I’m in awe of people who have razor sharp long term memory. You know the types, they can recount exactly what they were doing and thinking at age 5, they can tell you the color of the sheets in their crib, or describe in detail the scent of their first grade teacher’s perfume. I often wonder if they’re faking it. But anyway, I don’t have that kind of memory. I remember things in broad brush strokes and great swaths of blurry impressions. That’s the way it is with these cheese and onion enchiladas. I remember them vividly, but not in great detail.
After my husband and I were married my parents helped us buy our first small house. It was right along an elbow bend on the coastal road in southernmost Maine. We were next door to a stark white Congregational church, which overlooked a ragged little 18th century graveyard, which itself faced the open ocean. Scattered among the other small houses like ours were a couple of historic Revolutionary era mansions that were slowly but surely succumbing to salty wind and icy winters.
We lived there only a short time before the realities of life and career nudged us along and we picked up and moved on to a more practical spot. And truthfully I can’t recount very many of the intimate details of life from that brief period, but I do remember cheese and onion enchiladas. They’re tangled up in my mind with the intense cold and wet of those New England years.
In that kind of weather you don’t go far for anything. But if you haven’t managed to keep the kitchen stocked and you’re hungry enough, it can be exhilarating to venture out for dinner. One of our favorite places was a tiny little restaurant with just a couple of tables and close enough by that if the snow got too deep we could walk home if necessary. All I remember is that the woman was from Guatemala…or Guadalupe? Guadalajara? I’m not sure, but she served authentic Mexican food out of a tiny kitchen, and somehow we discovered her and it became our winter hang out. The windows were perpetually steamed as we ate her cheese and onion enchiladas, always accompanied by a mug of thick Mexican hot chocolate. I’m guessing it must have been the cheapest thing on the menu. We kept our overcoats on and our boots dripped rivers of melting snow. It was magical.
These enchiladas taste exactly the same. That’s not a huge surprise, since they’re so utterly simple. They were of course the first thing I thought of after I made the Red Chile Sauce the other day. The homemade sauce took these to a new level, since I have always made them with canned. You can grate your own sharp cheddar, or use a mix of authentic cheeses, but the truth is I usually grab a bag of the pre-grated stuff, the Mexican blend works perfectly. My husband, who clearly isn’t as attached to the memory as I am, usually asks for chicken in his…and occasionally I’ll break with tradition and add black olives.
- 1 medium large yellow onion
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- salt and black pepper to taste
- approximately 1 1/4 cups Red Chile Sauce, recipe here (or use canned sauce)
- 8oz (2 cups) shredded cheese (either cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a Mexican cheese blend)
- 5 corn tortillas
- several green onions, thinly sliced
- fresh cilantro, chopped
- Set the oven to 350F
- Peel and cut the onion into a small dice.
- Heat the oil in a saute pan and saute the onion for about 5 minutes until softened. Add 2 Tbsp of the sauce to the onions and set aside.
- Cover the tortillas with a damp cloth and microwave for 45 seconds to soften.
- Spread a little of the sauce on the bottom of an 8x8 square baking pan.
- Assemble the enchiladas: first coat the tortilla with a little of the sauce, and then lay some of the onions down the center. Top with some of the cheese, and then carefully roll the tortilla and place it in the pan, seam side down. Continue with all the tortillas, fitting the last one in along the bottom of the row. If you have any leftover onions, spoon them into the rolled tortillas from one end.
- Spread more sauce over the tortillas, to cover all the exposed surfaces.
- Sprinkle all the remaining cheese evenly over the top and cover loosely with a tent of foil, trying not to let the foil touch the cheese or it may stick as it bakes.
- Bake for about 30-35 minutes until hot and bubbly.
- Serve right away, garnished with green onions and chopped fresh cilantro leaves.
This recipe make one pan of enchiladas, enough for dinner for two, with one leftover for breakfast. Double or triple the recipe as you like, and you can certainly assemble the pan ahead of time and bake it off when you are ready.
Isn’t it interesting how some of the most enduring food memories trace back to the most ridiculously simple dishes. There’s nothing complicated about these enchiladas… corn tortillas fuse with the cheese and the smokey sauce into an almost pudding like consistency, with the slight crunch of the onions in the very center. It’s comfort food of the quick and easy variety, with or without the memory.