce. Enchilada recipes have developed since the early twentieth century and some enchilada recipes do not even resemble this original method.
There are two ways to make enchiladas. You can either dip the tortilla in chili sauce and then fry, fill and roll it or you can fry the tortilla, then dip it in sauce, fill and roll it.
Enchiladas verdes are made with a tomatillo and green chili sauce. Enchiladas suizas are topped with a milk or cream based sauce and the Swiss immigrants to Mexico introduced dairy based sauce recipes to the area. In Texas, gravy style enchiladas are popular and these have a gravy like chili sauce over them. The corn enchiladas are filled with either beef or cheese and there is a layer of cheese on top.
Stacked enchiladas are a New Mexico variation where the enchiladas are stacked with a filling between each layer, green, and red sauce poured on and there is a fried egg on top. This has the closest resemblance to the original recipe.
Popular fillings include chicken and herbs, shrimp and crab in chipotle cream sauce and Mexican beans and cheese but you can use beef, chicken, pork, seafood, potatoes, vegetables, cheese, or any combination.
Sour cream, cheese, olives, lettuce, cilantro, chili peppers, and onions are popular toppings and some enchiladas are served with refried beans rather than chili sauce. An enchilada made with tomato sauce instead of chili sauce is called an entomatada. An enchilada made with mole (a traditional Mexican sauce) instead of chili sauce is called an enmolada.
It is interesting to learn the history of enchiladas and see how the traditional enchilada recipe has turned into something very different.
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