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'Better every time I make it': Duke student discusses how family enchilada recipe reminds her of home

This is a series about the power of food to bring us home. Read what her family's Musakhan means to one Duke student here

Sophomore Lourdes Reyes’ grandparents migrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1940s. They opened a Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, where Reyes grew up. 

A recipe for enchiladas—corn tortillas rolled around cheese and covered with sauce—has been passed down Reyes’ family for generations. After bonding with her family during meals of enchiladas throughout childhood, Reyes recently learned how to make the dish herself. 

Reyes made the dish with The Chronicle, recreating a taste of home in a dorm kitchen here at Duke. Periodically stirring a pot of rice, Lourdes dipped tortillas into hot oil and shared the stories rolled inside her family’s enchiladas.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lourdes Reyes: You want to dip the tortillas in oil to soften them up. If not, they’ll break when you try to roll them up. 

The Chronicle: Why did you want to share this dish? 

LR: It’s one of my favorite foods. I learned how to make it from my cousin. She learned it from my tía (aunt in Spanish) and my tía learned it from my grandma, who is from Mexico. 

TC: Does making it remind you of them? 

LR: It reminds me of home. I feel very proud honestly, that I can make it and I'm like 'Dude, try this.'

After the rice browned, Lourdes stirred in water, seasoning and tomato sauce. 

LR: The special ingredient for the rice is tomato sauce. That’s what gives it flavor. It’s an ingredient that’s particular to Mexican rice.

Lourdes rolled each tortilla up with cheese, and placed them atop chili sauce in a baking pan. 

LR: There are so many Mexicans and Hispanics in San Antonio. So the Mexican restaurants there are amazing. At home, my dad makes amazing tacos. 

TC: Do you miss Mexican food when you’re at Duke?

LR: Yes, definitely. I eat Sazón a lot. It’s not Mexican, but it’s pretty good. They have barbacoa. In San Antonio, people eat barbacoa with Big Red. 

TC: What’s Big Red? 

LR: You don’t know what Big Red is? It’s a soda. Even for breakfast, people would drink it. It’s a little bit like Fanta. 

Lourdes popped the pan into the oven. 

Mia Chang

LR: San Antonio is so cool. There's this really, really interesting mix of Texan culture and Mexican culture. There’s actually a word for it—Tejano. It’s the mix of Mexican and Texan things. We have Tejano music, Tejano food. 

TC: Is San Antonio particularly Tejano? 

LR: Yes, it is the city of Tejano. And the food is Tejano, because it’s not perfectly Mexican, because it has evolved since Texas first came into the United States. 

Lourdes finished the dish, covering the enchiladas with a final layer of chili sauce and cheese. She helped herself to a bite, with a side of rice. 

TC: How is it? 

LR: It gets better every time I make it. 

TC: How do you think it compares to how your family makes enchiladas? 

LR [laughs]: Far off. My grandma was an amazing cook. She would make tortillas from scratch for every meal, not just a special occasion. Our family says that no one can cook better than grandma. 

Mia Chang

The recipe

Ingredients: Corn Tortillas (red is best), oil for frying, Wolf brand chili (no beans), Mexican cheese, ground beef (optional), rice, tomato sauce and spices (chicken powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Heat up Wolf brand chili in a pot (low to medium heat)

3. Brown the rice (put one cup of rice for every two people, two cups of water for every one cup of rice, and a spoonful of oil), stir continually until most of the rice is light brown, and add 1 spoonful of tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon of each spice for every 1 cup of rice. Stir.

Bring the water to a boil, place the lid on pan or pot and turn the temperature to low/medium heat.

4. Prepare tortillas: Cover entire bottom of a small pan with oil, turn the heat to low/medium heat. Once it is warm, use tongs to dip the tortillas for about two seconds per side. Have a plate ready to put the tortillas on after they have been dipped. (If oil is bubbly when you dip the tortilla, you are doing it correctly. Make sure oil does not boil or produce steam prior to dipping the tortilla.)

5. Cover the bottom of a baking pan with half-to-one inch of Wolf brand chili

6. Rolling enchiladas: Place one of the dipped tortillas on an empty plate and put cheese (and/or cooked meat) down the center of the tortillas. Then, roll up the tortilla. Place the enchilada in the baking pan with chili sauce, and repeat for the rest of the dipped tortillas.

7. Once all enchiladas are in the baking sheet, cover with Wolf brand chili and top with cheese.

8. Place in oven. It is ready when all of the cheese at the top is melted (approximately 15 minutes).