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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, May 19

Gapers Block

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I'm fortunate to have lots of friends who not only enjoy good food, but they can make it as well. I was delighted to have one of these friends call me up and tell me she had the desire to make her mother's famous enchiladas. She had promised to show me how to make them, so I got my notebook and a pen and made way to her house just as she was almost done shredding the cheese.

Now my mother made enchiladas growing up, and I loved them. They aren't bad, but I couldn't help but wonder if there was a better, more authentic, way of making them. My mother's childhood was spent in southern California, but I grew up in rural Ohio where the ingredient choice was very different so substitutions had to be made. Whereas my mother would use cheddar cheese and packages of enchilada seasoning, my friend used asadero cheese and made her own spice mix.

I know I could have read Rick Bayless's cookbooks to get a recipe for enchiladas, but I'm glad that I had the opportunity to watch my friend make the recipe her mother and her mother's mother made. And I'm happy to be able to share it with you.

My friend's mother, like many cooks, didn't measure her ingredients. She just "knew" how much to use. Consequently my friend didn't have specific measurements either. I've done my best to estimate the measurements for the spice mix, but you'll want to taste it before you pour it over the filled tortillas to make sure it isn't too spicy.

Before you begin assembling the recipe below, you have to shred the cheese. Chihuahua cheese is the brand most common in the Chicago area and you'll need to shred the entire package for this meal. Sounds like it should be easy, but since this cheese melts so quickly, you'll have to make sure the cheese is extra chilled and then you'll have to shred it in batches, taking breaks when the cheese begins to get soft. Once it gets warm, pop the unshredded cheese in the freezer for about 10 minutes before shredding again.

Irene's Cheese Enchiladas
10-12 corn tortillas
Several tablespoons of vegetable or corn oil
1 package of Chihuahua cheese

Spice mix
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of chipotle powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder
2 teaspoons of cumin
2 tablespoons of flour

Mix all of these ingredients in a small bowl. The redder this mixture appears, the spicier it is. This should get you a mixture that resembles the cinnamon-and-sugar mix used on cinnamon toast.

Add a couple of tablespoons of water to this mixture until it resembles a thin paste; think school paste and not spackle. Let this sit while you prepare the rest of the dish. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Put a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place a tortilla in the oil and cook it for about one minute on each side. Place it on a plate that has been lined with a paper towel. Complete with the remaining tortillas, adding oil as needed. The oil softens the tortillas and makes them easier to roll.

Once your pile of tortillas are warm and soft, flip the pile over. Place one in a 13"x9" glass casserole dish. Put a small handful of cheese in the middle of the tortilla and roll it up. Place it seam side down in the dish and complete with the remaining tortillas.

Now you're ready to make the sauce to pour over the enchiladas. Reduce the heat in your non-stick skillet to medium and add the spice paste to the skillet. Stir for a minute and then slowly add about 1/2 a cup of water while stirring constantly. Stir constantly until the mixture has the thickness of gravy and is smooth.

Pour this over the enchiladas, spreading the sauce over the tortillas with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbly.

Serve with refried beans, Spanish rice and guacamole.

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