green enchiladas


Pronounced [ehn-chee-LAH-thahs ] a tortilla dipped in chile sauce, stuffed with a variety of ingredients then rolled up and baked. The word "enchilada" just means "in chile". In Mexico the dish is simple "street vendor" fare and not typically the more elaborate version we see in most U.S. Mexican restaurants.

Enchilada History

The concept of tortillas being wrapped, filled and eaten in various forms was clearly defined by the Aztecs. There does not seem to be any reference to the term "enchilada" that dates back to the Aztecs. The first reference to the term "enchilada" in the U.S. came in 1885.

According to Dictionary of American Food and Drink an article in "American Speech" in 1949 described the enchilada as "a Mexican dish prepared more for turista than for local consumption".1

"The word “enchilada” simply means “in chile” and in Mexico, the most beloved version is actually a street snack: a corn tortilla dipped in chile sauce that’s a far cry from the limp, stuffed tortillas swimming in a sea of red sauce and molten cheese that we’re familiar with in the U.S. Rick shows us how to make classic “Street Style” Red Chile Enchiladas at home, and how to transform them into a simple, satisfying brunch presentation, Red Chile Enchiladas with Spicy Potatoes and Fried Eggs. At Sanborn’s in Mexico City, the colorfully tiled restaurant where the famous dish, Enchiladas Suizas, was invented, Rick explains that “Suiza” means Swiss, a tribute to the dish’s use of cream and cheese."2

Enchilada Recipes - Early Cookbooks

Andrew F Smith (Oxford Food Companion To American Food and Drink credits the Centennial Buckeye Cook Book from 1876 assembled by the woman of the First Congregational Church located in Marysville, Ohio.3

Enchilada Making Methods

Diana Kennedy (author of Art of Mexican Cooking) explains that there are two basic methods of making enchiladas.4

  1. The first method is where the tortilla is lightly fried then dipped in a warmed chile sauce then filled and rolled.
  2. The second method dips the tortilla in "raw" sauce then lightly fried, filled and rolled.

Enchilada Assembly - Presentation

Rolled Enchiladas

In the U.S. the most common enchilada is filled, rolled, then topped with sauce and frequently cheese.

Stacked Style Enchiladas

The other method, less common in the U.S. is the stacked enchilada.  Tortillas are lightly fried, placed on a serving plate, then the ingredients are placed on top of the flat tortilla.  Typically this will be repeated at least 3 times.  This style of enchilada is most common to Sonora, Mexico and in the Southwestern part of the U.S.

Enchilada Fillings

Today enchiladas are commonly filled with cheese, chicken, beef, pork and onions.  Early recipes from the 19th century suggested very simple fillings such as onions onions and olives seasoned with salt and Mexican oregano.  Cheese was not typically used as a filling but was commonly used as a topping.  Other early fillings included picadillo, or mixtures of ground pork, olives and flavored with chiles, oregano and cumin.5

Enchilada Sauces

A red chile sauce made from rehydrated dried chiles and (sometimes) tomatoes and seasonings is the most widely used enchilada sauce.  There are even cream based sauces like that used for Enchiladas Suizas, and some enchiladas are topped with a traditional mole sauce. 

Fun Fact about Enchiladas

The Perfect Enchilada Pan

We probably all have our favorite enchilada pan.  From utilitarian perspective all  you need is a pan with sides about 2-3" high and one long and wide enough to fit a batch of 12 enchiladas.  A Pyrex type pan 9"x13" should work.  One of my favorites is a cast-iron pan with an enameled interior (shown below).  Clay pans such as the black clay from Colombia are wonderful if you happen to have one.

The pan does not need a cover.  Enchiladas are typically baked at about 325F to 350F so the pan does not have to withstand excessive heat.

Ideally just select a pan where all your enchiladas will fit without leaving any large gaps in the pan.

cheese enchiladas in my favorite enchilada pan
enchiladas in an enameled cast iron pan

chamba black clay enchilada pan
chamba black clay enchilada pan

Sources and Credits

John Mariani - The Dictionary of American Food and Drink1
Rick Bayless - Authentic Mexican2
Diana Kennedy - Art of Mexican Cooking4
Andrew F Smith - Oxford Companion To American Food and Drink3
Encarnacion's Kitchen - Mexican Recipes from Nineteenth Century California5
  • unbaked enchiladas in pan
  • zona-rosa-enchiladas-de-pollo
  • cheese enchiladas on a mexican plate
  • zona-rosa-blue-corn-enchilada

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.