Weeknight Cooking

The “Argument Enchiladas” I’ll Never Make Again—but Always Crave

May 28, 2018

Food had always been the focal point of our relationship. It started with the first time we met: an orientation-style meetup with everyone in the hall of our freshman dorm. We were asked to go around one by one and say our name, along with the fruit or vegetable that best described us and why. I cringed. I’d always hated these types of get-to-know-you games, probably because I’m not very good at them.

When my turn came, unable to think of anything remotely clever, I blurted out, “I’m an orange because I’m from Florida!” It didn't go over terribly. It seemed, at least, that everyone else in the room was in the same psychological boat: nervous and awkwardly cheerful. Forced laughter.

He, on the other hand, was easily self-assured, barely fazed by the pressure of looking witty or cool. With a sweet, sly grin, he said, “I’m a mushroom ‘cause I’m a fun-guy.” Everybody laughed—for real this time. And in a room full of prospective friends, I immediately knew I wanted to be his.

It didn’t take long. We were naturally drawn to each other, and our shared love of food sealed the deal. I grew up in a household that often went out to eat (no complaints here), and since we couldn’t cook in the dorm, I’d bring him along with me to try new restaurants or explore San Francisco’s many culinary offerings.

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Back on campus, I became enamored of the South Indian food his parents would occasionally drop off on the weekends: a crunchy, spicy snack mix called “mixture”; yellow lentil dal more comforting than chicken soup; and a rice pilaf with tangy raita that quickly became my favorite. By that point, I was pretty enamored of him, too.

One night, about six months later, we were hanging out with a few friends in his room. He quietly passed me a yellow sticky note with the words “I love you” written on it. I was stunned. I knew that I felt it too, but had never seriously said (or written) those words to anyone other than my parents. We softly locked eyes; he gave me that familiar grin. And that was it.

Still, it was complicated. He was explicitly not supposed to be dating anyone (let alone a girl who wasn’t Indian), and wasn’t too sure he was ready for a relationship anyway, so for a while we were “just friends.” But we all know how that story goes, right? Over the course of three years, we had progressed from “just friends,” to more than just friends, to not friends at all (that part really sucked), and finally, together.

By the fall of senior year, we were a couple. Sure, neither of our parents knew yet (his were kept in the dark out of fear, mine out of sanity), but that was O.K. It was then, of course, that the reality of untethered adulthood (aka, the end of college), started to cave in on us. I hadn’t decided exactly what my plan was at that point, but I was strongly leaning toward moving to New York City to pursue a career in media; he seemed intent on staying in the Bay Area near his family to become an engineer (even though he’d much rather be a pilot).

Everything was up in the air.

We were naturally drawn to each other, and our shared love of food sealed the deal.

So we cooked. A lot. It had been our favorite thing to do together ever since we had actual kitchens to work in—sophomore year, when we ditched campus housing for apartments just a few blocks away from each other (by no means a coincidence).

We cooked through countless recipes: sweet corn polenta with eggplant sauce, many iterations of macaroni and cheese (our signature), an almost-perfect French omelet, and a two-hour braised onion pasta that still makes me smile at its simple genius. Or, we’d riff on whatever ingredients we could find at the farmers market or local grocery store.

We cooked together. A lot. Photo by Bobbi Lin

One Friday night, our cravings were strong and in sync: enchiladas. Neither of us had made them before and they seemed easy enough, so why not make them ourselves? We found a recipe online (here, in fact) and made an unusually speedy run to the store. Our shared hunger prevented us from casually browsing in between the shopping list, as we often would. We had a plan: enchiladas. We got back to my place and immediately set to work.

The rest is kind of a blur.

But I know it was something, or rather a series of small, pointed things, that I said. It might have been a case of severe backseat cooking, or maybe I started to subtly (and eventually, ruthlessly) nitpick over the “mess” (it was most likely not a mess) he was making. I don’t know. All I know is that I started it, and before the roasted vegetables could be blitzed into a sauce with the sour cream and spices, we were screaming at each other for the first time. About what? Probably nothing, really. Probably because I was scared of where we’d be this time next year: not together.

I stormed five steps into my bedroom, which was conveniently located right next to the kitchen, to do a bit of self-indulgent crying into my pillow. I kept the door slightly cracked; he continued working silently in the kitchen. I heard the blender whiz, the oven door open and close, and the baking trays clang around as they were retrieved from the bottom cabinet.

Then, I smelled the enchiladas.

As the aroma of the blistered red bell peppers and pungent garlic crept into my room, I fought every greedy muscle in my stomach to stay put. I heard the oven door open and close again. They were done, and I was close to cracking. But before I could, he walked in, stone-faced, and set a plate down on the bench in front of my bed. Neither of us said a word. He walked out and closed the door, but not all the way; I could still see him through the crack, eating his own plate alone in the living room. I stared down at the hot enchiladas and for a minute wasn’t even hungry anymore.

Eventually, I took a bite.

They were perfect. The fragrant, earthy sauce was balanced by the spice of jalapeño and the brightness of cilantro; the little blobs of semi-melted queso fresco added a soft, creamy saltiness. It only took me a few minutes to finish the plate, but by the time I did, he had already left.

Two or three days went by before we spoke again, but we quickly bounced back. Graduation came and went, and all the things we were afraid would happen did. I moved to New York, and he still hasn’t left California.

Through it all, even the distance, we’ve stayed together. We even told our parents (his took it well, and mine constantly pry). Just a few days ago we talked about the enchilada incident for the first time in almost two years. He laughed. We still don’t know what caused it. It’s been almost four months since we last saw each other, and I’ve been craving them lately. I haven’t been able to bring myself to make them yet, though. I don’t want to make them alone.

Maybe I’ll wait until the next time he visits to give them another go. If we can make it through four years of college, two years of long distance, and a cultural semi-divide, I’m sure we can survive these enchiladas. Then again, it might be safer to just order takeout.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Ellen June 2, 2018
You brightened a really bad day. I hope you will keep us all tabs on your relationship! I live in the Bay Area and am certified to perform marriage ceremonies! (wish I knew how to add a smiley face)
Erin A. June 4, 2018
I'm so glad to hear that, Ellen! I'll definitely shoot you a note in case we need someone to perform a marriage ceremony, but I don't think we're there just yet. :)
Anne D. June 1, 2018
Beautiful. I had a few tears reading your story. Looking forward to trying your recipe.
Eve L. June 1, 2018
I adored this story. It reminded me of the experience of making pumpkin soup in the pumpkin with my then fiancé. Our soup did not survive the argument and exploded in the oven but our relationship has survived almost 39 years of marriage. So far. The kitchen can be such a battleground! But oh the meals that win those wars!
Lizelly M. June 1, 2018
I just about cried imagining you in your room not wanting to touch that plate of enchiladas!! ... the CRYING ENCHILADAS I call them now ... looking forward to trying this recipe. GREAT article! I felt it. I feeeelt it.
Erin A. June 1, 2018
Thanks, Lizelly! For some reason these particular enchiladas bring on a lot of feelings. Let us know how your "Crying Enchiladas" turn out!
kimikoftokyo June 1, 2018
<3 love this so much. I always refused to date anyone who wouldnt learn how to cook or want to cook with me. I hate doing it but with another, it feels fun. Im a picky eater but can cook whatever and learned that my weird flaw is okay, someone accepts it.
Erin A. June 1, 2018
I totally feel that! Cooking with loved ones is a totally different experience from cooking alone.
Dave M. June 1, 2018
I enjoyed this story very much. My spouse and I love to cook for each other. Luckily Dave's favorite foods to make are
Janyl F. June 1, 2018
Don't stop writing -- stories or recipes!! Saving this recipe, perfect!
Kathleen T. May 31, 2018
I often want to save your recipes but the Pinterest button never works! When I search on Pinterest they're not easy to find and modtky can't find them.
Smaug May 29, 2018
I've mostly given up the notion of the editors at Food52 developing any sort of semantic conscience, but how can you have enchiladas without chiles? Embelladas, perhaps.
gandalf May 29, 2018
Thanks for this lovely story (and great looking recipe)!

As a survivor of a multi-year long distance relationship myself (followed by 25 and counting years of marriage), I appreciate all that has gone into your relationship -- food and otherwise -- with your friend. I have some fond food memories as well from back in the day, which my wife and I still smile about.

I'm looking forward to trying out these enchiladas!
Erin A. May 29, 2018
Keep us posted on how the enchiladas turn out!
Wesley A. May 28, 2018
Honestly one of the best food articles I've ever read. Enchiladas and a love story with some drama thrown in? How could I not! However, in the interest of accuracy and helping you be your best writer self, it's Monterey* jack. I hate being nitpicky but am pretty sure I'm a fan of yours now so I had to say it.
Erin A. May 29, 2018
Thanks so much, Wesley! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the piece. And good catch! I went in and fixed the recipe.
Shalini May 28, 2018
What a lovely love story! I can feel your fight and smell the delicious enchiladas. Are you really never going to make them again?
Erin A. May 28, 2018
Thank you, Shalini! I honestly don't know. They are really yummy so maybe we'll have to revisit them soon.
Misha May 28, 2018
Beautifully written story. Loved the whole arc of it and how it ended on an up note. Would have loved to have some of the foods his parents brought described in more detail. Thank you for a few perfect minutes of a read.
Erin A. May 28, 2018
Thanks so much, Misha.
Eric K. May 28, 2018
There's nothing like a good ol' LDR fight. You try not to do it because your time together is so limited. But it comes out inevitably. Underneath all those layers of cheese and delicious romesco-like sauce, you fight about the small things because deep down what you really want to fight about is the big thing there are no words for: distance.

Thanks for sharing, Erin.
Emma L. May 28, 2018
Loved this, Erin!
Erin A. May 28, 2018
Thank you, Emma!