Enchilada Queen Sylvia Casares On Her New Cookbook


Sylvia Casares, BS ’76, wasn’t born into royalty. She was raised along the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, where she grew up surrounded by the Mexican home-style cooking of her mother and grandmother. But after 10 years of working in the food labs at Uncle Ben’s and a stint working in the marketing and sales side of the food industry, she’s now the reigning “Enchilada Queen” of Houston. She has three restaurants to her name, each called Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen. In November, Casares released her debut cookbook made up of more than 200 pages detailing how to create the best dishes of her authentic Mexican cuisine—from her 14 different sauces to her famous enchiladas. Casares spoke with the Alcalde about her latest project, The Enchilada Queen Cookbook.

61nh3uom2ulWhere does your love of food and cooking come from?

I joke about it. I say, “I just liked to eat.” But really as a kid, I liked to help my mom and surprise her when she came home from work. I attempted to start cooking when I was around 11 or 12. One summer I just started on my own. I used to make cakes, take orders for cakes, bake cakes, and sell them to neighbors around the neighborhood. It just sort of came naturally. Basically, I love to feed people. I like to make people happy with food.

How did you become the “Enchilada Queen”? 

People used to tell me, “You’re the Baskin-Robbins of enchiladas.” But I want to say it was in 2006 when someone at a magazine in Houston wrote an article and I guess she had a creative pen. She wrote an article and she called me that and it just sort of stuck. It definitely sets me apart.

How did you come up with the numerous recipes in your book? 

In my mind, I’ve been working on this for about 10 years. A lot of them are recipes that come from the restaurant. These are recipes that lots of people love. They’re tested over time. The other thing is some of them are just recipes that I’ve enjoyed making. My mother made them. They’re not in the restaurant because we can’t serve everything. For example, pumpkin and banana empanadas. There’s a bunch of stuff in there that I don’t offer in the restaurant but is wonderful.

Much of the book mixes your personal story with recipes. How did you approach that? 

Just chapter by chapter. Anytime there was something relevant that I had to say about a particular recipe—some memory, some reality-based information, like who made them or where I learned about it—I’d add it if I thought it was interesting and could help people understand a little bit more about the food. With my background of 40 years in the food business, I understand food kind of at a different level than most people. I’ve heard that from reporters and writers that I’ve interviewed with. They can see that I just look at food differently.

What would you say makes your recipes different from the Tex-Mex people might be used to?

Well, first of all, the end result is they’re very, very flavorful. They’re not heavy. The flavors are like that of home. They’re not commercial. It’s just fresh. That’s all.

What dish does everyone need to try?

One day, because of a comment from a customer, I made up my mind that my fajitas were going to be head and shoulders above all the rest. I eventually developed a recipe that would tenderize the meat but not change the beef flavor upon grilling. So we have a dish in the restaurant and it’s called tampiqueña. You get a skirt steak in carne asada and we cook it with mesquite wood. Then add the enchilada of your choice. It’s a great combination. It’s both sides of the menu. My grilled fajitas are quite amazing.

What’s your advice for being a good cook?

Well at least with my cookbook, if you follow the recipes and read them, you’ll be successful. Buy the best ingredients you can find and just read through.

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Casares. 


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