When I was in college, I used to make dinners for my classmates. It was a treat for them and a taste of home cooking was a welcome relief from dorm food. I grew up cooking for a family of six and I missed making those big dinners. Having friends over gave me an excuse to make some of my favorites.
Most of the time when I was growing up, if I ordered enchiladas in Mexican restaurants, they were filled with seasoned ground beef. Not exactly true Mexican, but they were good and filling. One Christmas, a friend gave me The California Heritage Cookbook and as I read through the recipes, I realized that I had a lot to learn about ‘real’ Mexican cooking. My guests who came to dinner the night I first served these enchiladas were astonished at the flavors, and so was I. This sauce is so far superior to anything store-bought that it is well worth the extra effort. I like to serve these enchiladas with the Chile Rice Casserole, also from the California Heritage Cookbook for a nice change of pace from traditional Mexican Rice. Add a tossed green salad for a balanced meal. And don’t forget the margaritas for sparkling dinner conversation!
When I got this book I was just starting to branch out from the standard type of recipe I had grown up with. Experimenting with new herbs and seasonings was a thrill. I had no idea what cumin tasted like, but I was willing to try it. As soon as I tasted it, I knew the flavor but had never known what it was called. That is the beauty of trying new recipes – to expand your kitchen horizons. You never know when you might fall in love with something you’ve never had before and discover a new family favorite. The California Heritage Cookbook contains a collection of recipes from across the state. California has a fascinating gastronomic history, due in large part to the influences of the many people who have chosen to live here, many of whom arrived during the Gold Rush. Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, French, and German cooks and many others all contributed to create what is known today as “California Cuisine.” This book is a lesson in the history of both the state and its foods.
These enchiladas are filled with a seasoned cheese mixture which is delicious. But if you prefer, you can make a beef or chicken filling instead. I have made a simple meat filling using sautéed ground beef, onions, celery, garlic, cumin and a little tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp water. Cooked pork or grilled vegetables would work well too.
Yield: 6 servings (2 enchiladas per serving)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-1/2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 fresh poblano or pasilla pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ancho chili powder or regular chile powder
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsp garlic powder
2-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
2 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes, or 2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 lb cheddar cheese, finely grated
16 oz Monterey Jack cheese, finely grated
3 scallions, including some of the green tops, finely chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
12 (6 to 8 inch) corn tortillas Ranchera Sauce
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
Garnishes: sour cream, guacamole, sliced scallions, and sliced black olives
To make the Sauce: In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Cook the onion, celery, and green pepper until the vegetables are soft and the onion is transparent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Combine the flour, oregano, cayenne, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a medium-sized mixing bowl. If using additional seasonings, add them here. Slowly add the stock, whisking until smooth. Pour the flour mixture into the sautéed vegetables and stir in the chicken stock and tomatoes, Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until mixture boils and thickens. Reduce heat and simmer approximately 1 hour.
To make the Filling: While the sauce is simmering, mix the 1/4 lb cheddar, 1 lb Monterey Jack cheese, chopped scallions, and the butter in a bowl or food processor until well blended. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions and then form each portion into 3 individual sticks the length of a tortilla, making 12 cheese sticks in all. Set aside.
To assemble the Enchiladas: Place tortillas in a tea towel and fold it over to completely encase the tortillas. Microwave for 30 to 45 seconds or until hot and pliable. Place a cheese stick on each tortilla and roll it up. Place the rolled tortillas, seam side down, in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the tortillas with the Ranchera Sauce and sprinkle with the 1 cup of Jack cheese.
Bake in a preheated 450°F. oven until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. If preferred, you can carefully heat under the broiler, until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve enchiladas on warm plates and pass the garnishes for your guests to choose from.
Make Ahead: The sauce and filling can be made a few days ahead. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to assemble and bake the enchiladas.
Chile Rice Casserole
Yield: 8 servings
This is a lush, rich side dish that goes with so many meals. You can leave out the green chiles if you don’t want the heat. Feel free to add chopped fresh herbs that you enjoy, such as cilantro. This is a great recipe for potlucks and progressive dinners.
2-1/2 cups water or chicken stock
1 cup raw white rice
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbsp chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 lb Monterey Jack cheese, grated
7 oz diced mild green chilies, or less for a less spicy dish
3 green onions, tough tops removed, sliced thinly
3 tbsp butter
3/4 cup freshly grated
Parmesan cheese (more if desired)
In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water or stock to a boil. Add the rice and 1 tsp salt, cover pan, and simmer over low heat until the liquid is absorbed, approximately 20 to 25 minutes, or according to package directions. Remove from the heat and place rice in a large bowl. Let it cool, stirring occasionally.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish; set aside.
Mix the cooled rice with the sour cream, 2 tbsp chicken stock, and additional salt and pepper as desired. Stir in the Jack cheese, chiles, half of the onions, the butter and about half of the Parmesan. Stir until completely incorporated. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Spread rice in prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle top with remaining Parmesan cheese and green onions. Bake, uncovered, in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
NOTE: The rice can be made a day in advance and brought to room temperature before continuing with the casserole.
Ever since the Junior League of Augusta published its very first cookbook, Recipes from Southern Kitchens, in 1940 to support their community programs, Junior League members have been heading to the kitchen to raise money for important community initiatives. Today there are more than 200 League cookbooks in print. The Mission of the Association of Junior Leagues International Inc., an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, is to develop the potential of women and improve communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable. Junior League cookbooks are a wonderful way to learn about the variety of food styles of the United States.