The iconic foods of Mexico have taken the world by storm in the 21st century, making tacos, enchiladas and tortas staples of the global food landscape.
In their new cookbook “Enchiladas: Aztec to Tex-Mex,” published by Trinity University Press, San Antonio restaurateur Cappy Lawton and acclaimed food writer Chris Waters Dunn explore the history, flavors and recipes of the enchilada, which has become one of the most beloved dishes in the world.
In their newest endeavor, the authors explore their shared passions for San Antonio and the food and culture of Mexico. Dunn’s culinary and creative writing background helps deliver informative recipes and entertaining narratives of traditional and contemporary dishes.
Cappy has opened 29 restaurants throughout his career, including three in San Antonio, Cappy’s, Cappyccino’s and La Fonda on Main, which are cultural mainstays in San Antonio. Over the last 19 years, La Fonda has become an iconic restaurant in San Antonio’s food landscape, offering authentic flavors and dishes, proving that there’s more to Mexican food than “Tex-Mex.”
“We fixed upon enchiladas not only as one of the most iconic foods in Mexico but also as the subject that had never been treated as a serious book before,” Dunn said. “We went into the Mexican cocina, covering every part of the enchilada making process.”
The book, filled with beautiful food photographs and recipes, traces the history of the first enchiladas to 700 B.C., in the Central Highlands of Mexico. Although the enchilada originated in Mexico, it eventually spread throughout the Southwestern United States, picking up influences, traditions and flavors along the way.
The history of Tex-Mex dates back hundreds of years as well, which borrowed the ancient cooking methods from Indigenous people and spread from Mexican vaqueros to American cowboys and settlers.
“It really took off in the early 20th century through the restaurants,” Dunn said. “The restaurants wanted to make the food universal so they began to use familiar yellow cheese, familiar milder chiles, and more of a gravy than strictly chile sauce, and here we are.”
La Fonda serves a variety of Tex-Mex enchiladas using fresh dried chiles, flour and butter, while traditional Mexican enchiladas emphasize fresh produce, fresh chiles and simple salsas.
“Interior Mexican cuisine is the original, but the Tex-Mex is a variation that has its place too,” Dunn said. “Instead of saying, ‘I only like one or I only like the other,’ I think it’s wonderful that we can enjoy both.”
Over the last three years, Cappy and Dunn collaborated with local experts and chefs to create more than 100 recipes for traditional and modern enchiladas, salads and sauces, including Cappy’s famous original recipe for Ancho chile gravy, served at the La Fonda on Main.
Dunn compared the subtle flavor differences between regions to wine, as each region has different names for the chiles, and the names change depending on the chile’s preparation or stage of life.
“I’m personally sure that something with the black bean (enfrijoladas sauce) was made up to 2,000 years ago,” Dunn said. “In the book we acknowledge that there are shortcuts but we offer the original method while offering various alternatives, all of them valid.”
A poblano pepper can used to make a flavorful crema sauce or it can be dried to become the spicy ancho chile pepper. Depending on the region, the Guajillo can be the name for a dried pepper or a fresh one.
“I just think Mexico is an incredible country and one of the most interesting countries in the world, I think it’s kind of sad that as neighbors, we know such little as we do,” Cappy said. “I’ve had a lot of restaurants over my career but I had never owned a Mexican restaurant before (La Fonda).”
“I’m always amused these days by the ‘Buy Local’ and ‘Buy Seasonal’ fads here because most countries in the world have been doing it forever – Mexico is a prime example of that,” Cappy said. “They don’t venture far away from their homes to find food that they eat and produce.
“Over the years, I found that no matter what we put inside of it, if you call it an ‘enchilada’ people would try it,” Cappy added. “ The enchilada introduces these incredible flavors that people wouldn’t usually try.”
Authors Cappy Lawton and Chris Waters Dunn will celebrate the cookbook’s launch on Thursday, Oct. 15 at La Fonda on Main from 4-8 p.m. The public event will offer appetizers, Q&A opportunities and a cash bar on-site.
Other Upcoming Events
- Oct. 17: Book signing and demo presentation at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.
- Nov. 4: Class demonstrations at Central Market.
- Nov. 14: Book signing and demo presentation at Twig and the Pearl Farmer’s Market.
- Nov. 17: Twilight in the Park – City Center Development and the City of San Antonio will host a special dinner event to benefit the park and City, with recipes from the book prepared by St. Anthony’s Hotel.
*Top image: A variety of enchiladas served by La Fonda on Main. Photo by Scott Ball.