Picante = Spicy

This word in Chile and how it is used drives me crazy. If you look back on my post about the essential ingredients in Chile, nothing on that list would be considered spicy. There is a reason for that.

Chileans are some of the biggest babies on the planet when it comes to spicing up their food. I don’t mean it as an offensive statement, I mean it as a fact. They put a little bit of black pepper on something and consider it “picante.” I have never met anyone so sensitive to spicy food.

They don’t even put pepper on the table in any of the restaurants. Why bother when the general population won’t use it? Most restaurants, in fact, do not put seasoning on most of their dishes. Eating out in Chile is a very bland experience if you don’t know where to go. The thoughts of the restaurant owners are this: if it is considered too “picante,” people won’t eat it…therefore it is better to leave everything off. The problem is, they don’t provide seasoning for those who do want some, unless it is salt.

This means that from pizza to Mexican food and anything else that you can think of that generally uses a lot of spices: totally without.

Courtesy of random_dave on Flickr
Courtesy of random_dave on Flickr

People complain about how restaurants in the United States “Americanize” food and don’t stick to the culture. Well, let me tell you, “Chileanizing” it is worse. As a guideline, eating at home is generally a more flavorful experience. There are some restaurants that aren’t so chileanized, but they are typically more on the expensive side, and American. Ruby Tuesday’s food didn’t get the no seasoning memo, thank goodness, and it tastes just as it would in the states. Last time Felipe took me there, it was like my taste buds were singing!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Chilean food, and there are many restaurants that are really good. But, if you’re looking for “real” Mexican food or pizza that doesn’t taste like they just threw whatever was in the fridge on it, you’re going to have to search or make it at home.

My husband likes to argue with me saying that if things are “too spicy” then you lose the flavor of the food that you’re putting the spice on. True, but I always respond to him that when you are accustomed to having spicy food, going without seems incredibly bland.

I, for instance, was eating Mexican food before I was even born. Even as a toddler, enchiladas were my thing, and the spicier the salsa, the better. My family eats Mexican food at least once a week, sometimes two or three times a week depending on how we’re feeling.

I may not be Mexican, but it is in my blood.

Not being able to get my weekly fix has been a hard battle. Cooking it in the house is a challenge as well. I have to tone down all my ingredients so that it isn’t too “picante” for people to eat it. While I gobble it down, they’re calling for a fire hose to quench the spiciness.

People don’t believe me, but I swear, this is what normal Mexican food tastes like!

Here is a recipe that I used for homemade enchiladas. Try to make them and let me know if I’m just crazy and they’re way too spicy. I found them to be absolute perfection!

Homemade Enchiladas

Mmm, delicious!
Mmm, delicious!

Ingredients:

Sauce:

  • 16 oz tomato sauce (Plain tomato sauce, no Italian mixes)
  • 2 tsp. flour
  • 2 tblsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 tblsp. chili powder or sauce —  If you are in Chile, ají sauce works perfectly. From the squeeze bottle. The powders are of different types of peppers and don’t give it the kick needed.
  • 2 tsp. Cumin
  • 3 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • (onion and garlic powder can be interchanged for fresh if you want, but I just did that to save a time.)
  • Salt and Pepper

Filling:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 16 oz can refried beans
  • 16 oz Black beans — can be from a can or make them yourself
  • One packet of taco seasoning — In Chile, I recommend Pancho Villa taco seasoning. You can find it in Jumbo and Líder. For anyone else, your favorite taco seasoning will do well.

Other:

  • 1 lb of Cheese — I prefer medium Cheddar Cheese, but it is hard to find in Chile, so whatever cheese you like best will do well. Buy it from the cheese counter, not packaged and shred it yourself. You’ll save a bundle of money.
  • 8 burrito sized tortillas

Instructions:

Sauce:

Heat the oil in a large pot until shimmering on medium heat. Add in the flour and chili powder/sauce and get it nice and brown and scorched…it will be lumpy, but it is okay. Add in the tomato sauce gradually as you whisk with the flour and chili sauce. Add in your spices. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring periodically. Salt and pepper to taste if you think it is needed.

Tip: The sauce is all about flavor and personal preference. I would start with a little of everything and work up from there.

Filling:

Brown beef, crumbling it as you go until there is no pink left. Turn the heat to low, and add refried beans, cutting them in and mixing well. Once they are mixed in well with the beef, make sure to drain your black beans and add them to the mix.

Assembly:

Take one tortilla on a plate, add a good amount of sauce and spread it all around the tortilla. Add some filling on one side, sprinkle some cheese on top. Roll, and place in a large cake glass cake pan. Repeat until filling is gone. You will have extra cheese and sauce (and maybe one extra tortilla, I typically make 7 with this recipe), and that is a good thing! Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the tortillas. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese evenly on top. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes on 400 F. In Chile, with gas ovens, put it on about medium heat and check it after 10 mins and add more time as necessary.

This is how they should look before being cooked
This is how they should look before being cooked
This is how they should look after being cooked
This is how they should look after being cooked

Now you have delicious, almost authentic enchiladas! I recommend making them the night before and refrigerating them overnight to let the flavors meld, though they are equally delicious fresh from the oven. Serve them with fresh guacamole!

Let me know what you think when you try them. My family told me that they were good, but they were still too spicy for them. I am going to cut the ají down next time for their sake. Felipe thought they were delicious though, and I was ecstatic, so I count it as a win.

If I am going to live down here, I have to learn to deal with the spicy issue. Most of the time, it is not a problem, but when that craving hits….oh man! I’m glad I can be halfway resourceful in the kitchen in those moments.

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