Thursday, 14 February 2013

"Enchiladas" tultecas: not your abuela's enchiladas


Unless you come from Tamaulipas in the Fifties, you have probably never heard of this dish. It ain't what you normally get when you order enchiladas.

I could be missing something, but I think the name means "Toltec 'enchiladas'" (the inverted commas are necessary), though I'm sure I don't know why. Did the Toltecs really eat this?

Considering these are a kind of quesadilla, I'd have to guess "no". Cheese is a Spanish introduction and not found in prehispanic Mexican cuisine.

Even the Diana Kennedy recipe I took inspiration from, which is light on the cheese, includes Spanish-derived things like chorizo.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible some indigenous Mesoamericans worked chile paste into their tortillas, so who knows?

But enough teasing; let's talk about what these things are.

"Enchiladas" tultecas, as I have made them, are essentially a kind of quesadilla made from chile-infused tortilla dough.

A traditional enchilada is a corn tortilla dipped in chile sauce, fried, and stuffed with a delicious filling.

(Outside Mexico, an enchilada is usually a filled tortilla - corn or flour - covered in chile sauce and then baked in the oven.)

A quesadilla, as most of us know it, is a tortilla filled with cheese (and hopefully something else too), folded over and grilled on a comal or griddle.

But there is another way to make quesadillas. You make some corn tortillas, but before you cook them you fill them with cheese and fold them over. Then you can asar-roast them on the comal or fry them.

I have always wanted to try this, and "enchiladas" tultecas seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The first step is to make the "enchillied" tortilla dough.

Unfortunately, Kennedy is one of these masa purists who don't believe in using masa harina. So she just calls for some masa (that you presumably either ground yourself or bought from your local tortilla factory) "as dry as possible".

The fact that I got mine to work is down to an accident: my kitchen scales just broke. So when I tried measure out my usual 250 g of masa harina, I got somewhat more than that.

I remember thinking "That looks like quite a bit of masa harina. Oh well."

So when I added the 300 ml of hot water, the mixture never quite became a dough. It was just too dry.

Ordinarily I'd be fucked, but in this case it was a stroke of luck, because I had a rather wet chile paste to work into this dough.

Because my scales were broken I don't really know how much masa harina went in. To recreate this I would suggest adding 300 g of masa harina to 300 ml of hot water, then keep adding masa harina a tablespoon at a time until you can no longer incorporate it into the dough.

The chile paste is made from two dried ancho chiles. Anchos are dried chiles poblanos and a staple of Mexican cooking. They look like this:

I get my anchos from The Cool Chile Company
This is them, out of the bag.

If I had peso for every Mexican recipe I've read that calls for ancho chiles, I'd quit my job and open a restaurant. If you have only one kind of dried chile in your store cupboard, it should be chiles anchos.

They are also the main ingredient in enchilada sauce, so they are the classic flavour of enchiladas.

My recipe called for two chiles to be worked into the tortilla dough, plus I used one for the filling.

Ancho chile paste

Take the stems off two ancho chiles, then tear the chiles into flat pieces.

Put the chile pieces on a hot, dry frying pan and toast them for a few seconds on each side. As these are wrinkly-skinned chiles, you'll have to press down with your spatula.


After a few seconds they should release their aroma and you'll see the skin start to blister. The red colour of the flesh will be more apparent then before toasting.


(Some books call this a "tobacco colour" but I don't smoke. It looks pretty red to me.)

Once all the chiles are toasted, put them in a bowl, cover with just-boiled water, weigh them down with a plate, and let them soak for about ten minutes.

Remove the chiles with tongs and blend to a paste, adding a bit of the soaking water as necessary to keep the blades from sticking. I use a hand blender because two chiles doesn't make a lot of paste and you don't want it trapped in the bottom of your blender jar.

Now work this paste into your very dry tortilla dough. It magically becomes the consistency of normal tortilla dough.

Keep the chile soaking water handy (never pour it down the drain!), and if your masa is still too dry, add the water a spoonful at a time until it's right.

This is normal tortilla dough from masa harina:


And this is my "enchillied" tortilla dough:


Now you need a filling.

Kennedy's filling was quite complicated, calling for chorizo, chayote, and potatoes and chicken (both precooked), but I decided to simplify.

I crumbled some feta (as a substitute for queso fresco) and mixed in some Mexican oregano, olive oil, and the remaining ancho chile.

I tried to dice the chile, but it was so soft it turned into so paste anyway.


Ancho chile cheese

  • 125 g feta cheese (or use ricotta, cottage cheese, or even mozzarella)
  • 1 chile ancho
  • 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Prepare the chile as for a normal chile paste.

Crumble the cheese into a mixing bowl.

Add the olive oil, oregano, and chile paste, and mix until fully combined. Use your hands!

Refrigerate until needed.

To finish the "enchiladas", begin the same way you would as if making tortillas, but before you cook the tortilla, put a dessert spoon of your filling on one half of it, fold it over, and press down to seal, sort of like an empanada:


Then you can cook them on a hot dry pan (asar-roasting on a comal) or shallow-fry them.


I tried both; I found the shape of the "enchiladas" made it hard to cook the tortillas through with just a dry pan.

As the "enchiladas" are dry, I served them with a bit of homemade guacamole.


It was blender guacamole, not molcajete guacamole, meaning I blitzed it to a smooth texture instead of mashing it to a traditional chunky texture.

Hey, I was in a hurry. It still tasted great.

We had a side salad too.

And about the enchiladas themselves...

The chile-infused tortillas: delicious.

The ancho-chile cheese filling. Also delicious. However a bit much all together. I think it would work better as a filling for a normal quesadilla.

Other observations: although everything tasted great, I'm not sure it was actually better than the easy way of making quesadillas, which is to take a ready-made tortilla, fill it with cheese and things, and grill it.

Similarly, I'm not sure this was an improvement on traditional enchiladas. In fact, I kind of missed the sauce (even with the guacamole, it was a pretty dry dish).

Still, I'm glad I made it. Now I know I don't need to feel guilty about quick-and-easy quesadillas, plus it was a successful first try at making flavoured tortillas.

I still don't get the "toltec" thing though.