There is a common belief that if a native Texan leaves their home state, they are cursed with mediocre to bad Tex-Mex food for the rest of their lives. I left Texas in 1997 and have created a successful workaround solution. I have been disappointed too many times to believe the critics and peers who say that this or that place has good Mexican. Good Tex-Mex food outside of Texas is rare.
To be clear, I’ll bullet point a few characteristics of a Tex-Mex restaurant experience in my opinion- it’s only as good as the sum of the parts. These parts may include:
- Warm, crisp and bottomless tortilla chips and salsa are free
- Yellow cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese is heaped on dishes
- Salsa at the table comes in many forms- it’s not just pico de gallo
- Bell peppers do not (and cannot) replace chile peppers in any recipe
- Fresh, cool vegetables and condiments play well with ranchero, mole and verde sauces
- Sour cream chicken, spinach or mushroom enchiladas verdes are always on the menu
- Guacamole is not made with grapes or mayonnaise
- It’s not high brow. In fact, many respectable Tex-Mex restaurants have cement floors and smell like a combination of bleach, spilt beer, lime, tomatoes and burnt corn chips.
Since leaving home, I have learned to improvise and make my own Tex-Mex combining local, seasonal ingredients with a few shortcuts. For years I have cooked enchiladas this way. Instead of truly separate enchiladas, this recipe turns out like a casserole, but it’s still damn good. The frijoles negroes, or refried black beans, are dirt simple to make. I learned to make excellent refried beans from watching Rick Bayless and also from my college friend Faera Taylor (Siegel) who once lived in Mexico.
This dinner is a typical weeknight meal at our house. It weakens the curse a bit.
Mostly Local Tex-Mex Spinach Enchiladas, Refried Black Beans and Green Salad
Serves 4 (or two with leftovers for lunch)
1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped ( I got mine from Ralph’s Greenhouse in Skagit Co, WA)
6-8 organic, blue corn tortillas (I use 365 brand or make your own with masa flour, water and oil)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves (I used green garlic from Growing Things Farm in Carnation, WA)
1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 12 oz can Hatch red or green (medium or hot) enchilada sauce
8 oz shredded cheddar/monterey jack mixed cheese (I use Whole Foods brand)
2 scallions, chopped (from my garden)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375F. In a baking dish (at least 9×12), coat dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil and about 2 tablespoons of the enchilada sauce and set aside.
In a wide saute pan, add 1-2 teaspoons oil, chopped spinach, pinch salt, oregano and cook until wilted. Remove from pan and set aside.
Wipe out frying pan with a towel and add 1 teaspoon olive oil for every two-three tortillas cook each of the tortillas until warmed. Set aside.
Create an assembly station with spinach, tortillas, and shredded cheese. Roll each tortilla with a spoon full of spinach and 1 tablespoon of cheese and place inside the coated baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas and mixture. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over the filled tortilla rolls and top with more shredded cheese and chopped scallions. Bake for 25-35 minutes until cheese is slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes. Slight cooling will make serving portions easier.
Salad dressed with habanero salsa vinaigrette
Mixed lettuces and dandilion greens, scallions, cilantro (all from my garden)
Cherry tomatoes from Port Townsend, WA
1 tablespoon habanero salsa (I use Frontera brand)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon vinegar (like Champagne or apple cider vinegar)
Assemble vegetables, tomato and avocado. Drizzle oil, salsa and vinegar over the top and serve cold.
Refried Black Beans
1 12 oz can organic black beans (I use Whole Foods 365 brand or make my own black beans)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (I used green garlic from Growing Things Farm in Carnation, WA)
1/4 teaspoon epazote
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a saute pan over medium heat, cook oil and minced garlic until almost browned. Add whole contents of can of beans and warm through. Add salt, epazote and then mash with a potato masher until creamed. Cook a minute more and serve.