The cooking of Northern Mexico got its spark from ranching culture, in which food was prepared with indigenous ingredients and cooked over a wood fire; it has long been overshadowed by the more glamorous and complex cuisine of the South. But former restaurateur James W. Peyton of San Antonio redresses the imbalance in his just-published cookbook, El Norte: The Cuisine of Northern Mexico (Red Crane Books, $14.95). This version of his chipotle enchilada recipe vividly captures the fervent flavors of a region settled by frontiersmen and worked by vaqueros who improvised meals with what was on hand. A need for inventiveness is something that even modern Texas cooks can identify with.

Recipe for Enchiladas in Salsa Chipotle, featured in El Norte: The Cuisine of Northern Mexico.


Cooking oil
12 corn tortillas
1/2 pound mild cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound cooked chicken, shredded
1/2 medium onion, minced
Salsa chipotle (recipe below)

Heat about 1/2 inch cooking oil in small skillet just until it begins to smoke. Using kitchen tongs, immerse each tortilla in oil for a few seconds, until it becomes soft and pliable. Remove, and drain on paper towels.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place about a tablespoon each of cheese and chicken and a sprinkling of onion on each tortilla, and roll into a cylinder. Place 3 enchiladas on each of 4 oven-proof dinner plates. Pour 1/4 salsa chipotle over each serving on enchiladas, then sprinkle with remaining cheese and onion. Set plates in oven, and heat until cheese melts and sauce bubbles, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Serve with rice and refried beans or with thin charbroiled tenderloin steak. Serves 4.

Salsa Chipotle

3 to 6 canned chipotle chiles; reserve adobo sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef broth
2 1/2 cups water
6 tablespoons of reserved adobo sauce

Rinse, seed, and chop chiles; use more chiles for hotter salsa. In molcajete or with mortar and pestle, grind garlic, cumin, and oregano.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Add flour, and cook over low to medium heat until it begins to brown and give off a nutty fragrance. Remove from heat, and add broth a little at a time, stirring well after each addition. Return to heat, and add water in a slow stream, stirring constantly. Add chiles, adobo sauce, and garlic mixture, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer uncovered, stirring often until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes.