Ethnic food served in America is, on average, a far cry from what would be served at its source. Take Mexican. It’s not all grease and molten yellow cheese. (Exactly what I loved as a kid.) The cuisine is vibrant, proud, diverse. It’s rooted in history and often shockingly fresh.

Enchiladas from the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí are a perfect example. In this region they are prepared by adding ancho chile paste to the masa, giving it a brilliant, rusty red hue. The dough is pressed into modest-sized tortillas, then filled with a cotija cheese-onion mixture, folded over like an empanada and fried. Simple toppings of red sauce, cilantro, and possibly more onion or cotija are all these enchiladas need.

A complete departure from what we typically think of, right?

Thankfully I’ve found, with a little digging, we can get really traditional ethnic meals in towns across the country. And for those of who want to try our own hands, many of the ingredients necessary to make authentic meals at home are readily available at specialty stores, even some supermarkets.

These enchiladas Potosinas are a delicious introduction to the varied, regional Mexican cuisine. Not to mention they’re dead simple and remarkably inexpensive to prepare. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more challenging recipe, I’ll steer you toward this from Rick Bayless — always a pleaser.

Enchiladas Potosinas [serves 4]

Printable recipe

1 medium dried ancho chile, seeded and cut into large chunks with scissors (see note below)

1 clove garlic, whole

1/2 t salt

13 1/4 oz (approximately 2 3/4 c) masa harina (substitute fine cornmeal in a pinch)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 T vegetable oil

corn oil, for frying

8 oz cotija cheese or queso fresco, crumbled (while less authentic, feta works well)

3 to 4 T finely chopped cilantro leaves

1 c shredded lettuce

red enchilada sauce (recipe follows); store bought is fine

to serve (optional): sour cream, salsa and/or guacamole

Soak the ancho chiles in warm water to cover for 25 minutes. Drain, and reserve soaking water. Blend chiles in a blender or food processor with garlic and salt. Add soaking water 1 T at a time until the paste is still thick, but pourable.

In a medium bowl, add chile mixture to masa and knead until dough is smooth and not sticky. If necessary, add more soaking water. Let dough rest 30 minutes.

Sauté the onion in vegetable oil. When soft and brown, remove to a small bowl and mix in the feta to make the filling.

Make the tortillas by placing a golf ball-sized amount of dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. Flatten with a tortilla press or rolling pan. The tortilla should be approximately 3″ in diameter. Fill each with about 2 T filling, placed along the middle. Fold each enchilada in half, making sure no filling comes out.

In a large skillet, add enough corn oil to generously cover the bottom. Heat over high until smoking and the oil ripples. (You can test with a tiny piece of dough: if it bubbles in the oil, it’s frying time!) Add 3 to 4 enchiladas and cook 2 minutes per side, or until crisp and golden. Remove from heat onto a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Serve on a bed of shredded lettuce, with the red enchilada sauce spooned over top. If desired, have guacamole, salsa or sour cream available on the side.

Note: My tortillas, as you can see, are pale orange instead of rusty red. I used cayenne pepper + smoked paprika to mimic ancho. Not nearly authentic but it worked and tasted good. When we’re relocated back to Corpus shortly, I’ll be in dried ancho chile heaven!

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Red Enchilada Sauce [makes about 1 cup]

2 t vegetable oil

3 T tomato paste

1 c chicken broth

1/8 t cumin

1/8 t smoked paprika

1/8 t oregano

pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste

pinch of salt, to taste

Heat oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomato paste and fry 1 minute. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the cumin, smoked paprika, oregano and cayenne; cook until sauce reduces slightly — should be the consistency of tomato sauce. Season to taste and serve warm.

Enchiladas inspired by an episode of No Reservations and the red sauce is a squirrel bread original.

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