February/March 2014

Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas

We hoped to duplicate Texans’ favorite comfort food—minus the processed cheese and the deep frying.

Why This Recipe Works

Unlike their Mexican kin, Tex-Mex enchiladas have no meat and no tomatoey sauce. Instead, a smoky chile gravy provides the bulk of flavor in the dish. Dried ancho chiles, along with cumin, garlic, and oregano, are the perfect backbone for our roux-based sauce, and a splash of vinegar brightens it up. Instead of going with the processed cheese typical of the dish, we opted for a mixture of cheddar for flavor and Monterey Jack for smooth meltability. Finally, while traditional recipes call for frying the corn tortillas one at a time, we found a shortcut that reduces time (and excess grease): brushing the tortillas with oil and microwaving them for a mere minute.


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Serves 6


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2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1/2-inch pieces (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
2 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar


12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 onion, chopped fine
Nutritional Information


Per Serving (Serves 6)

  • Calories 533
  • Cholesterol 65 mg
  • Fat 35 g
  • Sodium 560 mg
  • Saturated 14 g
  • Carbs 36 g
  • Trans 1 g
  • Dietary Fiber 6 g
  • Monounsaturated 15 g
  • Sugar 3 g
  • Polyunsaturated 4 g
  • Protein 23 g

The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Serves 6

Dried chiles vary in size and weight. You’ll get a more accurate measure if you seed and tear them first; you need about 1/2 cup of prepped chiles. You’ll lose some flavor, but you can substitute 2 tablespoons of ancho chile powder and 1 tablespoon of ground cumin for the whole ancho chiles and cumin seeds, decreasing the toasting time to 1 minute.

Watch the Cook's Country cast make this recipe

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1. FOR THE GRAVY: Toast chiles and cumin in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder and let cool for 5 minutes. Add garlic powder and oregano and grind to fine powder.

2. Heat oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Whisk in flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and spice mixture and cook until fragrant and slightly deepened in color, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, whisking frequently, until gravy has thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Whisk in vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm. (Sauce can be made up to 24 hours in advance. To reheat, add 2 tablespoons water and microwave until loose, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring halfway through microwaving.)

3. FOR THE ENCHILADAS: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of tortillas with oil. Stack tortillas, then wrap in damp dish towel. Place tortillas on plate and microwave until warm and pliable, about 1 minute.

4. Spread 1/2 cup gravy in bottom of 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Combine cheeses in bowl; set aside 1/2 cup cheese mixture for topping enchiladas. Place 1/4 cup cheese mixture across center of each tortilla, then sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon onion. Tightly roll tortillas around filling and lay them seam side down in dish (2 columns of 6 tortillas will fit neatly across width of dish). Pour remaining 1 cup gravy over enchiladas, then sprinkle with reserved cheese mixture.

5. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Let enchiladas cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining onion. Serve.

TEST KITCHEN TIP: Enchilada Orientation

The arrangement matters: After you have spread 1/2 cup of chile gravy in the 13 by 9-inch baking dish, fit the 12 enchiladas by creating two snug rows of six.

What Is Chile Gravy?

Chile gravy is considered by many experts—and Texans—to be the defining food of Tex-Mex cuisine. Like beef or poultry gravy, it’s based on broth thickened with a roux (usually vegetable oil or lard plus flour). Unlike those gravies, chile gravy gets its signature flavor not from meat drippings or fond but from spices plus ground ancho chiles (which are dried poblano peppers). Shortcut recipes often call for chili powder, but that shortcuts the flavor, too. Instead, we make our own chile powder by toasting the anchos and grinding them with cumin seeds, garlic powder, and dried oregano. Chile gravy should be dark, thick, and very flavorful; it’s not that spicy, though.

Watch The Full Episode

Test cook Julia Collin Davison shows host Christopher Kimball how to make Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas at home. Next, tasting expert Jack Bishop challenges Chris to a tasting of corn tortillas. The...