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Everything Enchiladas!

The traditional Mexican dish of enchiladas has a unique flavor and long history. The definition of the enchilada is a rolled tortilla with a filling, usually with meat and served with a chili sauce. In English, the word enchilada means “in chili.” Extensive research suggests that enchiladas not only date back to Mayans but also originated from Mayan people. A staple food of the Mayan people was corn tortillas. Some evidence shows that the first enchiladas were made with these corn tortillas and had fish rolled in them.

History

Spanish conquistadors documented many different foods the indigenous people ate when traveling to the Western Hemisphere. The indigenous people ate flattened cornbread and named it tlaxcalli, but the Spanish conquistadors changed this name to tortillas. There are many different variations of enchiladas because there are many other preferences worldwide. This dish is in various cookbooks, including the first Mexican cookbook published in 1831. This cookbook was named El Concinero Mexicano, or in English, The Mexican Chef.

One of the original ways this dish was served was through street vendors, and the enchiladas were corn tortillas rolled and dipped in chili sauce. Now people make enchiladas smothered in sauce, topped with cheese, and baked to perfection in either a flour or corn tortilla. Some of the many ingredients that can fill enchiladas include beef, chicken, seafood, pork, beans, potatoes, vegetables, and cheese. Traditional Mexican enchiladas are usually topped with a Mexican crema and queso fresco or cotija cheese. When making a Tex-Mex version of this dish, it is generally topped with yellow cheese. Some of the toppings that people use are sour cream, cheese, olives, lettuce, diced onions, red or green chile peppers, salsa, and cilantro.

Red VS Green Sauce

Many people are often curious about the difference between a red and a green enchilada sauce. The most noticeable difference between these two sauces is the type of chile used to make them. Just like in their names, green chili sauce is made with green chiles, and red sauce is made with red chiles. These sauces also differ in flavor as the green sauce has a very fresh flavor, and the red sauce has a more earthy flavor. Both sauces range from mild to very hot, depending on which peppers are used. When cooking with peppers, seeds add spice, so the more seeds left in the peppers while cooking, the hotter the sauce will be.

Green or Verde enchilada sauce is usually made with green tomatillos, green chiles, onions, garlic, vinegar, cumin, and cilantro. A green tomatillo is a small fruit that looks similar to a green tomato and is even sometimes referred to as “Mexican husk tomatoes.” Even though they are sometimes known as “Mexican husk tomatoes,” they are not related to tomatoes. This small green fruit has a dry leafy husk and has a fruity, slightly herbal, and tart flavor. Along with tomatillos, green chiles or jalapeno peppers are the main ingredients in this sauce. Jalapenos and chiles are from the same pepper family known as Capsicum annuum, but jalapenos are usually only added to provide extra heat in the sauce. Some of the other ingredients in this sauce include olive oil, onions, salt, pepper, garlic, cilantro, lime, and broth or water.

Red enchilada sauce is quite similar to green sauce. The main difference is that red sauce is made from dried red chile peppers instead of green peppers, and the spices used are sometimes slightly different. This sauce has vinegar, garlic, onions, and other spices like oregano, chili powder, and basil. Some recipes also use ripe tomatoes or tomato paste as a base for this sauce. There are many different dried red peppers, but some of the most common ones are Cascabel, Anaheim, Chipotle, Guajillo, and Chili de Arbol. Red chile peppers can be mild or very hot, so you can choose which you like best when making this sauce. In some recipes, chile powder is added or used in place of the chile peppers.

If you are making enchiladas, you may be wondering, “Which sauce should I use?” This is an excellent question, and the most straightforward answer is whatever you prefer. If you are making beef enchiladas, it is more common to pair them with a red sauce, and chicken enchiladas usually have a green sauce. If you are making enchiladas, but do not want to make a homemade sauce, there are authentic canned enchilada sauces.

Nutritious and versatile, enchiladas can be customized to suit anyone’s personal preferences. There is a wide variety of cheese, meats, vegetables, beans, and toppings, so these are an excellent option for anyone looking for a traditional Mexican dish with a rich history. This dish is very nutritious because it contains a healthy filling with meat, cheese, or vegetables wrapped in a tortilla with chili sauce. Enchiladas have become a symbol of a traditional Mexican meal with their perfect combination of meat, cheese, tortilla, and sauce.

Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator

 

Sources:

  • www.britannica.com
  • www.foodchamps.org
  • justmexicanfood.com
  • mobile-cuisine.com
  • tastessence.com
Enchiladas

Contact Our Expert!

Email: nfs@uwyo.edu

Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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