By Samantha Gainulis

 

Dear Auntie,

You’re in a hospital thousands of miles away from this extension of your family and I would give anything if I could hand deliver some enchiladas to you, my uncle, and cousins to ease the burden of a life-changing diagnosis. After all, it was you who instilled in me a love of Mexican food.

I’ll never forget the menudo and chorizo you made when we were camping at Mammoth Lakes. You would be proud of the mojo I have in the kitchen when it comes to south of the border-style cooking.

 

I still remember watching you in the kitchen on Sunday mornings of our family vacations, cracking eggs and sizzling sausage in the seen-better-days fry pan of our cabin. The smells in the kitchen working in harmony with the pines from outside the window while Patsy Cline played on a transistor radio are memories that can’t be topped, not even in the movies.

 

 

CHORIZO AND SWEET POTATO ENCHILADAS

 

 

EQUIPMENT:

Slow cooker or heavy stock pot, sheet pan or 9×13 baking dish

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 link of chorizo sausage (12 oz.), casing removed

5 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

(1) 28 oz. can of tomato puree

1/2 cup chicken broth, more if needed

1 tbsp. chili powder (such as California or pasilla chili powder)

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano

dried chilies, such as ancho or de arbol, to taste (I use one for mild spice level)

1 bay leaf

1 fresh jalapeno, stem removed

fresh cilantro, washed

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive or canola oil

2-3 packages pliable corn tortillas *

3 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese, divided use

cornstarch and water mixture, if necessary

optional: enchilada sauce, up to 2 cups

garnish: sour cream, avocado, chopped cilantro, pico de gallo.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

 

Grease your baking dish.

 

In a slow cooker for heavy stock pot, add first 13 ingredients. If using slow cooker, cook on low for 2 hours. If using pot in oven, cook at 200 degrees for same amount of time, removing when potatoes are tender.

 

If chorizo and sweet potato mixture is thin, bring to boil if using stock pot or turn on high if using slow cooker. When chorizo and sweet potato mixture is boiling/bubbling, combine 1 tbsp. cornstarch and 1-2 teaspoons of water and add. The mixture should tighten up, and this step may need to be repeated.

 

If chorizo and sweet potato mixture is too thick, add more chicken broth if necessary, a little bit (about 1/8 cup) at a time.

 

Remove dried chilies, bay leaf, jalapeno and cilantro.

 

Add 1 cup of shredded cheese to chorizo and sweet potato mixture.

 

Hold a corn tortilla in your hand and with a large spoon, scoop chorizo and sweet potato mixture into tortilla. Wrap up and place into a greased baking dish.

 

Repeat until all mixture is wrapped into tortillas, and tortillas are rolled side by side, filling up entire baking dish.

 

Top with store-bought enchilada sauce, if using. Add 2 cups shredded cheese on top of enchiladas and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

 

Garnish with spur cream, avocado, chopped cilantro and/or pico de gallo.

 

* Pick a corn tortilla that is made with a combination of corn and wheat, such as La Tortilla Factory. A pliable tortilla will cut down on labor by eliminating the need to dip each tortilla in enchilada sauce prior to stuffing with mixture and rolling, to prevent the tortilla from breaking. Trader Joe’s also has a good quality corn and wheat blend tortilla.

 

 

And memories, it is said, are unbeatable teachers. You taught me a lot.

 

I made a list. (Nevermind the numerical sequence, it will make sense later, as do a lot of things).

 

2) Nurture reigns. When circumstances seem insurmountable, things can only get better. I never heard you raise your voice to anyone, even when all of the kids got rambunctious and deserved it. In fact, when my cousins and I were younger and took on the ill-advised teeter-totter during that trip to Idyllwild and got splinters in our bums that we only made worse by rubbing and crying, you didn’t chastise us. You spent the next few hours with each of us, a pair of tweezers and our red bottoms, and just like you said, everything was alright.

3) A sofrito is important. Get the flavor base of your food down – even if it’s a little unorthodox – to ensure the right outcome.

4) Quilted book covers do last longer, and you want to read more if someone made that book cover for you.

5) Believe in something. Be a part of something good.

6) Remodels will always take too long. But it’ll be beautiful in the end!

7) Keep your kids busy in sports, or otherwise. That thing about idle hands, all true. A child needs an activity that will boost their self-confidence. (For the record, I wish I had let you teach me how to keep score in baseball, but we were always having too much fun).

8) Take a jacket. You never know.

9) Step up. Does it matter the who, the where, the when, the what, or does it matter that things are made right? Okay, then. Do what you can to help. Amazing things can happen with this attitude. I have seen you do it for years. We’re all better for it.

10) Have faith. Hope, optimism, love, respect – tomato, to-mah-to. Smile, keep moving, chin up.

11) There is no such thing as a lost cause.

 

Whether you intended to teach these things or you lived the only way you knew, this list of things (which I could make longer, but I am busy doing all the things you taught me) is what stirs in my heart and rushes through my mind as I think about you now, knowing you, somehow, someway, are going to be okay.

 

When you told me something – as an aunt, another mom, a fellow mom, or teacher – I believed it. I will never be too young or too old to ask your opinion or follow your lead.

 

When I see you next, I plan on making my enchiladas so you know your handed-down wisdom is at work every single day and ripples through the lives of us all, however scattered our family gets.

 

And that homey-yet-spicy dish will remind you of the number on the list that goes without saying, that we all knew and never had to say…

 

Family, la familia, is number one.

 

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