Though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I have Texas DNA in my bones! And, though I love California Mexican Food, my heart sings when Bill and I have the opportunity to dine Authentic Tex-Mex somewhere deep in the heart of Texas! If I could, like Tex-Mex expert, Robb Walsh, I would wander the state checking out every small eatery in every town. So, on a recent trip to Houston, we – like homing pigeons - made our way to the oldest Mexican Restaurant in that town, Molina’s and to their Enchiladas de Tejas!
Californians love fresh healthy food; accordingly they top their cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese enchiladas with tomatoes, green onions, sour cream and shredded lettuce. Texans, on the other hand really do love dark n dirty! Chili ‘gravy’ tops their Kraft Velveeta or Land O’Lakes Extra Melt stuffed enchiladas! “Velveeta? Land O’Lakes? You ask, shocked? Yes, my dear. Processed cheese melts differently - more elegantly – and is the real ‘authentic’ cheese of choice (irony intended). Still shocked? Bless your heart!
Walsh has picked Molina’s cheese enchiladas the best in the state of Texas, and there we were last week dining on the best!
I don’t have Molina’s exact recipe for cheese enchiladas, but between Walsh’s Tex-Mex Cookbook and The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain, I think we can safely say Molina’s is kissin’ kin.
According to Fain, what makes the old-fashioned Tex-Mex cheese enchilada special is the flour-based chili gravy. “It’s a smooth and silky substance, redolent with earthy cumin, smoky chiles and pungent garlic. It's not fiery, as it was originally created by Anglos, but it does have flavor. And there's no meat in chili gravy—it's just fat, flour, chicken broth and spices.”
(Two points to consider: One - try it with fresh lard. Lard gives the right taste with half the cholesterol of butter and one-third the saturated fat. Two - try it with Velveeta. The melting properties sublimely mix with the chili gravy.)
Chili Gravy (from Robb Walsh)
1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chili power
2 cups beef broth, chicken broth or water
Method: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux.
Add the black pepper, salt, powdered garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano and chili powder and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending ingredients. Add broth or water, mixing and stirring until the sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes. Add water to adjust the thickness.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
8 corn tortillas
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese (can make it with Velveeta for extra melting oomph and good ol' Tex-Mex authenticity)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups chili gravy
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and grease a large baking dish.
Pour the oil in a small skillet, and heat the tortillas one at a time. Keep them wrapped in a cloth until all 8 are heated.
Pour the oil in a small skillet, and heat the tortillas one at a time. Keep them wrapped in a cloth until all 8 are heated. Pour 1/2 cup of chili gravy in a baking pan.
Take a tortilla, put 1/4 cup of cheese and 1 tablespoon of onion in the center and roll it. Place rolled tortilla in baking dish, seam side down. Continue with remaining tortillas.
Take remaining chili gravy, and pour it over the rolled tortillas. Sprinkle remaining cheese and onions on top. Bake for 10 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.
Serve with tamale, refried beans and Rice
Yield: 4 servings
Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her latest book, "Wagner's Eternal Ring" was published in September 2010 by Rizzoli.