Pity the rest of the world. What they think of as Tex-Mex bears little resemblance to the richly spiced stews, tart and bright margaritas, and plump enchiladas Texans know and love. Not only do we get to enjoy the glory of true Tex-Mex, we also have access to a wide variety of styles, with many cities boasting their own specialties and traditions. The first place I turned for a classic Tex-Mex cookbook was one of these epicenters: San Antonio.
Specifically Los Barrios, the restaurant founded by Viola Barrios in 1979, serving first from a former boat garage and later out of a repurposed (and heavily expanded) Dairy Queen. Daughter Diana Barrios Treviño grew up in the business and wrote the Los Barrios Family Cookbook in 2002. In its pages, she shares her family’s secrets—like oregano in the Zuazua-style beef stew and garlic for the red snapper. Viola was tragically killed in 2008, but her legacy lives on in these recipes and in her daughter’s stories about her mother.
Viola Barrios specialized in casero-style cooking, a homey take on Mexican favorites. Exemplifying her style are sugar tortillas, the tomato-braised Chicken a la Viola, a number of soups and stews and, importantly for my purposes, enchilada sauces.
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The restaurant is famous for its enchiladas—you can even order a platter featuring five varieties if you want to try them all. Treviño shares four enchilada recipes in the cookbook, including a tempting double-sauced take on the classic Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas with chile gravy (we shared that recipe here).
But it was the spinach enchiladas that caught my eye. Corn tortillas filled with chicken, onions, and two types of cheese are blanketed with a deep, velvety green sauce made from chiles, scallions, chicken stock, sour cream, and spinach. (I used crema in the sauce, as sour cream has a tendency to separate when heated through.) More cheese goes on top, and then the whole production is baked until bubbling. The recipe serves four to six.
It’s Tex-Mex comfort food at its best, straight from San Antonio.
Enchiladas With Spinach
¼ cup olive oil
12 corn tortillas
1 ½ cups shredded queso Chihuahua or Monterey Jack cheese
1 ½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 onion, chopped
2 cups diced cooked chicken
One 10-ounce box chopped frozen spinach, cooked and drained
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup fresh green chiles
1 cup sour cream
Heat the oven to 350. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. One at a time, dip the tortillas into the hot oil to soften them. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Combine the cheeses in a bowl, tossing to mix well. Reserve ½ cup of the cheese in a small bowl. Fill the center of the tortillas with the remaining 2 ½ cups of cheese, the onion, and the chicken. Roll up and place seam side down in a baking dish.
To make the sauce, combine the spinach, chicken broth, scallions, chiles, and sour cream in a blender and blend throughly. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas. Scatter the reserved cheese over the top. Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly.