Cheese-and-onion-filled enchiladas are a classic Californio dish, and variations are found in many old cookbooks. The softened onions and the olives may sound like a light filling, but combined with melted cheese, they are a perfect foil for a mild red enchilada sauce made from dried Anaheim and Pasilla chiles.
- Devein the chiles and remove their seeds, then rinse them in cool water and tear them into quarters. Put the chiles and garlic in a mixing bowl and cover them with hot water, using heavy mugs or cans to keep the chiles submerged. Let them sit for an hour. When the chiles have soaked, transfer them to a blender with the garlic and 2 cups of the soaking water. Puree the mixture, adding a little more soaking water if necessary to turn the mixture into a thick sauce.
- Heat ¼ cup vegetable oil in a cast-iron pan and add the flour. Stir the flour constantly until you have a light tan roux, about 5 minutes. Add the chile puree to the pan along with the dried oregano and vinegar, and simmer the mixture over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a bit more water if necessary to keep the mixture from drying out; it should still be a sauce, not a paste, when finished.
- Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-low heat and sauté the onions very slowly until they are very soft and limp but haven’t turned gold. Set them aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set two pans on the stove side by side: Put ½ inch of vegetable oil in one and the chile sauce in the other, and warm them both over low heat (the chile sauce should simmer). Working with one tortilla at a time, make the enchiladas: Fry each tortilla in the oil for just a couple seconds on each side, until it just puffs up, and then simmer in the chile sauce for a few seconds, flipping to coat both sides. Lay the tortilla on a plate and fill it with a large pinch of the onions (about 3 tablespoons), 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cheese, and 2 olives. Roll the tortilla up into a tube and transfer it to a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, lining up the enchiladas side by side, until you have used up all the tortillas and onions and most of the cheese and olives.
- Bake the enchiladas for 20 minutes, then drizzle them with approximately ½ cup of the remaining chile sauce (don’t smother them), and scatter the remaining cheese and olives on top.
Georgia Freedman is a freelance journalist and editor based in the Bay Area. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Afar, Martha Stewart Living, Rodale’s Organic Life, Roads and Kingdoms, and other food and travel publications including Saveur magazine, where she was previously the managing editor. She is the author of the upcoming cookbook Cooking South of the Clouds—Recipes and Stories from China’s Yunnan Province (Kyle Books, September 2018).