Hello. It’s Carolyn here with you this week. First I want to welcome all our new followers. Always feel free to leave a note, an observation, even a qibble. We want this to be a community conversation.
When I heard that Slow Food was considering nominating Sonoran flat enchiladas as a vanishing food tradition, I knew exactly where to go to document what in the Islas family is a recurring staple. Elda Islas and Armida Islas are sisters-in-law who are married to brothers who ran the American Meat Company on South Fourth Avenue in Tucson. Their families and their husbands go back many generations in Tucson and Sonora.
Elda’s husband Filiberto told me that Sonoran flat enchiladas were traditionally served on Fridays when Catholics were prohibited from eating meat. Since fresh fish wasn’t always available in the desert, this was a hearty substitute.
For our lesson, we met one afternoon last week in Elda’s comfortable kitchen in the Menlo Park neighborhood in Tucson. First we made the chile sauce. In this case, we used fresh chile paste prepared from plump red chiles by Filiberto. But you can also use canned Las Palmas chile or Santa Cruz chile paste. Elda began by smashing some garlic with a stone with a flat side she had inherited from her mother-in-law. It has been used by generations of women and has grooves worn where the fingers grip it. Then we browned the garlic in a little oil.
Next we added 3 tablespoons flour, the 2 cups of chile paste and a little broth and let it simmer gently.
Next we made the masa. She used lard which recent studies have shown is not as bad for you as Crisco. Armida mixed it with her hands.
5 pounds fresh masa
¼ cup soft lard (yes indeed)
2 cups queso fresco, grated
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons salt
(Some cooks also include mashed potatoes, cottage cheese or a beaten egg)
Combine all in a deep bowl and knead with hands until thoroughly combined. It should be creamy, damp but not sticky.
When the masa was ready, we formed it into patties 1/4- to 3/8- inch thick and 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Meanwhile ½-inch of vegetable oil was heating in a heavy frying pan When it was hot (didn’t have a thermometer, but probably around 350 degrees F.), Armida slid in three patties. A bigger frying pan could probably accommodate four.
She fried them until they were golden on the underside, about three minutes. Then she turned them to fry another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. She lined a oblong dish with paper towels and stacked the finished patties to drain. Eventually we ended up with 3 dozen patties.
Now it was time to assemble the enchiladas. Armida dipped each patty in the chile sauce and arranged them on a plate. Then it was time for the condiments. We used lettuce, grated queso fresco, chopped green olives, radishes, and chopped green onion.
When the Sonoran flat enchiladas are assembled, they look like this. What is missing from the photo is the aroma. Heavenly!
Should you have any leftovers, they are great warmed up and served for breakfast with eggs. Filiberto Islas said this is called Enchiladas de Caballo.
My sincere thanks to Elda and Armida for the lesson and a lovely afternoon!
Want more recipes for delicious food with a Southwest twist? My book The New Southwest Cookbook contains recipes from top restaurant and resort chefs throughout the Southwest, using our local ingredients for mouthwatering dishes. You can find it at your local bookstore or order it here. See all my cookbooks at my website.