Make Mine an Enchilada

There is a taco shop just over a mile from our Arizona house. We often walk there for breakfast if the weather is not too hot. We order the same thing every single time – a sausage breakfast burrito. They’re HUGE and delicious – a nice combination.

One morning we were sitting at a table waiting for our burrito when I noticed the woman behind the counter bring out a large pot filled well over the rim with jalapenos. The pot was enormous – the size of my canning pot. I took a picture….

cooking jalapenos (2)


As we watched, I saw her begin pouring seasonings over the peppers – salt, garlic salt, onion salt, and so forth – and she lit the fire on the stove under the pot of peppers so they could begin cooking.

We began speculating about how those peppers would be used. Green chili, Bill wondered. Nope, I said. You wouldn’t make green chili using just jalapenos. I studied their menu to see if anything jumped out at me. It didn’t.

Finally, I could take it no longer. Despite somewhat of a language barrier, I asked the woman behind the counter just how the peppers would be used. She pointed at the green hot sauce sitting at our table….

Los Favs hot sauces

Ah ha, I thought. That’s part of the reason we like their burritos so much. The hot sauces are delicious. A red sauce and a green sauce, both served in squirt bottles unless you take your burritos home, in which case they give you the sauces in a little plastic container. It never occurred to me that the sauces were made from scratch.

Los Favs burrito

One thing that we learned early on is that, while there is, of course, much Mexican food offered in the Phoenix area, the food offered in Arizona is quite different from the Mexican food served in Denver.

The first thing we noticed is that while you can get a burrito, the burritos are not routinely smothered as they are in Colorado. You might find green or red chili inside your burrito, but if you want it smothered, you need to make that clear by saying you want it enchilada style.

The second thing I noticed is that there are what I call taco shops all over the place. Our favorite – the one near our house about which I spoke – is called Los Favoritos. The majority of their food is taken to go – burritos wrapped up and eaten on the run. There are only four or five tables and we are almost always the only ones eating on premise. There are a number of taco shop chains such as one called Filiberto’s. I’ve never eaten there, but I’m told the food isn’t bad. Apparently it is not uncommon for taco shops to have names ending in –berto’s. Don’t ask me. I didn’t make up the rule.

Finally, while there are many taco shops, there are not a lot of Mexican sit down restaurants that aren’t national chains. They exist, but not like in Colorado, where you could probably drive a few miles in any direction from wherever you are and find a yummy Mexican restaurant where you can also get yourself a beer or a margarita.

I was contemplating this recently because I was determined to make a recipe I found on Facebook for New Mexican-styled enchiladas. In New Mexico, they apparently serve their enchiladas flat rather than rolled. The Facebook friend who posted the recipe challenged me to make the recipe she posted, and so GAME ON.

nm red chile enchiladas

New Mexico Red Chile Beef Enchiladas, courtesy

12-14 dried New Mexico red chiles
1 T. sea salt
3 cloves garlic
2 c. finely chopped yellow onion
8 c. chopped or shredded lettuce
2-3 c. chopped tomatoes
2 lbs. ground beef
Garlic salt to taste
Cooking oil (for frying)
24 six-inch corn tortillas

Prepare the chile sauce: Remove stems and seeds from dried chiles. Rinse chile skins, then combine them in a sauce pan with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let chiles soak 15 minutes (you can place a plate over the chiles to keep them submerged. Drain. Combine chiles, salt, garlic, and 4 c. water in a blender or food processor. Blend until mixture is a smooth puree. Place puree in a 9-in pan; bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While chile sauce is simmering, prepare the enchilada fillings and garnishes: onions, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes as described. Set aside in separate bowls.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and brown it, stirring occasionally and crumbling it. Drain off excess fat. Add garlic salt to taste. Keep meat warm.

Prepare enchiladas: Add cooking oil to a depth of about an inch to a medium-sized cast iron (or other) skillet. Heat over medium flame until it’s hot enough to make a tortilla bubble around the edges as soon as it is added to the oil. (Be careful not to overheat it; oil that is smoking is too hot.)

To make each serving: Use tongs to dip a tortilla into the hot oil; as it starts to bubble, turn the tortilla over. The goal is to make the tortillas soft. If they become stiff, it means you left them in the oil a little too long. Save and use for tostadas or tortilla chips. Drain the tortilla briefly on paper towels; use another pair of tongs to dip the tortilla into the pan of warm chile sauce and coat it completely. (Using two sets of tongs prevents chile sauce from being dripped into the hot oil.) Place it in the center of a dinner plate. Spread about 2 tablespoons of ground beef evenly across the tortilla. Sprinkle on chopped onion and shredded cheese. Repeat this process for one or two more layers, as desired. Portion about 1 c. chopped lettuce and about ¼ c. chopped tomatoes around the enchilada stack. Serve immediately.

Nana’s Notes: I cut the recipe in half, which was enough for Bill and I each to have two open-faced enchiladas with more ground beef than the recipe recommends. Next time I would do more than dip the tortillas in the sauce; I would pour some of the sauce on the tortillas. Also, it would taste so good if the tortillas were crispy. I know, I know. Then they are no longer enchiladas but are instead tostadas. To-ma-to, to-mah-to! Finally, sorry New Mexico, but while these were absolutely delicious, at the end of the day I prefer my enchiladas rolled.

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