For the first several years I lived in Durham, I complained to everyone who would listen about the food culture here. I would bemoan the quality of the produce, the inability to find decent bread or bagels, the lack of quality restaurants, and the local belief that all vegetables taste better cooked to death with fatback and sugar.
Over time, I have become completely charmed by Durham. I’ve come to love “North Carolina Style barbecue.” I’ve found the exciting places to eat. And, most importantly, I’ve found the great places to shop for food.
The Food Lion on Hillsborough Road has the best selection of dried chilies that I’ve ever seen in person. It beats out all of the local bodegas within a 15 mile radius. Last time I was there, I counted no less than 10 varieties. I’ve always been meaning to make a red-chili sauce using dried chilies , and Sunday afternoon seemed like the perfect opportunity. So I headed over to the food lion and picked out whatever peppers drew my eye. I brought home Guajillo, New Mexico Red, and Ancho chilis that had been mis-labeled as Pasillo. The Guajillo peppers had a smokey heat, the new mexico red were only mildly hot with a nice earthiness, and the ancho chilis had an almost raisiny-sweetness to them. I ended up combining them in a red-chili sauce, then eventually using 1/2 the sauce to make beef enchiladas.
The sauce is labor intensive, but in my opinion, worth the effort. As written, it makes about 6-8 cups of sauce, and next time I will double it so that there is more to freeze. I also will add some (4?) chili de arbol for more heat.
Red Chili Sauce
8 Dried New Mexico Red Chilies
3 Dried Guajillo Chilies
3 Dried Ancho Chilies
1 medium onion
1/2 head of garlic
2 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of water
1 tbs cumin seeds
1 tbs coriander seeds
1/2 cup of pine nuts
1 lime, halved
salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toast the cumin and coriander in a medium sauce pan until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and water and bring to a simmer.
While the liquid is heating, remove the stems and seeds from the chilies and use kitchen shears to cut the chilies into 4-5 pieces. Wear latex gloves for this step unless you want to be really miserable for the rest of the day. If you don’t have any latex glove, do what I did and put sandwich bags over your hands. Spread the chilies on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 2-3 minutes until chilies are fragrant, and just beginning to smoke at the edges.
Add chilies to chicken broth/water, turn off the heat and let sit.
Cut the top off the garlic, drizzle with olive oil and salt, and wrap in aluminum foil. Place the garlic in the oven to roast. Quarter the tomatoes and onion. Brush any chili remains off of the cookie sheet and use it for the tomatoes and onions. Drizzle them with olive oil and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast all the veggies for 35-45 minutes until veggies are soft and lightly browned.
While the veggies are roasting, take a few minutes to toast the pine nuts in the oven until they are fragrant and light brown (about 3 minutes).
Get out the blender! Puree chilies and re-hydrating liquid until smooth. Add the roasted tomatoes, onions, and garlic (squeezing the garlic out of the paper husks into the blender. Don’t add the papery-skins, they don’t do much for the texture). Add the pine nuts, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth.
Red Chili Beef
2 lbs flank steak or round steak (I used bottom round because I like the leanness)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp salt
1-2 tbs olive oil
3 cups of red chili sauce
1 cup of water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together salt, cumin, coriander, and olive oil to form a paste. Rub meat with the paste. Sear the beef over medium-high heat until it is browned on all sides in a dutch oven or other oven-safe pot. Add the chili sauce and water. Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Bake for about 1 hour until tender.
Remove the beef and let sit until cool enough to handle. At this point I was impatient, so I cut the beef into small cubes while it was still hot. It would be really nice if you let it cool enough to hand shred it. Either way, add it back into the chili sauce when done. This makes about 4-6 cups of red chili beef, enough to serve 4-8 people depending on the application.
Red Chili Beef Enchiladas
Please note, this is not authentic enchilada-making technique, which involves softening to tortillas in hot oil. That allows them to maintain more of their shape and texture, whereas in mine version the tortillas melt into more of a casserole texture, maybe slightly less good, but a heck of a lot healthier.)
1.5 cups of the red chili beef
8 corn tortillas
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 oz)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread about 1/4 cup of chili sauce on the bottom of a nine-inch glass pie-plate.
One at a time, add a few tablespoons of beef to a tortilla (letting a lot of the sauce drain off the meat prior to stuffing so that they are not soaking wet inside). Roll the tortilla and place it seam-side down into the pie plate. They should fit 6 across, with one nestled at the top and one nestled at the bottom. Top first with 1/4 cup of cheese, then spread the remainder of the chili sauce over the top, then layer the remainder of the cheese.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the enchiladas are hot all the way through.
I garnished these with cilantro and 1/2 an avocado mashed with salt, pepper, chopped cilantro, and the juice of 1/4 of a lime. There is actually only about 2 tbs of avocado on the plate, but I put it too far forward on the plate so it looks like a lot more in the picture.