If I know one thing that has remained constant in my life, I would have to say it would be my love for enchiladas. Since the beginning, being when I visited Mexico with my sister in 2008, it has remained my favorite Mexican dish ever since. At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about Mexican cuisine and I am not a picky eater, so I was up to try anything new. My first bite of an enchiladas was a certain type called enchiladas suizas. Chicken inside of a tortilla covered in green sauce and melted cheese? No tuve ni idea what I was eating, but I knew this would be the start of a long-term relationship.


Having my enchiladas suizas, of course, for my 21st birthday! This time, topped with a sombrero..

From there, I decided that I would look further into the variances, origin, preparation, ingredients, and history of my favorite dish so I could actually know what I am eating. Instead of just accepted the goop of melted cheese on top of pieces chicken wrapped inside of a tortilla and possibly giving birth to a food baby, I wanted to dig a little deeper into how these “babies” were made. Word Reference defines enchilada as “a Mexican tortilla that is rolled around a meat or cheese filling, covered with a chili-flavored sauce, and baked”. The translation and etymology of the word says it for itself – “enchilar” being the verb for “to season with chili”. So, the thing that remains the same with enchiladas is that they are seasoned with chilies no matter what. But do they have to be? Personally, I have the lowest tolerance for spicy things, so eating my favorite food can sometimes be a small endeavor to overcome. The answer to that question is not necessarily. “Mexconnect” tells us that enchiladas can take multiple varieties. Some called enfrijoladas, enmoladas, or entomatadas — sauces made out of frijoles, mole, or tomates. Just to clarify so that we’re all on the same page, we’ll translate: frijoles are beans, mole is a type of sauce made with chiles, and tomates are tomatos, but turned into a tomato sauce spiced with dried red chiles. Enchiladas are made in many different ways, but Taco USA brings up a new kind of enchilada: one that is “baptized with a fried egg”.

Gustavo Arellano shares of a woman named Leona Medina-Tiede, an owner of a Mexican restaurante and the types of food she makes at the restaurant. Regarding enchiladas, Arellano writes,

“She serves food that most Americans call Mexican: chile stews, enchiladas, tamales, and burritos. But it really is New Mexican cuisine, a food developed in isolation over centuries and unlike any other Mexican food in the United States… Enchiladas aren’t rolled tortillas submerged in canned sauce but come stacked like pancakes, made of blue-corn tortillas, glued together with cheese and ground beef, the baptized with a fried egg” (109).

Wait a second.. WHAT did he say? A fried egg?! Everything in me thinks of a fried egg on top of my beloved enchiladas suizas or even maybe a breakfast burrito and I start gagging. It can’t be true..

But it is!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like me some eggs, but I’m a pretty picky eater when it comes to them (it can only be scrambled with cheese and peppers, thankyouverymuch), but picturing a fried egg on top of some enchiladas – I was surprised. But these aren’t just any enchiladas – they are STACKED. They look like pancakes! Take a look:

Stacked Jalapeño-Cheese Enchiladas

Stacked enchiladas, topped with a fried egg.

As it turns out, this new plate (to me, at least!) has been a part of TexMex tradtion for a while now. It is pretty rare that you see these stacked enchiladas in many places in Mexico,  besides in Sonora and places in Southwest United States. Barbara Bowman writes on her blog Gourmet Gleuth, that enchiladas actually are more of a street snack in Mexico, as compared to being rolled and doused in a gallon of some sort of sauce and cheese. It is more common to see a tortilla dipped in chile sauce, not an elaborate dish full of a drowning tortilla.

Both Arellano and Bowman are saying that how an enchilada is typically served does not originate in the form of stacked, pancake enchilada, but rather a humble snack from the streets.

The enchiladas that people think of are the ones at Mexican restaurants here in the U.S. There are many ways to go about making enchiladas — you can change up the sauce, the toppings, the meat, or even no meat. You can put them in a casserole dish or you can fry the tortilla on the stovetop.

Enchiladas made in a casserole dish!

Stovetop enchiladas!

One of the most important features of creating the perfect enchiladas is choosing your sauce! There are three typical sauces used to lather these varieties, so let’s see just how many types there really are. Wikipedia gives a good list showing the lista:

Varieties include:

  • Enchiladas con chile rojo (with red chile) is a traditional red enchilada sauce, composed of dried red chili peppers soaked and ground into a sauce with other seasonings,Chile Colorado sauce adds a tomato base.[16]
  • Enchiladas con mole, instead of chili sauce, are served with mole,[17] and are also known as enmoladas.[18]
  • Enchiladas placera are Michoacán plaza-style, made with vegetables and poultry.[19]
  • Enchiladas poblanas are soft corn tortillas filled with chicken and poblano peppers, topped with oaxaca cheese.[20]
  • Enchiladas potosinas originate from San Luis Potosi, Mexico and are made with cheese-filled, chili-spiced masa.[21]
  • Enchiladas San Miguel are San Miguel de Allende-style enchiladas flavored with guajillo chilies by searing the flavor into the tortillas in a frying pan.[5]
Enchiladas with red and green sauces.
  • Enchiladas suizas (Swiss-style) are topped with a white, milk or cream-based sauce, such as béchamel. This appellation is derived from Swiss immigrants to Mexico who established dairies to produce cream and cheese.[22]
  • Enfrijoladas are topped with refried beans rather than chili sauce; their name comes from frijol, meaning “bean“.[23][24]
  • Entomatadas are made with tomato sauce instead of chile sauce.[17]
  • Enchiladas montadas, stacked enchiladas, are a New Mexico variation in which corn tortillas are fried flat until softened but not tough, then stacked with red or green sauce, chopped onion and shredded cheese between the layers and on top of the stack. Ground beef or chicken can be added to the filling, but meat is not traditional. The stack is often topped (montada) with a fried egg. Shredded lettuce and sliced black olives may be added as a garnish.

So there’s a basic three sauces that enchiladas are made with — red sauce, green sauce, mole. My personal favorite is the green sauce since it’s not too spicy — haha! Since looking at this list, I thought it was only appropriate to see what the Spanish words used came from  and what they mean. The etymology of these words are really interesting because they basically tell the story of them or tell exactly what they are. We’ve already covered a few right at the beginning, so let’s look at the rest!

Mole is made with chocolate

  • Placera: From Latin placēre (“to please something”)
  • Poblana: From Spanish. (“of or pertaining to the Mexican state of Puebla“)
  • Montadas: Vulgar Latin *mōntāre, present active infinitive of *mōntō, from the noun mōns ‎(mountain)
  • Potosinos: Of or pertaining to the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí.
  • Béchamel: French sauce béchamelle, from Louis deBéchamel †1703 French courtier

Our idea of enchiladas in the U.S. is pretty small as you can see. We put it in this tiny box, along with all other types of Mexican food. Once  you do a little research, you get to see the complex, beautiful history and intricacies of Mexican gastronomy. Enchiladas are one tiny dish on the spectrum of all Mexican food, so don’t ever be afraid to look a little more into what you’re really eating.



Works Cited

Arellano, Gustavo. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. New York: Scribner, 2012. Print.

Bowman, Barabara. “Enchiladas.” Gourment Sleuth. N.p., n.d. Web.

Graber, Karen Hursh. “The Whole Enchilada: Thrifty Variations on a Mexican Classic.” : Mexico Cuisine. Mexconnect, 17 Mar. 2009. Web.

Hernandez, Ruben. “The Enchilada.” Latino Perspectives Magazine. N.p., 03 Sept. 2012. Web.

Shenron. “History of Enchiladas.” History of Things History of Enchiladas Comments. N.p., 18 Mar. 2009. Web.