A Case of Mistaken Identity: Desi Enchiladas

A short story followed by a recipe, both sharing a connection to each other

By Ayla Iqbal

“It’s Puerto Rico Day, are you going to the parade later? I mean, I know you’re not Puerto Rican, but close enough, right?”

I stare blankly at my colleague who I’ve worked with for nearly two years. Does she think Pakistan is close to Puerto Rico because they both start with the letter P?

“Hello, MA-YA,” She waves her hands wildly in front of my face whilst giggling far too loudly. Her bubbly personality is an affront to my perfectly honed cold persona at work.  “So are you going or what?  I thought we could go together from work.”

My face wrinkles at the thought of spending any of my free time with her. “Susan, just out of curiosity, where exactly am I from?”

“Mexico! Duh, you are so funny, everyone knows this, that’s why Mr Davis put you on the project in Mexico City.” She goes on with her irritatingly sing-songy voice.

I might have slowly groaned in pain out loud, as she then suddenly dropped her finger and goes, “Oh my god, what happened, are you okay?”

I really need to get a control over my pained expressions. It’s beginning to happen far more often, especially at work and especially in meetings with those who are higher up than me. Mr Davis *may* have had a chat with me about this last week. I’ve been trying to be vastly better but in this situation, it cannot be controlled.

“Nothing is wrong Susan and just FYI, I am from Pakistan. So … no where near Puerto Rico.” I turn around in my chair and then quickly, before she could say anything else, I swivel my head back and say, “And no, I will not be attending the parade this year.” The confused/shocked look on her face makes me wonder if it’s because she feels duped or she just plain doesn’t know anything about Pakistan, aside from the whole, you know, media spouting how “dangerous” it is.

I take a deep breath to myself and turn around again. This time with a smile on my face. While I may take delight in being called Ms Frosty behind my back, I’ve been told that it is not a positive nickname. Or at least it is not what gets people promoted. God forbid I just focus on work and excel. No, I have to be a sociable colleague as well.

“Sorry, just so busy right now. Would have loved to go with you, but I already have plans. Next time, for sure!”

She seems to have finally gathered herself. “I am so sorry, I hope I didn’t offend you. Like, I literally thought you were from Mexico, everyone does. Plus, you actually speak Spanish.” I hate her sometimes.

I shrug my shoulders, “No big deal.” I think back on the last decade or so, “It seems to happen quite frequently.”

I face my computer again, put my fingers on the keyboard to respond to the latest barrage of emails I’ve gotten on why the partners in Mexico have delayed the project yet again. I close my eyes to try and regain my previous concentration and find myself entirely distracted.

I think back to when this all started. When did I first get confused for being Mexican, or even anything other than Pakistani?

Or more importantly, when did I accept being confused as another nationality. I used to be so proud when I was growing up and moving around to different countries. Often I would be the only Pakistani in my school and I felt special. Now, I just nod and walk away.

What was it then? It had to be when I came to the United States for university, that’s when it all started. This false identity. This confusion for being someone that I am not. I was horribly shy when I first came to the US. Everyone else was so loud and comfortable talking in class, or speaking to strangers at parties.

I did fight against being confused for another nationality at first. But then began the interest in South America, and the Spanish lessons, to go along with my International Relations degree. Or did I become interested in taking Spanish because I was being confused as a Spanish speaker?

Oh god, this is the “chicken or egg” question of my life! Was it other people’s perceptions or my own that led me to a career in doing development in Spanish speaking countries? Why am I not doing this in Pakistan, a country that gravely needs help in women’s right and education?

I felt myself reeling all of a sudden. Is this what an existential crisis feels like? Okay stop, you’re overreacting Maya. Let’s just focus on the work and get back to this later.

Five minutes later, I’m staring at my screen and I definitely cannot focus. Let’s just take a walk around the block and clear the head.

Pacing around the block, I walk past a newsstand. Something catches my eye, and I stop. The cover of a magazine focusing on how dangerous Pakistan is, another newspaper has a giant headline concluding that all Muslims are essentially evil and to top it all of, a women’s magazine on how to lighten all your dark spots. COME ON PEOPLE, I scream internally.

That’s when I realised, I never stopped saying I was Pakistani when asked, most westerners just assumed I couldn’t be from this country since they classified me as an educated, independent, liberal woman. They didn’t even ask!

This has to end. Things have to change. Assumptions cannot be made; perceptions need to change. I quickly walk over to the office and begin a conversation with Susan about Pakistan and its variety of people, thoughts and movements.

That’s when I decided no more Ms Frosty, let’s open up and start the conversation.

Desi Enchiladas


Inspiration for this story came about as part of this recipe developed as a mistake. I unintentionally desi-fied the beef by adding in garam masala and curry powder to the pulled beef recipe when it should have been cumin and coriander. To briefly explain, all my spices are in unlabeled jars, and I should really label them. Oops, but the beef still tasted damn good. The rest of the dish is more or less authentic to this Tex-Mex dish.  We can all be ourselves, but sometimes it’s good to add in a little fusion.

Now, onto the recipe. Making enchiladas can take a few steps, but it is worth it in the end, and each step doesn’t actually take very long. I’ll include recipes for all the elements you may want to make at home, but there are always quicker options.

1. Pulled beef: Very easy to make it you have a slow cooker, otherwise you can always use chicken that has been baked and shredded with the same marinade. OR make pulled/shredded beef in the oven and cook this at a low temperature for a long time.

2. Enchilada sauce: I would recommend making this, it’s easy and better than store bought

3. Assembly: You’ll find this at the end

Slow Cooker Pulled Beef

The best part of a slow cooker is the element of “dump and walk away.”  Dump all your ingredients in, turn it on and 4-8 hours later, you have an essential part of your meal (or even the whole meal itself).

The best cut of beef to use for this type of recipe would be bigger pieces of meat, like chuck or round roast, but any cut will do.

1 kilo beef

1 cup beef broth (or chicken or vegetable)

4 ounces tomato passata

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon salt


1. Combine chili powder, garlic powder, garam masala, curry powder and salt.  Rub half of the mixture on the beef

2. Turn the slow cooker on and put in the broth, tomato passata, lemon juice and the rest of the spice mixture and mix around

3. Add in the beef – the liquid doesn’t have to cover the beef you have, but make sure to spoon some of the liquid over the beef before closing the lid.

All the ingredients in the slow cooker, with the rub on the meat

4. Takes 4-5 hours on high and 8 hours on low.

5. Once done, take out the beef and shred with two forks.

Once the meat has cooked long enough, it should just shred apart very easily

6. Take the reserved liquid out of the dish and simmer on the stove for 5-10 minutes until reduced. If you want a thicker consistency, add in a cornstarch slurry (1 tablespoon cornstarch, with 3 tablespoons of water combined), and simmer for a few minutes.

7. There can be a lot of reserved liquid, so feel free to use as little or as much as you want depending on how you want your pulled beef.  I like to freeze my leftovers and use it later!

Enchilada Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt (and add more later to taste)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups chicken broth



Have everything ready and on the side of the stove.

1. Combine flour, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano and salt

2. In a pot over medium heat, warm the oil until it is hot enough that a light sprinkling of the flour and spice mixture sizzles when it makes contact. This can take a few minutes, and then test it out. Once hot enough, dump it and all and whisk constantly for about a minute.  You’ll be able to smell everything nicely once it’s ready.

Start the enchilada sauce by adding the flour mixture to the hot oil, whisking for a minute

3. Add in the tomato paste, and slowly pour in the broth and whisk constantly to remove any lumps

4. Bring this to a simmer, and reduce the heat. Whisking it for a couple of minutes until the sauce has thickened a bit.

Once you’ve added the chicken broth and it’s simmered for a few minutes, the sauce is ready!

5. Remove from heat and add salt if necessary (which it usually is)


Have everything ready for assembly – pour some enchilada sauce in the baking pan, as well as a separate plate to assemble the tortilla

Shredded cheddar cheese


1 diced tomato

1. Get a square or rectangle cooking dish and pour some enchilada sauce on the bottom.

2. On a round plate big enough to fit the tortilla – pour more enchilada sauce on the plate and add one tortilla. Fill the tortilla with as much beef and cheese as you would like. Feel free to add in other ingredients like coriander or beans!

The inside of the tortilla (not seen, the enchilada sauce below the tortilla)

3. Roll up the tortilla, and place in the cooking dish with the seam down.

4. Repeat until you have lined up all the tortillas that can fit in the dish. Usually about 6-8.

5. Pour some more enchilada sauce over the tortillas, and then sprinkle the shredded cheese on top, with half of the diced tomatoes.

Some shredded cheese on top – try to make sure the separate tortillas are seen (makes it easier to serve)

6. In the oven at 175 Celsius – between 15-25 minutes, until the cheese has melted and slightly browned. Cooking time depends on how much cheese you put on (I usually put WAY too much, but it’s cheese, so no one is complaining)

7. When done, put the rest of the tomatoes on top, and serve!  Suggestions to serve with guacamole and sour cream/yogurt.

All done and ready to eat!

This story is part of a special Ramazan series, which is updated weekly throughout the month. You can read the previous entry here

For the full story, you can visit the author’s personal website here

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