By Melinda Knight

Here in the United States, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about Mexican food. If you go to Mexico, the foods served include lots of ripe fruits and freshly caught seafood. The tortillas are made by hand in small tortilla factories. There is a much greater variety of seasonings and dishes than are normally available here in the United States. In the same way that Chinese and Italian food have become Americanized, Mexican food has been appropriated and changed. Despite my purist convictions, however, I can’t help liking the fusion cuisine called Tex Mex food. This blend of Mexican and Texan foods is unashamedly simple. Most of the recipes use one of several types of sauces with meat, beans and vegetables. As a busy mother, I have come to appreciate Tex Mex cooking as a great source of quick gluten free lunch ideas for my family.

In my home, most of these meals are centered around the corn tortilla. It’s easy to get packaged corn tortillas and they will serve your purposes nicely. Should you find yourself with a bit more time and patience than I usually have, maseca brand masa harina (corn flour treated with lime) it’s guaranteed gluten free. You can use it for making fresh tortillas, but it can also be used in tamales, pupusas and American casseroles like tamale pie. For most meals, however, I rely on the packaged tortillas and my family has never complained.

The most familiar uses for the corn tortilla involve deep frying. They can be cut into eighths and fried until crispy to use as chips. My kids are happy when I can give them gluten free lunch ideas that they are able to make themselves. They take homemade nacho chips, top with canned black beans & pre-shredded cheese, and melt in the microwave before topping with sour cream and olives.

The tortilla can be folded and fried to make traditional tacos, but without the basket to shape them, I find it to be too much trouble. We prefer to leave the tortilla flat and make tostada shells. These crispy wafers can be topped with traditional taco fillings, but also make a decent pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Having some pre-made tostada shells is always handy for last minute gluten free lunch ideas.

My personal favorite use for corn tortillas is a little more time consuming, but the results are always worth the trouble. Enchiladas are rolled up corn tortillas, filled with vegetables, cheese or meat, and placed in a baking dish before smothering with delicious sauces and shredded cheeses and cooking until the cheese is golden. I love to have mine filled with a combination of ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese and sauteed spinach with fresh garlic. My husband prefers a meatier filling and will often request chorizo, a spicy Mexican sausage. If rolling enchiladas for your family is too time consuming, as it often is in our household, then layering the tortillas, filling and sauce is efficient and just as tasty. We call that a “Mexican lasagne” in our house, though I’ve also seen it referred to as an “enchilada casserole”.

The most commonly eaten enchilada sauce in the United States is usually just referred to as “enchilada sauce”, which I don’t find to be especially helpful. This chili powder and garlic spiked tomato sauce is generally flavorful without being too spicy, making it a popular option for kids. Enchiladas verdes, or “green enchiladas” are made with my favorite sauce. This sauce contains no red tomatoes, though occasionally the traditional tomatillo is stretched by adding unripe, green tomatoes to the recipe. The sauce is a very fresh tasting, moderately acidic flavor that is almost citrus-like. If it has a creamy component in the sauce as well, it is known as enchiladas suizas, or “Swiss enchiladas”. This is awfully tasty as well. Other enchilada sauces include the exotic mole sauce, which contains unsweetened chocolate and ground pumpkin seeds.

There are many popular variations on the enchilada casserole. Chili casserole layers the tortillas with lots of cheese and uses a chunky chili rather than enchilada sauce. After baking, the casserole can be topped with your favorite chili garnishes. In our house, we like black olives, pico de gallo (fresh salsa) and lots of sour cream. Another variant is known as brunch enchiladas. Along with the traditional fillings, gently scrambled eggs or sliced hard cooked eggs are included in the layers. Many people also enjoy Italian enchilada casserole, using an herb and garlic seasoned marinara instead of enchilada sauce and including Italian sausage in the filling. It’s not my kids’ favorite, but if you’re bringing a dish to a pot luck with an Italian theme, it will fit in nicely without having to purchase expensive gluten free noodles.

Whether you make homemade tortillas from masa harina and freeze them or keep a few packages of prepared tortillas on hand, having them will mean that you always have quickly prepared gluten free lunch ideas.