I studied at la Universidad de Guanajuato in central Mexico for a hot summer in college, and the highlight was the homecooked food that I ate three times a day, served up by la abuelita at my homestay. One afternoon, as a friend and I wandered through the winding streets of the city after class, she complained to me about the food served by her homestay family. Spam out of a can. Microwave dinners. Pizza with hot dog chunks littering a soggy crust. (For all its culinary masterpieces, Mexico has the worst rendition of the pizza that I have ever eaten seen.) I was appalled and then went home to my host family to find these enchiladas for lunch. I blessed the sweet abuelita a million times as I ate. And for the record, I didn’t rub it in with my friend.
Enchiladas mineras are a typical and humble family meal in Guanajuato and get their name from the hungry silver miners in the state. A rich sauce made from dried guajillo and ancho chiles is nicely balanced by the creamy queso fresco and the tangy vinegar bite of the vegetables. Eat with refried beans and pickled vegetables. It’s the only way to get excited about roots after the summer bounty.
For the sauce:
2 guajillo chiles,* seeds and veins removed
2 ancho chiles,* seeds and veins removed
1 c water
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp dried oregano
salt to taste
For the enchiladas:
8 small corn tortillas (~6in diameter)
1 c queso fresco (or substitute a very young feta or goat cheese), crumbled
1 small onion, sliced
2 medium gold potatoes
2 medium carrots, peeled
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 c white vinegar (or rice vinegar)
4 jalepeno en escabeche [pickled jalepeno], sliced
1/3 c sour cream or creme fraiche (it’s closer to Mexican crema)
1 c green cabbage, finely shredded
2 Tbs lime juice
salt + pepper
Make the sauce. Heat a heavy pan over medium-low heat and gently toast the chiles for about a minute, turning constantly so they won’t char. Soak the chiles in very hot water for 10 minutes to soften. Puree the guajillos with 1/3 c water until very smooth. Strain through fine wire mesh. Add the anchos, garlic, oregano and remaining 2/3 c water to the pureed guajillos. Blend until smooth and add salt to taste.
Make the enchiladas. Cut the potatoes and carrots into bite-size pieces. In a heavy pan, cover the vegetables with water, add 1 tsp salt and cook until they are just fork-tender (10-15 minutes). Put the vegetables in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking and stir in the vinegar. Set aside.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the cumin and fry for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook until soft and translucent. Set aside. Toss the shredded cabbage with the lime juice and a touch of salt and set aside.
Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil over a medium flame. When a drop of sauce sizzles in the oil, thinly coat a tortilla in the sauce (dilute the sauce with a little water if it’s too thick) and fry in the oil for about 30 seconds per side. Spread a generous tablespoon of both the onions and the cheese across the tortilla and roll up to make a loose packet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and place 2 on each dinner plate. Add more oil to the pan when needed, and scrape and discard any fried tortilla bits to prevent the next one from sticking.
Drain the potatoes and carrots very well. Cover the enchiladas with the vegetables. Fry the remaining sauce in the remaining oil until it thickens slightly and pour over enchiladas. Place shredded cabbage on top, then sprinkle with more of the cheese. Drizzle with sour cream and garnish with the sliced jalepenos.
Use up any leftover sauce like this:
* If you’re in the Boston area, you can find the rarer ingredients – dried chiles, queso fresco, jalapenos en escabeche, and good quality, fresh corn tortillas – at El Chavo in Roslindale or Hi Lo in Jamaica Plain. In the south, look for them at H.E.B. or Fiesta. The chiles can also be found online, although they’re a bit pricier there.