If you’ve ever eaten at a hole-in-the-wall Mom and Pop Mexican restaurant in Texas, these are those cheese enchiladas. Simple corn tortillas rolled around a filling of cheese and chopped onions, swimming in that dark, flavorful sauce that you can’t find on any grocery store shelf. These aren’t what you’d call authentic Mexican enchiladas, usually made with a red or green chile sauce, among other things. These are, however, authentic Tex-Mex enchiladas, made with chili gravy, a cross between a flour-based brown gravy and a chile sauce. It is exactly that hole-in-the-wall Mom and Pop taste that you remember. And if you don’t remember it because you’ve never been in one of those restaurants, then you’ve been missing out! They are often tacky, sometimes dingy, but they’ve got the food.
And now you can have it, too!
I found this recipe for chili gravy here at Farm Bell Recipes, credited to Robb Walsh of The Tex-Mex Cookbook via Homesick Texan, and this recipe alone makes me want to get his cookbook to find out what other treasures he has in there. I am a West Virginian now, but I was born in Texas and lived half my life there, and I do sometimes get homesick for the food. This chili gravy is what makes these cheese enchiladas. (Where has this recipe been all my life?) Corn tortillas, chili gravy, cheese, and onions. This is the perfect Tex-Mex comfort dish.
You can buy the corn tortillas, of course, but tortillas are easy to make, so make them fresh! Lately I’ve been experimenting with corn tortillas and the recipe I used to make them for these enchiladas is a combination of all-purpose flour and masa harina (corn flour) instead of straight masa harina. I love this cross between the two which results in a tortilla that tastes like a corn tortilla but acts like a flour tortilla (meaning it’s softer, easier to roll without breaking, less dry).
Here is how I make my soft flour-corn tortillas. Note: I tried hand-rolling these, as I usually hand-roll flour tortillas, but I found these easier to do using my tortilla press. (You can see my step-by-step post on using a tortilla press here.)
You can also see this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes and save it to your recipe box.
How to make Soft Flour-Corn Tortillas:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups masa harina
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening or lard
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water*
*The amount of water is approximate–judge by the feel of your dough. You will need about 1 1/2 cups, which is more than used in the flour tortillas recipe. The corn flour is more dry and sucks up water!
Mix the flours and salt in a medium-size bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry cutter. Stir water in (add a little at a time after the first cup) and mix the dough as much as possible with a spoon. Knead, adding water, until you have a pliable dough. (Not too wet! Be careful adding the water after the first cup.) Cover bowl and let rest for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle a bit of flour in the bowl and knead again briefly. Divide dough into 16 balls.
Place a cast iron skillet on high heat. (Cast iron works best–you need something that can take high heat with no oil.) Open the tortilla press and lay a piece of plastic wrap across the bottom of it. Sprinkle with a little bit of flour. Place a ball of dough toward the hinged end. (Not in the middle! I’ve found that placing it toward the hinge creates much nicer, rounder tortillas.)
Sprinkle a little flour on top of the ball. Place another piece of plastic on top and close the press, pushing down on it to flatten the ball. Peel off the plastic carefully.
Fry each side about one minute on high heat. I do the first side another 20-30 seconds after the second side. Keep the operation moving–as you’re frying one tortilla, press another. Move each tortilla as it’s finished onto a plate or into a tortilla keeper and cover to keep warm.
Note: An alternative method I’ve used in the press is to cut apart a plastic storage baggie and use that for the two pieces of plastic rather than the flimsier plastic wrap when pressing the tortillas. I find this much easier to work with for regular corn tortillas, though I have no trouble with plain plastic wrap with these soft flour-corn tortillas. It’s just an easier dough to work with. I love these soft flour-corn tortillas!
To prepare to assemble the enchiladas, get the chili gravy made–it is the secret to the flavor. Don’t make cheese enchiladas without it!
You can find the chili gravy recipe at Farm Bell Recipes here and save it to your recipe box. If you really like this recipe, you can make a bulk dry mix to make it quick. You can find the dry mix here.
You can make this vegetarian by using vegetable oil instead of lard and using either water or vegetable broth. I’ve tried this recipe using water and using chicken broth. I far prefer the chicken broth. When I tried it with water, it tasted too thin–and I don’t mean the consistency was thin, I mean the taste. For full-bodied, real hole-in-the-wall Mom and Pop flavor, I recommend the chicken broth (or vegetable broth would be good, too, I’m sure). I just don’t think water cuts it. And I don’t think that’s what Mom and Pop are using because it doesn’t taste right to me that way.
This recipe makes 2 cups.
How to make Chili Gravy:
1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
2 tablespoons homemade or dark chili powder*
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
*I used Mexican dark chili powder.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for a few more minutes until you have a nice, light brown roux. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and continue to cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
Add broth (or water), stirring as sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes. Add water to adjust the thickness.
This chili gravy is a classic Tex-Mex treasure. I’ll never buy enchilada sauce again.
Now that you have your tortillas and chili gravy, you’re ready to assemble the enchiladas. You can also find this recipe for cheese enchiladas at Farm Bell Recipes and save it to your recipe box.
How to make Cheese Enchiladas:
8 corn tortillas*
3 cups shredded Cheddar
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups chili gravy
*I made this recipe using 12 soft flour-corn tortillas. There was plenty of sauce to go around. I used a little extra cheese and onion for the extra tortillas and baked them in a 9 x 12 casserole pan.
Preheat oven to 450. Pour the oil in a small skillet, and fry tortillas briefly, one at a time. Keep them wrapped to stay warm as you assemble the dish. Pour 1/2 cup of chili gravy in the pan. (If using 8 tortillas, an 8 x 8 square pan holds 8 enchiladas perfectly.) Place about 1/4 cup of cheese and a tablespoon of diced onion in the center of each tortilla and roll up.
Place tortillas seam-side down in the baking dish. Continue with remaining tortillas. Pour remaining chili gravy over the top and sprinkle with leftover cheese and onion.
Bake for 10 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.
Try these and you are in for a treat!