Red Enchiladas with Queso Fresco and Onion, Michoacan-Style

Abuela Approved Badge Vivi enchiladas queso cheese onion

Red enchiladas are made only one way in Vivi Abeja’s family. Others may fill their enchiladas with slow-simmered chicken, beans, beef or vegetables. But in Vivi’s kitchen in Little Village, a traditionally Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, none of those delicioso options are even considered.

”I stick to Michoacan-style,” says Vivi. ”Crumbled queso fresco and chopped onion.” It’s a family tradition going back generations, and she’s proudly cooking it forward.

One of our favorite Mexican cooks and a popular contributor to Familia Kitchen, Vivi, 31, was born in Chicago and has lived there all her life. But her family story starts in her grandparents’ birthplace: Nocupetaro — called “one of the poorest municipalities” in Mexico’s central-west state of Michoacan, near the Pacific Coast. Vivi grew up hearing tales of her abuelos travels to Chicago with their eight children a half century ago. They found a church, community and home (in that order, says Vivi) in Little Village, and went on to put down deep roots in the U.S. — always keeping their hometown traditions close.

Watch Vivi Abeja make these simple, time-honored, family-famous red enchiladas with queso and onion.

Her abuelita, Elisa Abeja, took pride in feeding her family and iglesia friends traditional meals from her village. Dishes like these Michocan-style enchiladas, made with fresh, simple, affordable ingredients cooked with skill and love. Her grandmother called her style of cooking comida de pobre, or poor-people food. It was both a mission and a necessity, since there were so many children and grandkids to feed, says Vivi.

Vivi misses her Abuelita, deeply. She died this past February, at age 92. “She went right to heaven, where she will be joining my grandfather,” says Vivi. Her grandmother taught Vivi so many life and cooking lessons, and Vivi is committed to furthering comida de pobre in her professional work as a cook, she says, by championing dishes like these echiladas rojas.

Vivi and abuela Elisa Abeja
Vivi and her beloved abuela Elisa Abeja, who taught her many of her favorite Mexican family recipes.

“This recipe means a lot to me. Enchiladas reminds me of family and community. My grandmother worked the summer festival, August Fest, in our neighborhood every summer. This is a festival that takes place in front of the church we all went to it. She would be in the enchilada stand with the other church volunteers. Our whole family would go there and eat these enchiladas.”

The First Enchilada: Who Made It?

The enchilada’s history has royal origins. The earliest written record of this dish was recorded by Spain’s Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who first entered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán on  November 8, 1519. The conquistadores were invited to a lavish feast for King Moctezuma II. Among the 1,000 dishes served for the guests and 300 for the rey alone, was this delicacy, the conquistador wrote in his 1576 Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España. ”Two … young women of great beauty brought the monarch tortillas, as white as snow, cooked with eggs and other nourishing ingredients, on plates covered with clean napkins.

Historians point to this as the first reference to enchiladas. They were made with tortillas made of corn, which was domesticated in Mesoamerica somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 years ago.

Further south, the Maya had also long been making a type of enchilada, by the time the conquistadores showed up.  ”As early as the preclassical period (circa 2000 to 250 BC), the Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula are known to have dipped corn tortillas in pumpkin seeds, rolled them around a chopped, hard-boiled egg and then covered them in a rich tomato sauce. But the Aztecs were the first to develop the first ‘true’ enchilada,’” reports History Today

Learning Family Recipe for Red Enchiladas

Does Vivi remember the first time she made this family recipe for red enchiladas?”

”My aunts and abuela taught me how to make this by just coming together and making food in the kitchen,” she remembers. “Everyone had a job: Prep the filling, fry the tortillas, roll the tortillas, and then plate. It’s always an assembly line when we all come together in the kitchen.”

During the early days of COVID, inspired by her grandmother’s faith and belief in the power of feeding others, Vivi started making and selling her grandmother’s family recipes on the streets of Little Village. Spotted for her talent, Vivi was invited to attend a community-based cooking school Food, the first Latino-led culinary school that builds culinary confidence through resources for Latinos who are either new in the food industry or want to start a food business. She graduated in the first-ever class and is now a rising chef on the Chicago cooking scene. She often hosts a Mexican food cook-along Live series on her Instagram channel Vivis_Table.

All thanks to her abuelita’s kitchen inspiration, says Vivi.

Now Vivi is the one making these Michoacan-style enchiladas for her large family and friends. She especially loves feeding them to first-timers. ”I like to make these enchiladas with queso and onion when I have guests over because it’s such a treat. I  love carrying forward the idea of cooking together and creating an assembly line to provide everyone a meal.” 

Like the many Mexican traditional comida de pobre dishes her abuelita proudly made for her family and church events, all ”her dishes are like liquid gold for us,” says Vivi.

Find more of the family-famous recipes — including frijoles guisados or stewed pinto beans, uchepos or corn tamales, and flautas de papa — Vivi learned from her abuela here.

Ready to Make Vivi’s Family Michoacan-Style Enchiladas?

Red Enchiladas with Queso Fresco and Onion, Michoacan-Style

Recipe by Vivi Abeja
3.8 from 4 votes
Cuisine: Mexican


Prep time


Cooking time




  • For Enchilada Sauce
  • 9 guajillo chiles

  • 5 to 7 chiles de arbol

  • 2 ancho chiles

  • 1/4 onion, chopped in big chunks

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 tsp oregano

  • 3 to 4 chicken bouillon, powdered

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

  • For the Enchiladas
  • 1 cup queso fresco, crumbled

  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped

  • 1 cup enchilada sauce (see above)

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil, divided

  • 12 corn tortillas

  • 1/2 cup Mexican crema or sour cream, for garnish

  • 1/3 cup queso fresco, crumbled, for garnish

  • 2 Tbsp onion, minced, for garnish

  • 1 Avocado, chopped, optional, for garnish


  • Make the Enchilada Sauce
  • Prep the 3 types of chiles: Slice each one open and remove the seeds, veins and stem. Rinse the cleaned chiles under running water and set aside.
  • Fill a large pot with water and place on the stovetop, on medium-high.
  • Bring the water to a boil.
  • Add the chiles, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil again.
  • Turn off the heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the chiles, onion and garlic. Reserve the chile water.
  • In a blender, add the chiles, onion, garlic, oregano and chicken bouillon powder. Pour in 1 cup of the chile water. Pulse the ingredients, until smooth.
  • In a large pan set to medium heat, add the oil. When the oil warms and starts to glisten, add the blended sauce.
  • Cook the sauce for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Your enchilada sauce is ready for all kinds of dishes, including these cheese-and-onion enchiladas and Vivi’s chilaquiles. You’ll need 1 cup for these enchiladas.
  • Make the Cheese and Onion Filling
  • Combine the queso fresco and chopped onion in a bowl. Set aside.
  • Prepare the Tortillas
  • Preheat a comal or large flat pan to medium-high, on the stovetop.
  • In a second large frying pan, also set to medium-high on the stovetop, add 3 Tbsp of oil and bring it to sizzling.
  • Add 1 cup enchilada sauce to the sizzling oil. Stir and heat thoroughly for 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium.
  • One at a time, using tongs, submerge each tortilla in the heated enchilada sauce, so that it is fully covered, for about 5 seconds per side. When the tortilla turns dark red and is sauce-soaked, carefully remove with the tongs, scurrying off any excess sauce back in the pan..
  • Add 3 Tbsp of oil to the preheated comal or large flat pan. When the oil is hot, use tongs to carefully place the tortilla in the oil.
  • Shallow-fry the first side of the tortilla for about 10 seconds until it turns deep reddish-brown.
  • Gently turn over the tortilla, careful not to tear it, and shallow fry the second side.
  • When the tortilla is browned on both sides, move it to a cooler corner of the comal or large flat pan — or, if there is not enough space, to a serving platter you are keeping warm.
  • Stuff the Enchiladas
  • When each shallow-fried tortilla is cool enough to touch, open it, using tongs or your fingers.
  • Fill with 1 to 2 Tbsp of the cheese and onion mixture.
  • Roll the tortilla closed with tongs or your fingers and return it to a cooler corner of your hot pan or the warm serving platter.
  • Repeat, until all the tortillas are stuffed and you’ve used all the sauce and the filling.
  • Garnish and Serve
  • Place all the stuffed and rolled enchiladas, tightly nestled next to each other, on the warm serving plate.
  • Sprinkle the crumbled queso fresco over the enchiladas.
  • Sprinkle the minced onion over the queso.
  • Drizzle with Mexican crema or sour cream.
  • Garnish with the optional avocado slices, if using.
  • Serve hot.


  • If you don’t have Mexican crema to drizzle over the enchiladas, you can use sour cream, says Vivi. She often does. And she recommends going for the avocado slices as garnish.

Like This

More Delicioso Family Recipes & Articles We Think You’ll Like!

You May Also Like

Got a question or suggestion?

Please rate this recipe and leave any tips, substitutions, or Qs you have!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *