if you can't stand the heat…

Get out of the kitchen!

I love Mexican food.  This past Friday I tried my hand at making squash enchiladas, my first attempt to make such a dish.

Enchiladas are essentially corn tortillas, stuffed with various fillings, and then rolled up, and baked with a kind of salsa over them.  Often they are served with Mole sauce, a thick spicy sauce made with cacao.  Initially I thought I might try my hand at some home-made mole sauce, until I looked at the recipe in the Joy of Cooking – and thought “No way.” It has just about everything you could possibly ever put in a sauce in it – tomatoes, garlic, onion, chilies, but also almonds, raisins, chocolate, and the list goes on.  If I ever do get the inspiration to make some Mole sauce, I will surely post about it here.  However, since I knew I would have to be making corn tortillas from scratch, I decided to save the mole for another time.

I haven’t found a place to buy corn tortillas in Wellington.  I stopped in one of the more authentic seeming Mexican joints in the left bank off Cuba street to ask if they made or sold corn tortillas, or find out where they got theirs.  They said they made them in the restaurant, and wouldn’t sell me any!  Corn tortillas are made from a special kind of corn meal, called Masa Harina.   Luckily you can buy Masa harina here – though it’s expensive !

I’m just going to copy and paste from Wikipedia now:

To make masa de harina, field corn (or maize) is dried and then treated in a solution of lime or ash and water, also called slaked lime. This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. In addition, the lime reacts with the corn so that the nutrient niacin can be assimilated by the digestive tract. The soaked maize is then washed, and the wet corn is ground into a dough, called masa. It is this fresh masa, when dried and powdered, that becomes masa de harina.

It is used for making tortillas, tamales, pupusas, arepas and many other Latin American dishes.

(And it’s delicious!)
On a side note, Wellington’s selection of Mexican food is quite dismal.  In some kind of city poll Sweet Mother’s Kitchen was voted “Best Mexican Restaurant”.  Sweet Mother’s Kitchen claims to be a cajun inspired restaurant serving southern American food…. and while they do have good curly fries, they are not a mexican restaurant.

However, I was reflecting upon the days when I first moved to Montreal, in 2006.  You couldn’t buy corn tortillas or Goya sazon anywhere!  However, during this most recent stay in Montreal, I found corn tortillas for sale nearly everywhere, and sazon available in most of the super markets.  So, maybe 4 years from now Wellington will get with it and start importing more stuff from Mexico?  I can only hope.. though perhaps Ticker and I will have moved to Mexico by then !?  And we’ll be wondering where to get feijoas…

Anyway, I bought a package of masa harina at New World a few weeks ago.  So I mixed the dried flour with water, then pressed them into tortillas using a tortilla press and a rolling pin to further thin them out, then cooked them in a dry skillet.  A lot of work.

So, once my tortillas were ready, I got started on the filling and sauce.  I roasted some pumpkin, or squash, I’m not sure what it is exactly, cut in thin slices, with some the following sprinkled on top:

brown sugar

cayenne pepper


ground cumin

black pepper

Then, I sliced up some tomatoes, a green pepper, a red pepper, and a jalapeno chili, and roasted them in the oven at a high heat until they were almost blackened.  I then pureeed that in the food processor, and added it to some onions & garlic I had browned.  I threw in some finely chopped spinach, a couple of cups of my home-made veggie stock that I make once a week or so, and some chopped cilantro (fresh coriander for you kiwis).  I seasoned it with more ground cumin, salt, and pepper.  I would have thrown in a lot more chili, had I been cooking for myself alone, but I try to be considerate of my flatmate’s heat-sensitivity.

So, I let that cook down a bit, and in the meantime, I mixed a container of (low-fat) cottage cheese with a couple of dollops of yogurt (or sour cream… if you’re not on a diet), and some grated colby cheese.

In each tortilla I placed a few slices of pumpkin, a couple of tablespoons full of the cheesey mixture, and then rolled it up, and placed it seam-down in a rectangular glass baking dish.  5 tortillas made one layer – then 1/2 the tomato sauce should be poured over them, before placing another 5 rolled up tortillas into the next layer, and covering with the rest of the sauce.

(I put all the tortillas in, then covered them with the sauce, thinking it would filter down…it didn’t.  Hence, the top enchiladas were very saucy, the bottom ones quite dry!  But still delicious… lesson learned.)

I topped this masterpiece off with some more grated colby on top, and threw it in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Resulting in pure amazingness.

I was partly inpired by with recipe:


I love Epicurious for it’s awesome foodie-recipes, and also the great comments people leave in the “reviews” area – always providing great feedback and ideas on how to tweak recipes for extra deliciousness or healthiness or what have you.

I’ve never seen tomatillos in New Zealand, so I just made the aforementioned roasted tomato & spinach sauce. But tomatillo anything is so delicious… if you do have access to them.

Sorry, I was too busy cooking and stuffing my face to take any pictures!  This stock photo will have to do:


2 thoughts on “if you can't stand the heat…

  1. Wow, you put my enchiladas to shame! I usually cheat and sort of negate the enchilada part by just putting the tomatoes into the base of the dish (I only make one layer’s worth, feeding only myself and not a hungry flat full of people), with only cheese on top because I like when it makes the tops turn into cheesy, crunchy tortilla goodness.

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