Enchilada Essentials

Rojas toasts the dried chiles to deepen their flavor; steeps them in boiling water, which not only softens the leathery chiles but also releases pectin that will give the sauce a silky texture; and then purees until smooth.Todd Coleman

My aunt Marta Rojas of La Yerbabuena, Zacatecas, walked us through her approach to enchiladas—a food whose name, translated literally, means "in chile." That's the key to enchiladas' concentrated flavor: dipping the tortillas in a thick sauce made of (in this case) dried New Mexico chiles, garlic, cinnamon, and other seasonings. Rojas also includes a little chocolate, for added richness and intensity, and pulverized saltine crackers, which give the sauce terrific body. These are spare, unfussy, northern Mexican-style enchiladas, with just a scant filling of minced onion and crumbled queso añejo, a hard and pungent aged cheese; the art lies in the making.