Probably like most people, I play the “what would I do if I massively won the lottery?” game. I was very inspired reading this article about former billionaire, Chuck Feeney, who planned to give away his entire fortune before he died, and did. So, after I had lunch with Melinda Gates, and she helped me figure out how to give away my bookoo bucks to solve world hunger, I would love to indulge a few fantasies. One of which would be to hop on a plane and travel to a rather remote part of any given country. I would meet up with someone’s grandma who makes the best of that particular region’s dishes. Like, fly off to China and learn how to make tongue numbing Sichuan. Or disappear into a tiny Italian village with a Nonna and learn to craft her handmade pasta. And I definitely would find my way down to Mexico to learn to make authentic mole and tortillas.
Mexican food in this country, like most cuisines, has been whittled down to a few safe recipes for Americans’ liking. I seriously doubt General Tso’s beef exists in China or chicken parm in Florence, and Tex Mex is well, Texan. Listen, I was raised in Texas from the age of 13 on, and I can certainly sing the praises of local Houston cantina fare complete with that divine endless basket of chips and house salsa. God, I miss it!
But I’m talking about real, and very sophisticated Mexican food with nuanced flavors that each different form of chile pepper can bring to a salsa.
I love living on the East Coast, but it is tough to find good Mexican food up here. I have tried over the years to satisfy my cravings in my own kitchen. I do not proclaim to have an authentic touch, but here are a couple of enchilada recipes that keep me sated until I can hop a Southwest flight down to Hobby airport. And I will keep dreaming about visiting Oaxaca and Puebla to learn how to make the real thing.
Click here for a tortilla guide
First, I will admit that I am a snob about a few things. No, I truly don’t care what kind of handbag you carry, but if you put a Mission tortilla in front of me, well, bless your heart. I have never made homemade tortillas, and I don’t have a good excuse except that it seems like a big project, and they probably won’t be as good as the ones at my favorite taquerias. Speaking of that flight from the Houston airport, I routinely travel with an extra bag on my way down so I can bring back a tote full of tortillas from HEB super market. HEB is just a normal Texas chain store, but their in house tortillas are about the best you will find in a package. They even have warming ovens there if you want hot ones. I can’t make it to the parking lot without eating at least two.
If you are outside of the Southwest, I would recommend La Tortilla Factory tortillas.
12-16 tomatillos, husked, washed and quartered
1 lime, juiced
1 cup, or a generous handful cilantro
1/2 white onion, quartered
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper (serrano if you like more heat), roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Toss all of the above ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, and pulse several times until finely chopped. Some people like fine salsa, some like it more chunky. Either way goes here. Pour salsa into a container.
3-4 poblano peppers
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6-8 flour tortillas (I love corn tortillas, but the store bought ones are too crumbly… if you can get fresh corn tortillas, bravo!)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup grated jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese
1/3 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 – 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
red wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
If you have a gas stove, place the poblanos directly on the burner and fire it up to blister the peppers on all sides (use kitchen tongs to rotate the peppers.) If you do not have a gas stove, pop them under a broiler, turning over until the peppers are blistered. Place the peppers in a paper or plastic bag and let sit for a few minutes… this makes them easier to peel. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skins, remove the stem and seeds, and chop into matchsticks. (If this whole step seems to overwhelming, just skip the charring and slice and sauté the peppers in a little olive oil. They won’t taste as smoky, but you may also be less annoyed.)
Smash the garlic clove and add it to a heated skillet with a little olive oil and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the black beans to the skillet with the cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute until fragrant about 2-3 minutes. Place all of these ingredients into the food processor… don’t bother cleaning it out after making your salsa. Keep the flavor and save a step! Pulse the beans several times until smooth.
Now its time to roll!
Pour a layer of your salsa verde to cover the bottom of an 8 x 11″ baking dish.
Take a tortilla, spread a smear of black beans down the center of the tortilla, about 1 tablespoon’s worth. Also smear on sour cream in the same way. Then place several of the poblano matchsticks down the center of the tortilla and then sprinkle with grated jack cheese. Roll up the tortilla and place seam side down in the dish. Continue until you have used up the tortillas. Then pour a generous amount of the salsa verde over the top of the enchiladas until covered, but not swimming. Bake for 20-25 minutes. If you notice the tortillas are getting dry or charred looking, cover your dish with tin foil.
While the enchiladas are baking, place the thinly sliced red onions and jalapeño in a small bowl and cover with red wine vinegar to get pickled. Drain the vinegar before serving.
Serve enchiladas with pickled red onion and jalapeño on top.
Adapted from a recipe by the Gonzales Family in Las Cruces, NM printed in Saveur, September 2011
10-12 dried red chiles, preferably New Mexican or Ancho
6 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon vegetable, or neutral oil
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
6-8 flour tortillas, or 10-12 corn tortillas
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely crumbled cotija cheese
1/4 head of iceberg lettuce (optional)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
Place dried red chiles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them soak about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring to make sure all of the chiles are submerged. The chiles will be dark red.
Remove chiles from water and pull of the stems and remove the seeds. Reserve about 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Slice open the chiles and remove the seeds and then place in the bowl of a food processor fit with the blade attachment. Add in 1/2 cup of the chile soaking liquid.
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Heat 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil in a skillet. Add garlic cloves and saute about 1 minute. Add the garlic to the food processor with the chiles. Add lime. cumin, sugar, and salt to taste and puree until the chile mixture is fine. Add more of the soaking liquid if the sauce seems too thick. You want it to coat the back of a spoon.
Place the sauce in the skillet you used for the garlic, and warm over low heat.
Let’s roll! Take a tortilla and dip it in the red chile sauce and coat both sides (this will be messy!). Sprinkle some of the mozzarella, cheddar, and onions along the center of the tortilla. Roll up the enchilada and place seam side down in a 8 x 11″ baking dish. Continue with all of your tortillas.
Bake the enchiladas for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle cotija cheese along top of the enchiladas. I like to serve mine Tex Mex style garnished with shredded lettuce and cilantro, but this is totally optional.
You are going to need something to cool you off after all of these spicy enchiladas. I love a good margarita, but lately I have been interested in Mezcal. Here is a smoky twist on an old favorite…
Oaxaca Old Fashioned
2 oz. Mezcal,
.25 oz simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Prep your rocks glass by running lime around the rim and dipping the rim in kosher salt spiked with a little Tajin if you have. Stir all ingredients in a rocks glass with a large ice cube until well chilled. Garnish with orange peel.
Mexican food is not the only thing that excites me about their culture. Each region of Mexico is particular and colorful, and one of my favorite cities to visit is San Miguel de Allende. It is a lively and historic colonial city in central Mexico, and the secret has been out for years. I would be willing to bet there are more Texan expats in San Miguel than any other place. I was so inspired by the architecture and local folk art, that we created a new Castel fabric collection called San Miguel. Here are the new designs if you would like to see…
Wishing you all a spicy and spooky Halloween,
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