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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Enchiladas

This is the forty-second installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

That first, irresistible, crunchy bite will make or break it—no, literally, the delicious tostada vessel sometimes cracks, leaving your fingers stained beet-red and your plate a mess of enchilada toppings (which, when nobody is looking, you will probably lick clean.) At its simplest, it is a messy finger-food, but this unique enchilada dish is also exciting, vibrant, and celebratory. It includes the polarizing ingredients of pickled beets, capers, and hard-boiled eggs, yet it remains surprisingly delightful. With a complimentary combination of a crispy fried tortilla, tender meat, a tangy homemade tomato sauce, and piled high with fresh, crunchy vegetables, it is truly a satisfying, well-balanced meal in both taste and texture. Each layer of the dish is crafted and stacked with care, creating what I believe is a culinary masterpiece. These enchiladas are easily my favorite Guatemalan dish yet. 

Enchiladas have an expansive, rich history that dates back to the 18th century, making them a unique staple in many Latin-American households today and a cultural and gastronomical patrimony. Most families are loyal to their own recipes, so there are many different versions. Enchiladas vary from culture to culture as well. However, for traditional Guatemalan enchiladas, a couple key ingredients maintain the integrity of the dish, regardless of the variation. For example, the corn tortilla is essential to the authenticity of the enchilada. It is fried to perfection in order to create a crispy tostada, which is essentially a toasted tortilla. Guatemalan Rudy Giron explains it best: “If tostadas had a kingdom, La Enchilada would be the queen of the tostadas.” In addition, Guatemalan enchiladas are packed with refreshing vegetables, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “jardineras,” or garden planters. Besides a beautiful final product, the colorful vegetables are truly a fun way to eat your veggies! So, these Guatemalan enchiladas are the ultimate use of two native, historic gastronomic staples: corn tortillas and vegetables.

Besides its rich cultural history, this meal has a rich significance in my own life. Enchiladas are a special treat in my family, as both the labor put into them and the flavors that result are grand. I often ask my grandma, Mama Silvia, to make them for me, as not only are they tasty, but it is always such a wonderful experience to sit down at the table and enjoy them with my family. The memories behind the dish are fond—enchiladas were the last dinner I indulged in with my family before leaving for college for the first time. The whole family enjoys them on Christmas in Guatemala, accompanied by traditional celebratory fireworks and a warm, welcoming house booming with hearty laughs and singing. We ate them in quarantine to cheer us all up and to bid me farewell before heading back to college once again. When we make these enchiladas, everyone near and dear is always there, and together we are unified, thankful, happy, and full. No matter how big or small the gathering, this dish makes it a loving celebration. 

Sharing these Guatemalan enchiladas is truly a symbol of love in my family. They are made with heart, and it is a privilege to enjoy them. This recipe is passed down from generation to generation—my grandma learned from her mother in their country home in Guatemala years ago. Today, I feel honored and ecstatic to learn from my mom and grandma, and share my family’s recipe myself!

Ingredients:

Enchilada Toppings

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 10-12 corn tortillas
  • 10-12 leaves of iceberg lettuce (1 per tortilla)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil per 3 tortillas
  • 1 tbsp cheese per tortilla (queso seco, panela, or parmesan), crumbled
  • ½ bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
  • Sliver of onion, sliced, for garnish (optional)

Curtido (Vegetable Salad Mixture) 

  • 3 large beets, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup lima beans
  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • ½ lb green beans, chopped
  • ½ lb carrots, chopped finely
  • 1 cup Spanish onion, chopped finely
  • ½ head of cabbage
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 small jar capers
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Tomato Salsa

  • 3 tomatoes
  • ¼ of an onion
  • 1 pepper Chile Guajillo
  • ¼ cup green bell pepper
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper
  • ¼ cup water or less
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: 

Start by making the pickled beet-salad-vegetable-mixture. In my family, we call this classic mixture “curtido,” but it is also referred to as “escabeche.” It is the key of the dish, as it is the star that gives the dish a unique and tangy flavor. To make the curtido, steam the prepped vegetables (minus the onion) in a pot with boiling water. Be sure to start with the beets, as they will take the most time to soften. Then, add the rest of the vegetables. While the ingredients are steaming, cut the raw onion into slices and let it soak in a bowl with the vinegar and water. The vegetables will take 20-30 minutes to fully steam. Let the vegetables cool down, then dice them.  Combine these with the sliced raw onions resting in the vinegar water and add capers, salt, and pepper to the mix. Mix it up evenly as you would toss a salad. You can modify the ratio of vinegar to water as needed, but it should be about even—a bit tangy and tart but not overpoweringly acidic. This cold, pickled vegetable salad is best set aside and chilled in the fridge until ready for use. It can also be stored for up to a week to enjoy as a side-salad or even as a sauerkraut-like topping for your food. 

For the tomato salsa, simmer all the vegetables in a small amount of water, about a ¼ cup. Once they are cooked to a soft consistency, liquify the stew-like mixture in a blender until it is smooth and thick. Then, add salt and pepper as you wish.

In a separate pan, cook the ground beef over medium heat with salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, hard-boil the eggs as you normally would. Once they are cooked, chill the eggs while you prepare the other elements of the dish and slice them right before use.

In another medium pan with a bit of vegetable oil, fry 3 tortillas at a time. After 3 minutes of frying on one side, flip the tortilla to the other side for 3 minutes, until it is golden-brown on both sides. Then, place the fried tortillas/tostadas onto a plate with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

The final and crucial step is the assembly of the enchiladas. Your set-up should include: a bowl of the cold pickled salad, a plate of iceberg lettuce leaves, a plate of the sliced, chilled hard-boiled eggs, a bowl of cheese, a bowl of parsley, a bowl of room-temperature ground-beef, a bowl of room-temperature salsa, and the platter of tostadas. To assemble, start with a tortilla spread with a thick, even layer of the tomato salsa. Then, add the leaf of lettuce and top with the ground beef. Pile on a mountain of the pickled curtido salad for maximum flavor. Garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg, chopped parsley, and a sliver of onion. The final touch is a generous sprinkling of fresh Guatemalan cheese (queso seco). You can also use Panela cheese or Parmesan, if you prefer. 

This recipe makes 10-12 enchiladas. Enjoy! 

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