Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mexican 101

Back in my student days, I frequently made enchilada missions to Cafe 101, the cafe in Canterbury University's commerce building. Cafe 101's chicken enchiladas are one of my enduring memories of campus life (other campus food-related memories include chicken pies and caramel milk at James Height, and spicy wedges from the UCSA cafe). Since graduating, I don't think I've had enchiladas once. Though I love Mexican food, I never cook anything Mexican, other than occasional nachos - quite ridiculous, considering I even have a Mexican cookbook!

Luckily, I now have no choice but to complete the several Mexican recipes in the "International Dishes" chapter. And what better place to start the basics of Mexican than by making flour tortillas (p149)?

To be perfectly honest, making your own tortillas is a bit of a faff. It starts out easily enough - a simple mixture of flour, salt, oil and water makes a lovely soft dough that's easy to handle and knead. The dough needs chilling for half an hour - not a problem, since I used that time walking to the shops to get an onion I needed for the next recipe.

On my return, I split the dough (a half-mix, once again) into 6 pieces, and rolled each into a ball. Each ball is then rolled out to a 20cm circle. This is where the tortilla making became a hassle: I couldn't keep the tortillas circular, and no amount of rolling seemed to get them to 20cm. After I'd done the first couple, I got the hang of the shape a bit better, but none of my finished tortillas were bigger than about 15cm in diameter.

Eventually, I had a pile of rolled tortillas ready for cooking. The recommended 20-seconds in the pan didn't seem to be cooking them enough, so I ended up doing each one for more like 40 seconds per side, trying desperately to press down the bubbles of air that kept puffing up, making the tortillas look more like naan breads or pitas.

Once I'd made my tortillas, I needed to do something with them - like making chicken enchiladas (p147)! I really needed to make up for the 7 or 8 year enchilada drought since last I visited Cafe 101. I blitzed up the tomatoes and jalapenos to make the sauce, added sour cream (which turned it a weird pink colour) and started cooking the onion/chicken filling.

The next instruction is to dip each tortilla in the sauce, spread on some of the chicken mixture, and roll it up "like a sponge roll". Simple enough, but I made a huge mess doing it. I also found that my tortillas had gone crunchy (probably overcooked) so they weren't easy to roll or dip in the sauce. My biggest dillema, however, was over the filling. Even using it sparingly, I got through only three of my undersized tortillas before running out of filling. Immediately assuming I'd messed up the recipe, I went back over it to check. I couldn't see anything I'd done wrong: I'd halved both recipes and should have enough filling for 6 tortillas.

Oh, well. I had some more leftover chicken in the fridge, and the other half of my onion, so I cooked those up and used them to fill the remaining 3 tortillas. This means I made the full amount of filling - supposedly enough for 12 enchiladas, and only had enough to sparsely fill 6.

With all the enchiladas in the dish, I poured over the remaining sauce, sprinkled on some cheese, and put them in the oven. It was about 10 minutes later that I remembered I was supposed to put a foil lid on it, so out it came, foil lid went on, and back in the oven. After 30 minutes baking, and 10 minutes grilling, My enchiladas were ready.

And boy, did they look good. They tasted pretty good too, but the tortillas had gone soggy. I suspect that bought ones wouldn't go as soggy. The problem's really more in texture than taste, but it's still not very appealing. The jalapenos made the enchiladas quite spicy, which of course is to be expected in Mexican cooking, but it really wasn't overly hot - the sour cream in the sauce goes a little way towards neutralising the heat.

I can definitely recommend the enchilada recipe. Use bought tortillas, and if you don't like spicy food, just leave out the jalapenos. Perhaps increase the amount for the filling - or you could add some veges or beans.

Tortillas, on the other hand, are not something I'd like to make again. They were fiddly, took ages to make, and didn't even taste good in the enchiladas. Of course, I'd be the first to suggest that these problems are likely the result of my own incompetence in tortilla making - if Mexican 101 was a real class, I'd probably be scraping by with a C.

Click here to see a second attempt using pre-made tortillas.


  1. I was having a massive craving for UCSA spicy wedges the other day. Mmm. Sadly I'm a few thousand miles too far away to indulge!

  2. Actually, I don't think you can get them anymore. I went one time and you can still get wedges, but they're not the same.

    On a related topic, I just got takeaway dim sum from Foo San with the workmates. Soo full...


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