Friday, April 10, 2009

Enchilada Evangelism

Hi, folks! It has been far too long since I updated. Rather than make long, extremely detailed excuses for why I have for being too busy to write blog entries, let me just say this: I'm graduating from law school in 1 month, taking the PA bar exam in 4 months, getting married in 5 months, and regaining my sanity in 6 months. Oh, and I am still unemployed. If anyone needs an environmental lawyer/foodie on staff, please let me know!

Ok, so about enchiladas. I had no idea that enchiladas could be anything special. I surmise that most people's experiences with enchiladas are either out of a box (e.g., Old El Paso dinner kits) or from a Mexican restaurant. I have eaten at many Mexican restaurants, and let me tell you: at most Mexican restaurants, it does not matter whether you order soft tacos, enchiladas, or burritos. Your food will taste pretty much the same regardless of what it is called on the menu. I can't comment on the dinner kits, but I imagine they aren't as awesome as what you can make on your own.

My enchilada epiphany came when one of my professors, learning that I was a food appreciator, loaned me a copy of an amazing Mexican cookbook. She had recently moved to Pittsburgh from Texas, where, as you might imagine, there is an abundance of excellent Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican food. Not so much here in Pittsburgh, apparently! When she learned I had no experience at all making Mexican food, and, indeed, did not even suspect that more "gourmet" Mexican food was possible than what I could get in a restaurant, she suggested I try making enchiladas. I made everything from scratch except the tortillas, and my life was changed forever. It's hard to describe how much better the sauces taste when they are not out of a can: the Salsa Verde alone is absolutely incredible.

I know what you're thinking as you scroll down this long entry full of recipes, but please do yourself a favor and give making enchiladas a try: you'll see for yourself that it's worth the investment of time.

The first thing you want to do when you are considering making your own enchiladas from scratch (minus the tortillas maybe...I haven't mastered that yet) is to make sure you have enough time. The process can be broken up by making the sauces the day before (they taste better the second day anyway) and the filling the next. Once you have all the ingredients prepared, assembling enchiladas is actually really fast (10 minutes maximum), so this is a great dish to prepare ahead, perhaps over the weekend, and have ready for fast meals during a busy week.

If you make them vegetarian, enchiladas are even faster to prepare, since preparing the meat fillings tends to take about an hour or more. I've included below my adaptation of the San Fonda Miguel chicken filling that is so amazing that, much to my chagrin (all those future enchiladas I missed out on!), Karl ended up eating the unused filling with a spoon for a midnight snack. I also included my own vegetarian filling. The San Fonda Miguel cook book also had a recipe for cheese enchiladas that seemed far too onion-y for my tastes (if you'd like to try it, it's basically raw, chopped onion mixed with Monterey Jack shredded cheese).

Some tools helpful for making enchiladas: food processor (or blender), tongs, small skillet, large skillet, griddle (or broiler)

Where to find:
chiles in adobo sauce: Mexican grocery store, and probably in the Latin American aisle at any large chain grocery store. They come in a small can.
corn tortillas: available in almost any large chain grocery store, but if you're in Pittsburgh, go to the Strip District (on Penn Avenue) and get some freshly handmade tortillas from the Mexican grocer there.
tomatillos and serrano chiles: available in most grocery stores, but definitely available in Mexican grocery stores

Enchiladas San Miguel
Serves 6

For best-tasting results, make the fillings and sauces well ahead of time and reheat just in time to assemble the final product when it’s time to eat.

Salsa Verde for Enchiladas (recipe below)
Sour Cream Sauce (recipe below)
Chicken Filling (recipe below), or Vegetarian Filling (recipe below)
6 TBSP vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas (white or yellow)

Prepare Salsa Verde and keep warm, or reheat when ready to assemble enchiladas. Prepare Sour Cream Sauce and set aside. Prepare the Chicken Filling and keep hot or reheat.

When ready to assemble enchiladas, preheat the broiler. In a small skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Make sure the oil is hot enough, or the tortillas will absorb too much oil. Using tongs, dip a tortilla into the hot oil for about 10 seconds on each side, or until softened (if it starts to get brown, it's been in too long). Quickly drain on paper towels, then immediately dip the tortilla in the warm Salsa Verde. Lay the tortilla flat on an ovenproof plate and put 3 to 4 TBSP of hot filling down in the center of the tortilla, then roll it into a tube. Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas. Place 2 enchiladas on each plate and cover with warm Salsa Verde. Spoon a couple of dollops of Sour Cream Sauce on each enchilada, then put the plates under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, until the sour cream sauce starts bubbling. Serve immediately.

Salsa Verde for Enchiladas
Makes 2 cups

15 tomatillos, husked
Half of a medium white onion
1 garlic clove
4 to 6 serrano chiles
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
sea salt to taste

Prepare the Salsa Verde for Enchiladas. Roast tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chiles on a griddle, or under the broiler until they are blistered all over (you should turn them over frequently so they roast evenly). Combine the roasted vegetables in a food processor and process until smooth. When ready to serve, add cilantro. Adjust seasonings, adding salt if necessary. Set aside.

Sour Cream Sauce

1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/8 cup milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

Chicken Filling
Makes 3 cups (fills 12 enchiladas)

3 TBSP canola oil
¼ cup chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, roasted in 350˚F oven for 10 minutes,chopped
3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 TBSP adobo sauce from the can
2 to 3 chicken breasts, poached in water seasoned with sea salt and ground black pepper, then cooled and shredded (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup chicken broth, reserved from cooking chicken
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven over low. Add the onion and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until onions are wilted and transparent (5-8 minutes). If you're worried about burning the garlic, you can add it later. Add tomatoes, chiles, and adobo sauce. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring often until all moisture has been absorbed and the mixture is dry, about 15 minutes. Stir in the shredded chicken and broth. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, until chicken is heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Vegetarian Filling

1 14-oz can of vegetarian refried beans (at room temperature)
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (at room temperature)
3 TBSP onion
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients well in a small bowl. Add a little oil or water if it is too thick to easily spread into the waiting tortilla.