Friday, May 14, 2010

The Whole Enchilada

Here is our interpretation of the May 2010 Daring Cooks challenge. Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.
Enchiladas (from the Spanish verb enchilar = to season with chili) are a familiar dish to us here in California, and some variant of this dish frequently makes it onto our weekly menu. Nevertheless, we had never before made our own tortillas, so we decided to do so for this challenge. An additional challenge presented itself when we visited our local farmers’ market – one of the vendors was selling nopales (prickly pear cactus pads), which was a new ingredient for us. We were more than  happy to pay a little extra to have the spines removed.
The nopales turned out to have a bright, fresh and slightly bitter flavor, which we thought would contrast nicely with a spicy chile sauce. So, the challenge was on – it remained only to figure out how to put it all together.
A little research suggested that nopales and potato is a classic combination, so our first attempt at enchiladas was Enchiladas de Nopales y Papas. We are fortunate to have access to a wide variety of both fresh and dried chiles, and made full use of them in this recipe!
For the sauce, we used our standard red chile sauce, which is basically a mix of what chiles we have on hand (and since we love enchiladas in the monkey household, there are always chiles on hand) with garlic or onion, oregano, maybe some cumin, and water or stock. This is one of those wonderful items that is super easy to make (just above toast in the boil water-to-macaroon scale of cooking complexity) and is so vastly superior to buying canned sauce that I can guarantee that if you try it, you’ll never ever buy another can of enchilada sauce.

Enchiladas de Nopales y Papas

The filling:
1 large Russet potato, diced
2 nopales pads, diced
1 fresh pasilla pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 handful cilantro leaves, chopped
4oz Jack cheese, grated
The sauce (makes enough for leftovers):
5-8 Assorted dried chiles (New Mexico, California, Negro, Morita, Chipotle)
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
few sprigs fresh oregano
1 tsp freshly ground cumin
The tortillas: 
2 cups masa harina 
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
To garnish: queso fresco
Our fresh and dried ingredients
To prepare the filling, sauté the potato, pasilla pepper and onion until soft; add the cactus towards the end of cooking so that it retains some firmness and color. Mix in the cilantro and grated cheese; set aside.
For the sauce: toast the chiles and unpeeled garlic in a dry skillet until they start to color and become fragrant. Remove from the pan, peel the garlic and remove the stems from the chiles (you can also de-seed them if you want a less spicy sauce). Grind the garlic and chiles along with the cumin and oregano to coarse flakes in the blender, then add water and continue blending until a thick puree forms. This sauce will thicken as it sits, so you may need to adjust the water.
We prepared the masa dough according to the instructions on the bag – essentially mix the ingredients together, then roll out into tortillas. The dough was a bit sticky to work with, but we found it could be rolled out quite easily between two sheets of cling film/saran wrap. We were going to make stacked enchiladas, so made relatively small ‘personal size’ tortillas – about 4-5 inches across. They were cooked on each side in a dry skillet (it’s a bit like making pancakes – the first one is always awful, the rest pretty good.)
Assemble the stacks with the filling between layers of tortilla, smother with sauce and add a little queso on top. Bake at 350 for 25 min or until the cheese starts to melt and brown.
We served the enchiladas with a little salad made from julienned nopales, tomato and (mild) jalapeno pepper in a light vinaigrette – it was a refreshing counterpoint to the rich and spicy enchiladas.

Classic Chicken Enchiladas

For our second attempt at the recipe we decided to go with something closer to the original recipe posted by Barbara and Bunnee – chicken enchiladas in a mild green tomatillo sauce. This time we bought the tortillas – our favorite local Mexican store sells a dozen delicious, freshly made (i.e. still warm!) corn tortillas for $0.45, which is the main reason we haven’t made our own tortillas before… If we’re 100% honest, the purchased ones are a lot better than our home-made. But our home made ones were better than what you can typically buy in a standard grocery.
The filling:
2 chicken breasts, bone in
2 sprigs oregano
1 Bay leaf
1 small onion
Salt and pepper
The sauce:
# lb tomatillos, papery shell removed
3 pasilla peppers
1 handful cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the chicken, onion, herbs and spices in a heavy saucepan and add enough water to cover and simmer until cooked, about 40 minutes. Remove the chicken and onion but don’t discard the broth! When cool, shred the chicken, chop the cooked onion and add salt, pepper and cilantro to taste. Mix well; this will be the enchilada filling.
Add the tomatillos to the chicken broth and cook gently until soft, about 5 minutes. If you didn’t keep your broth, water works too.. Meanwhile, roast the pasilla peppers until they are soft and the skins are blistered:
To make the sauce: drain the tomatillos, greensauce_web_smallremove the skin and stems  from the peppers and puree them together with the cilantro.
Assembling the enchiladas: Briefly heat the tortillas in the microwave to soften them – about 10 sec should do it. Roll up some of the filling in each tortilla, stacking them one against the other as you go.
Pour over the sauce, top with some cheese and bake for about 40 minutes until the cheese starts to brown (see photo at top of page). Enjoy!