Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Couple of Big Cheese Enchiladas

Anyone who knows me knows I believe that everything goes better with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.  Brisket, chicken, beans, salad, grapes, chocolate—everything.  I don’t care which comes first, the pie or the enchiladas, as long as there are a couple of big cheese enchiladas involved.

This makes it sound as though the cheese enchilada is my favorite dish, but as much as I like them, I see them only as a side dish.  It’s just that I believe they improve any meal, no matter what the main dish may be.

I was in a restaurant in Fort Worth in the late ‘sixties where cheese enchiladas were served with anything ordered.  It was a Tex-Mex place but called itself Mexican food.  I won’t give the name of the place, but it was a popular buffet eatery serving all you could stand for $1.29.  When I ordered the chicken sour cream enchiladas with a tamale and a chile relleno, it came with two cheese enchiladas on the side.  On another visit I asked for the cheese enchiladas and they came with two cheese enchiladas on the side.  I liked this place.

In Laredo I had breakfast at a small diner made from an old Airstream trailer.  My chicken fried steak was topped with two cheese enchiladas.  Dinner in Alpine came with a cheese enchilada appetizer and with another on top of my steak.  A fried chicken restaurant near College Station served their potato fries in a paper boat with a cheese enchilada on top and a pickle on the side—I never figured that one out.  And a truck stop outside of El Paso served a hamburger with a cheese enchilada in the middle. 

A friend had a small ranch near Freer where cheese enchiladas were served at every meal.  And one could get a couple of them at any time just by stopping in at the cook’s kitchen.  My great-aunt Emma lived in Turkey, Texas, and she always had a batch of them around, just watch out for the ashes from her cigar.

My friends were deep into the cheese enchiladas also, and we would have a gathering every few months just to enjoy our latest versions.  I don’t believe we ever made the things the same way twice, but no matter what we did to them, they were still cheese enchiladas.  Life was good.

One of the versions was very unique.  It was a cheese enchilada pizza.  Very simple, but it may be the best pizza I’ve ever had.

Cheese Enchilada Pizza
Makes 4 individual pizzas.

    1 cup roughly chopped onion
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    1 pound fresh masa
    Cornmeal for the baking sheets
    1 cup Red Sauce (recipe follows)
    1 (7-ounce) can whole green chiles, drained
    1 1/3 cup coarsely grated cheese (your choice or choices)
    8 pre-made room temperature cheese enchiladas (use leftovers from breakfast)
    Additional Red Sauce
    Additional coarsely grated cheese
    Coarsely chopped cilantro

In a skillet heat the olive oil and sauté the onions until translucent.  Set aside to cool.  Wipe the skillet out with paper towels and return to the heat.

Knead the masa until smooth, and then divide into four equal pieces.  Form each piece into a flattened pizza shape with slightly raised edges and place in the heated skillet for about 45 seconds (do not turn over).  Remove to a baking sheet (you will need two of these) sprinkled with cornmeal.  When all four portions are placed on the sheets, top each with a scant ¼ cup of the Red Sauce, 1/3 cup of the cheese, and ¼ of the onions.  Slice the whole green chiles into strips and divide among the four pizzas.

Lay 2 room temperature cheese enchiladas in the middle of each pizza, drizzle more Red Sauce over the enchiladas, top with additional cheese, sprinkle with some chopped cilantro, and bake at 450F for 7 to 12 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and browning.

There is no need to serve with a couple of big cheese enchiladas on the side, but it wouldn’t hurt.

Red Sauce
Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

    12 dried ancho chilies
    8 dried guajillo chilies
    4 dried New Mexico Chiles
    6 to 8 cups water                                                   
    1/3 cup white wine                                              
    1/2 white onion, peeled and diced                              
    5 cloves garlic, minced                                        
    8 teaspoons packed light brown sugar                           
    2 tablespoons ground cumin
    ½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano                                    
    2 tablespoons honey                                            
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste          

Rinse the chiles to remove any dirt.  Slit each chile with a sharp knife and remove and discard the seeds and stem.  Place the peppers in a large saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.  The peppers should be soft and have absorbed some liquid.  When cooked, remove the pan from the heat and set aside without draining.

While the peppers are cooking, combine the wine, onion, garlic, brown sugar, cumin, oregano, and honey in a small saucepan.  Set this mixture over medium heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are soft.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using tongs, transfer the cooled chiles to the container of a blender.  Add about 2 cups of the chile liquid and all of the onion broth.  Cover the blender container and start blending at low speed, increasing to high speed as the puree becomes combined.  The result will be a thick, dark red sauce.  Adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, and more honey if desired.  Use the sauce as is in a recipe, or place in a clean glass container and refrigerate.  Use the sauce within a week, or freeze for later.

This Red Sauce is a bit more complex than most, but the flavor is also more complex.  Perfect with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.

You may notice I didn’t give a recipe for cheese enchiladas.  This was not a mistake.  There are countless ways to make these things, and I never make them the same way twice unless it is by accident.

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