While on my dissertation research journey I was lucky enough to spend some amazing time with my abuela. She is the inspiration in a lot of ways to my own love of cooking. Her delicious enchiladas, tacos, gorditas, salsa, sopa (rice) and fried chicken are unmatched in my opinion. Whenever my abuela would make us enchiladas or tacos it was an amazing adventure. All of our mouths would water in anticipation for the hours before it was made. Abuela would wake up early in the morning to start the sopa (which by the way is not an easy recipe) and her famous chile sauce, which I have tried numerous times to replicate but never really very successful. You see, like many grandmothers mine does not use recipes, she learned how to
make things by observing others, when she worked in a Mexican restaurant as a young woman in El Paso, Texas and then when she worked in a family restaurant in Greenleaf, Kansas my
abuela has been learning how to make food through sight, smell, taste and touch since she entered the kitchen. I aspire to be able to do the same one day, for some things I can, but when it counts I really feel like I need a recipe, which of course my abuela does not have. There's something very clear to be said about the history and power of oral tradition in my familia!
I also struggle with what I should do in terms of sharing family recipes. In some ways I understand that family traditions should be shared and that food is not "owned" by anyone. It's like people who feel they thought up something new, well, no one actually has "new" ideas. I feel similarly to food, which should be somewhat evident from the fact that I have posted things on my blog related to others' recipes and not really created anything "new". What is new of course, is each of our interpretations of recipes or family foods that have been passed down from generations. I have more to say about this, but I'm not sure this is the venue for this discussion. What I will say is that this blog isn't so much about a recipe per say, but about the process, which means that I won't be divulging family secrets of how to make the Estella Navarro Falcón enchilada sauce, but there will be important techniques to illuminate the old ways and the true ways to make enchiladas. I also feel as though since I didn't make it I can't divulge the recipe but when I do make these one day dear readers you will learn the truth. Don't be afraid. Heat up some crisco or lard if you have access and your heart can handle it.
The other thing about my abuela, in addition to not using recipes, is that she cannot simply be bothered to hold still so that her nieta could take a picture of her process. So, her hands are blurry, also she is a very modest and shy woman and did not want to be featured (besides her
hands) on this blog. Respecting her wishes you'll just see her in a masked abuela kind of way, kind of like superhero behind the scenes. I of course snuck in a picture of her cooking for her daughters (three out of four of them) and her granddaughter (me) but will not post it here, maybe one day I'll post it with her permission of course. She was however, comfortable with showing her magical brown hands, thank goodness.
Gather up five or six corn tortillas and dip them (carefully!) into your hot grease. You want the temperature up high enough to fry lightly but not high enough that you're going to lose your eyebrows in case a piece of your tortilla accidently falls off. Flip them over, don't leave them in there too long, we're not making tostadas. Then they are headed for a chile bath.
Just like this! Since my abuela saw me clicking away on the pictures she decided to take this opportunity to give me a teaching lesson!
It's almost as though my abuela wants to write her own food blog! She showed me that you can use utensils to dig out your tortilla, here she's using a wooden spoon.
And here she's using her fingers to dip them, but be careful because the sauce is simmering on the stove. You can also see here that she's added the chile dipped tortillas to her general pile of fried tortillas that are waiting for their time in the enchilada bath tub.
After they go into the chile it's time to put in what they are putting inside your yummy fried, sauced tortillas. On this day abuela usually just has shredded cheese, but I guess it was special and she made her carne that she puts in her tacos too. Shredded beef cooked with onion and papas.
Now if you ever want to make tacos you need to have this concoction in there. Again, there is no recipe, but basically you brown and simmer beef in some oil, until most of the liquid is gone and then you add in some boiled potatoes that have been cooked most of the way and are diced. Then you let this simmer together and mold together as thickening agents. This tastes amazingly delicious in tacos.
My abuela rolled the cheese enchiladas first and set them aside in this dish (so we could all eat at once). And then tackled the meat ones. She ended up making half and half or so. My favorites are the cheese ones because that is what we would always have whenever we went to see abuela in Kansas. The beef ones were still tasty though. You can of course put anything you want in an enchilada as long as there is some type of chile on the outside, abuela didn't put any cheese in with the meat enchiladas that she made on this day.
By the end of this wonderful enchilada making factory, with abuela rolling like mad, we had about this many. And of course between the five of us we polished all of these off with no problems. At this point abuela also told me that if you wanted to you could put the dish in the oven and warm them all together (this will also harden the tortillas some more. She also told me that if you didn't want to make your sauce from scratch you could buy one at the store, to which she said, "you know, there are some pretty good ones out there." Me, I would never do this, as I feel I would be disgracing my abuela's hard work by using it out of the can. But if one is in a pinch you can always turn to these shortcuts.
My abuela also made some fideo (a Mexican tomato pasta dish) that was our accompaniment for our enchiladas in addition to a nice green salad. This really rounded out a delicious Mexican meal. My belly was full of warm food and I was able to do a family interview for my research and collect my Aunt Gloria's oral history. Good food helps productivity, and this definitely helped me along my path to complete my dissertation. Now if my abuela could only make me a meal every day I would be done with that pesky thing by now!!