Friday, May 11, 2012

The Art of Mothering and Salsa Verde: Tomatillos Milperos & Enchiladas Suizas

Enchiladas Suizas & Salsa Verde in the background.

Amicable Alimentations: A series of posts with no predictable order or timing dedicated to a delicious food and the friend who most reminds me of it or inspired me to love it.  Here's the link to posts number one and number two from waaaay too long ago, and this, of course, is post number three in the series.
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Today I was going through my blog photography archives looking for inspiration.  Sure enough, I came across some photos of tomatillos I had taken almost a year ago.  Their presence began to nag at me, reminding me I still hadn't posted two recipes I've been dying to share ever since I first started my blog, two recipes that remind me of my mother and her mother (and her sisters).  All of this, coincidentally, on the week of Mother's Day. It was meant to be!

My mom sword fighting with Roman.
Sorry mom but this is you in a nutshell :)
Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful mom, her wonderful mom, my godmother (who is also a great mom and brought me my first-ever tomates milperos!), my sister, my mother-in-law and all my mother-friends!  It's nice to have a day of indulgent recognition, but it's also nice to have a day to remember the special maternal figures in our lives and what they have done to enrich our existence.  Wish I were in Texas! 
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Growing up, there were a few recipes we could count on my mom making on any given week: picadillo, chicken soup, guisito de chipotle con papas, tortitas de atun, milanesas, and, my favorite, flautas and/or enchiladas suizas.  The last two were and continue to be my professed favorites.  Maybe it's because my mom has small cigar-rolling fingers, or maybe it's just that special touch that all mom-made food tends to have, but I swear her flautas are the best out there!  And her enchiladas suizas are not too far behind.  Maybe because they are a combination of both of my favorite recipes into one.

Granted, I will eat enchiladas any day, anywhere, anyhow.  Red, green, mole, whatever and with any filling (maybe except cheese-only-enchiladas which I am not a fan of).  I always get excited when I see them on a menu, but more times than not I leave restaurants disappointed and disgusted at the strange, flour-tortilla-with-marinara-sauce concoction I am served up.  I can't help but compare them to those my grandmothers and mother make. Crunchy, but deliciously slathered in green sauce, sometimes mixed with the cream, sometimes not.  Always delicious.

 Please Just Kick Old El Paso to the Curb Already.

The trick to a good enchilada is a good salsa, and as luck would have it, a good salsa is just not that hard to make.  It does sadden me that I cannot spread the word quick enough to avoid people continuing to buy those horrible looking jars (or worse yet, cans) of red "enchilada sauce" sold at the supermarket.  It's not so much that the fact that they are in a jar or can that bothers me (though it kind of does, as salsa is meant to be fresh in my mind) as much as it is just that the flavors are so boring and wrong.  Old El Paso enchilada sauce is like eating a spoon full of tomato sauce and a spoon full of cumin at the same time.   Mexican salsas are not only more complex in flavor, they are comprised of the infinitely simple, fresh, delicious ingredients vital to Mexican cuisine: onion, garlic, cilantro and chile.

Salsa Verde of the Real Persuasion.
My favorite salsas of all are green salsas, made with Mexican green tomatoes.  You can buy these tomatoes in their normal size, or, in Latin American markets you can also find them in a diminutive version that my Tia Ita brought me when she came to visit Maine a month or so ago.  She called these mini-tomatillos "Tomatillos Milperos" and after doing some research I found that their namesake comes from the word "milpa" in Spanish which refers to corn fields.  Apparently these small tomatoes are commonly found in between rows of corn in cornfields and are also called "miltomates."  The delicious tomatillo, which comes in delicate, paper-like husks, is called a few different things in Mexico.  Here's a quick explanation I found online:
"[In Spanish] 'miltomates' and their bigger cousins (what most call "tomatillos") are just 'tomates.'  And regular RED tomatoes are 'jitomates.' This nomenclature is pretty standard all over the interior and south of Mexico."
I generally make a simple green salsa with my tomates, which can be eaten raw or cooked.  You can also blend avocado with a raw green salsa for a wonderful dip.
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My Mom's Enchiladas Suizas
Serves 4 

I needed more sauce on mine, but they were still awesome.
Enchiladas Suizas are a traditional Mexican dish.  The name, translated "Swiss Enchiladas," refers to the white cream and cheese sauce that covers the top of the enchiladas, and also harkens the Swiss immigrants who established dairies to produce cream and cheese in Mexico.  Basically, instead of just topping the enchiladas with the salsa, you make them, top them with salsa and cream, then cheese and then bake them in the oven.  The flavors meld beautifully and the cheese is soft and melty.  I also like to fry the tacos until crispy like flautas whereas traditional enchiladas are more soggy - it's a personal preference!

In Mexico people would use "crema" in this recipe,  but since I can't get that in Maine I just use plain yoghurt or sour cream (if I'm feeling decadent).  It's easy enough to make at home - just a combination of heavy cream and sour cream, but I don't usually want the calories. :)

As for the cheese, I've seen people use Manchego, Monterrey Jack, Oaxaca, or, in my case, plain old mozzarella, but pretty much any mild white cheese would work well.

Also, in terms of technique I must admit that my mother and I take a couple of liberties to suit our needs: in Mexico enchiladas are made by frying the tortilla in oil, rolling the chicken in it, and then topping it.  My mother taught me to heat the tortillas in a microwave thereby foregoing the extra oil - it's healthier and far less messy but not very authentic :)
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Salsa Verde
- 12-18 tomatillos (green tomatoes, peeled of their shell, washed and halved)
*use double the amount if using miltomates / tomatillos milperos
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion, chopped into quarters
- cilantro (probably 10-12 stems-worth)
- 1-2 Serrano chiles or more (optional & to-taste)
- salt, pepper to taste
For the Enchiladas / Flautas:
2-3 chicken breasts (if you use bone-in and skin-on you'll get an awesome broth out of the deal with which to make chicken soup to go with the meal, which is what I generally do)
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic, whole & unpeeled
10ish stems cilantro
5 or 6 peppercorns
20-25 corn tortillas
corn or canola oil (about 1 cup)
salt, pepper
1 cup or more of plain yoghurt or sour cream
1 cup or more of grated cheese of choice (I use mozzarella)
- 1 large rectangular casserole dish

1. Cook the chicken breasts in simmering water along with the onion, garlic, cilantro, peppercorns and a pinch or two of salt until tender (45 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, make the salsa: take all the ingredients and put in a blender.  Blend until smooth and adjust seasoning.  Set aside.

3. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred it by hand, discarding skin and bones if necessary.  Also, discard the onions, peppercorns and cilantro if you want to save the chicken broth for soup.

4. Pour the salsa into a pan with about 1 tsp of corn oil.  Allow it to come to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, not allowing it to reduce too much.  If the sauce gets too thick, add a little more water.  Adjust the seasoning with salt or chicken bouillon.  Turn heat off.
Optional: At this point you can mix the cream into the salsa or leave it to be put separately on top of the salsa.  Traditionally they are combined.

5. Making the enchiladas:
Easy (and less oily) route: Wrap the tortillas in a paper towel or two and microwave for 1 1/2 or 2 minutes, until tender, then make the tacos by placing a small amount of chicken on the edge of the tortilla and wrapping tightly.  Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan on medium-high heat (make sure it's not so hot that it will burn the tacos though).  Gently place the tacos into the pan one by one, tightly so they don't unroll and fry until golden on all sides (salt while hot).  Place on a plate with paper towels on it to drain the excess oil.
More traditional route: Heat the oil in a pan.  One by one place the tortillas in the oil until softened, then lay in a pile on a plate.  Once all the tortillas are cooked, make the enchiladas just as above by rolling a small amount of chicken in each one.

**I pack the rolled tacos into a casserole dish while I'm waiting to fry them.**

Note: If your tortillas are not cooked enough they will break like cardboard.  You will know they are ready if they roll up easily and tightly - the tighter the better. 
6. Once the tacos are ready, transfer them back to the rectangular casserole dish arranging them into just one layer.  Pour the salsa-cream mixture on top, covering them entirely, then sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes or until the cheese is golden and melted. and the sauce is bubbling.

I usually serve rice and refried beans with this meal as well. :)  Provecho!

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