My mom taught me a great many things, but not how to cook. Because she didn’t learn from her mother, although her mother taught her a great many things. My grandmother didn’t learn how to cook because presumably her mother didn’t cook either, although I have to wonder who then fed those 12 kids if not her. Maybe that’s the reason they all left the old country in the first place.
It’s been established that whole cultures are passed down in the food our mothers and grandmothers feed us as we grow up. It’s that simple, and that powerful. That’s why, any chance I get, I invite friends with favorite childhood recipes to come over and cook while I watch and learn.
Because while I can conjure up some warm recollections of favorite childhood meals, there’s only so much culture you can squeeze out of a strawberry frosted Pop Tart.
So here’s my girlfriend Letty. From a big, warm, Mexican family. Mother very traditional. Always a pot of sopita bubbling on the stove. Letty grew up loving her mom’s food but not thinking too much about it until, surprise surprise, she grew up and had a family of her own. Now she pays a lot more attention to the ways of the womenfolk in the kitchen.
On birthdays, her mother cooks her and her sisters their favorite meal. It’s always the enchiladas.
Simple potato enchiladas. Not fancy at all, but it’s the taste they remember from home. And it starts with the onions.
Slice one large onion into a bowl and squeeze the juice of one lemon over it, crumble oregano and season with salt. Set aside to marinate. This is the best part of the whole dish, remembers Letty. There were often leftovers…but never any onions.
Make well-seasoned mashed potatoes -
Make your salsa – tomatoes and onions
Wrap corn tortillas in a dish rag and microwave to warm them up. Make the decision whether you’re going to use red sauce or green sauce. (We used red sauce this night)
Of course her mother could make her own red or green sauce when she wanted to take a little extra time. But the weeknight enchiladas? Sauce in a can was fine. Who am I to argue?
Set out your fillings and sauces and prepare to wrap the enchiladas.
Fill your tortillas with the potato and wrap. Heat your vegetable or canola oil in a large skillet.
Now dip your rolled enchilada in sauce and lay it in the skillet to fry for a bit. Turn and fry the other side.
Cover in salsa, shredded cheese, chopped iceberg lettuce and a dollop of crema.
Consume con mucho gusto.
I’ve decided that the whole not cooking thing stops with me. My kids have a mom who cooks for them. Well, tonight Letty cooked for them. But you get my point.
I’ve come to realize that I drag myself out of bed on Sundays to make pancakes from scratch because I want my kids to tell their kids that their mom used to make the best pancakes, every Sunday, and from scratch. I want my kids to make their kids pancakes on Sunday. I want them to make my lentil soup, too. I want one of them to one day be in Spain, sitting at a tapas bar, and sigh. “Yeah, these are good, but they’re just not like my mom’s tortilla…”
The enchiladas? No matter how she tried, they were never quite as good as aunt Letty’s….