A few months ago, I totally lost faith in cooking. Completely. Nothing I made was turning out, and I lost interest in even trying. Making dinner was an exercise in frustration, every single night. There were tears multiple nights, followed by concern from a confused husband and, inevitably, ice cream. Because I am a child who can be soothed by sugar.
I finally got back to basics. When the weather cooled down, I started making all of my childhood favorites. I made chicken and stuffing, one of my mom’s specialties (recipe forthcoming). I instituted Wutz-Varner Mac and Cheese Night, inspired by my best friend’s family, who had mac and cheese every Thursday when I was growing up.
And then I buckled down and made cheese enchiladas. Lisa Fain of Homesick Texan, whom I view as a sort of virtual mentor in the field of Tex-Mex cooking, posted a recipe in 2007 that promised to be the real freaking deal.
I’ve made them before, of course, but with a red sauce that was much different from Lisa’s chili gravy. The color made me nervous immediately, and I will say that when I tried the gravy, I was worried. It was like a punch of cumin in the face.
But something magic happens when you combine it with rolled corn tortillas, cheddar cheese (not Velveeta — sorry, Lisa) and onions. All of the creamy, fatty goodness of the cheese mellows out the gravy, while the cumin and spice keep everything from feeling too heavy. I served it with shredded iceberg and sliced avocados on the side, which also helped.
In other good news, this enchilada recipe is infinitely adaptable. I can already tell I’ll be making it with chicken, beef, maybe pork, definitely a mix of cheeses and probably some Hatch chiles from the freezer. Feel free to experiment at will.
Cheese Enchiladas and Chili Gravy
Adapted from The Homesick Texan (link above)
1/4 cup oil (use butter, vegetable oil or, as I did, bacon grease [I know])
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp garlic power
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano (Mexican, if you can find it)
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 cups any kind of stock (I used bone broth, but you can use whatever)
8 corn tortillas
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese (medium, preferably)
1 medium onion, diced
Preheat oven to 450 and grease a large baking dish.
Heat oil (or, um, grease) in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and keep stirring for three to four minutes, or until very light brown. Add spices and continue to cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and whisk or stir until the sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat tortillas — my method is to layer them with damp paper towels, microwave for 45 to 90 seconds, then wrap in a tea towel to keep warm.
Pour 1/2 cup of the chili gravy into the baking pan. Take your first tortilla, put 1/4 cup of cheese and 1 Tbsp onion in the center, and roll. Place in baking dish, seam side down. Repeat, quickly, with the other seven.
Pour remaining chili gravy over enchiladas. Sprinkle remaining onions, then cheese, on top. Bake for 15 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.
We serve these with sliced avocado, shredded iceberg lettuce, a little sour cream and diced tomatoes. Yum.