Plus My Go to Mexican Dish
Knowing food on the road can be more of a miss than a hit, when Kate came home from an extended trip, as I headed to the kitchen to make lunch, our primary meal of the day, I asked her if she would like steak? I was excited, I had found beautiful steaks, and that is normally her favorite meal. Her response was an entirely half-hearted yes; commenting that she could see by the left-overs in the refrigerator that I had made Mexican food while she was away.
Her voice was so sad, I instantly felt sorry for her; I had not really made Mexican food, rather my go to Mexican dish, which is my version of La Barca’s taco salad, which Pat introduced me to forty years ago.
I do not deep fry that perfect flour tortilla and pile it high with rice, beans, meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, olives, and sour cream; though that was an amazing taco salad and one of the many wonderful things Pat introduced me to.
My go to dish starts with a bowl of finely shredded cabbage, shredded broccoli, lettuce, if I have it, my “refried” beans, which are not fried at all, ground meat, pico-de-gallo, with cheese and sour cream being optional; they are a great addition but oddly, this dish is quite satisfying even without them.
It was the go to food that I had made while Kate was gone; which I am sure any proper Mexican cook would take offence at it being called Mexican food. But hearing Kate’s longing, I decided it was time to make her some proper Mexican food. She was in the mood for enchiladas; enchiladas as real as I could make.
When I got ready to assemble the enchiladas I realized I did not have any black olives, which really are a staple ingredient in my enchiladas, so while you will not see them pictured here, I do recommend that you add them to your dish.
Enchiladas are the staple of the famed combination plate. It was my father, who first introduced us to these wonderful platters of food that were loaded with endless combinations of tacos, tamales, chile rellenos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, rice, beans, and of course those salads of shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes.
I was ten when he decided to move us to the Wild West – he had always loved western films, and endlessly read Louie L’Amour books, which covered a west that had all but disappeared, before we arrived in Winslow, Arizona.
On our car trip west, we stopped along all of those clever road side attractions, and visited the historical landmarks – like Jesse James’ hideout; certainly nourishing in me the seeds he had planted since the very beginning of our life on the road – stop and see the sights!
In New Mexico, he took us to a Mexican restaurant, and explained that we should order combination plates. My father was a man with definite opinions about food – and incredibly good taste.
Vegetable Oil, enough to fry the tortillas
2 large Onions – diced and sautéed in oil
1 large can of pitted Black Olives – sliced
2 cups of shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese or Monterey Jack, or a cup of each
2 cups of Red Chile Sauce to start – you may need more
Heat two cups of red chile sauce in a pan, large enough to hold a corn tortilla. Sauté onions in a couple tablespoons of oil, until they are translucent – set aside.
Create a work area, near the stove, to assemble your enchiladas. Have a dish with the onions, one with olives, and one with cheese. Using tongs, drop a tortilla into the hot oil, frying for just about thirty seconds on each side, and then dip into the hot chile sauce and coat the tortilla completely. Move the tortilla onto a plate or the casserole dish you will be baking them in and have already coated the bottom with a layer of red chili sauce, and add cheese, onions, and olives, roll tightly. Place the enchiladas, seam side down, and continue assembling the enchiladas, until the pan is full. Ladle a bit more sauce, over the top, according to taste, and sprinkle some cheese.
Cover pan with foil and heat in a 350 degree oven, for about 30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly. Garnish with some finely crumbled Mexican white cheese (queso cotija), and chopped scallions; place a small dish of sour cream, at the table, for those who care to add a dollop to their enchiladas. The sour cream does serve to mellow the chile.
I know purest say that there is no meat in enchiladas, but we prefer to add meat. You can add shredded or ground beef, seasoned with onions, garlic, cumin and oregano, or shredded chicken, for meat enchiladas.
Do not be afraid to quickly fry your food —
the additional taste is worth the calories!
Make sure the red chile sauce is hot.
Fill your enchilada to your hearts desire!
Roll tightly, you want to fill up the pan!
My Refried Beans
I first ate refried beans when I was about eight, in Southern Ohio. We had gone to visit Granny Hemminger, who we were not related to, but who treated us like family. Up the street, from her house, was a Mexican family. I remember walking into their kitchen, and watching as the mother, made fresh flour tortillas, which I thought were amazing. She also made refried beans, and stopped to tell me that her secret was a can of evaporated milk. Before that day I had not eaten either a tortilla or refried beans; I was hooked!
I have yet to meet anyone else who puts milk in their beans, but I have yet to serve mine to anything other than a rave review.
Pinto Beans 1 pound
Evaporated Milk 1 12 oz can
Garlic Powder 2-3 teaspoons
Salt to taste
These are the basic ingredients, and apply whether using dry or canned beans. There is no difference in the taste, provided you use a good can of beans, I like Goya. The best way to cook dry beans is in crock pot. You do not have to worry about the beans boiling over, and do not need to continually add water. The cooking time will vary, depending on your pot, but it will take several hours. Remember to never add salt before the beans are completely cooked. In general, salt should be added at the end of the cooking process.
Once the beans are cooked – soft and the skin beginning to break, remove excess liquid, leaving only about a cup of water. Place the beans in a deep pot, add garlic powder and Jalapeno Pepper – washed and cut in two. Let this mixture simmer for at least a half hour, to open up the flavors, then add the can of milk and bring to just under a boil, turn down the heat and smash the beans with a potato masher, and correct the flavors, adding salt. You can serve them as is, or top them with some finely crumbled Mexican white cheese (queso cotija), or shredded Monterey Jack cheese. As with everything, you should season to taste. I like the beans to have a kick, but you prefer them to be milder, add less of the jalapeno pepper.
Notice, the beans do not have any oil, or lard, and are not fried at all, but you would never know it. However, if you wanted to omit the milk, you could heat a quarter cup of lard, add a small, finely, chopped onion, a dash of cumin, and the simmered beans. Heat the mixture through, smashing them, as you go. Oil will not give you the same familiar taste as lard.