Enchiladas Suizas, with a Side of Trepidation

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I could start off as though the last time you heard from me was last week, or even last month. I could ignore the issue altogether. But I’ll face it head-on and take the consequences. (Deep breath.) Here goes, my version of Truth or Dare: I haven’t posted anything new since October, 2011.

Still with me?

Since my laptop went kaput, I’m now working on a 7″ Samsung tablet, typing with my thumbs, and taking photos with the tablet. If I can get through this post on Enchiladas Suizas without wearing out my thumbs, get halfway decent photos and place them where they belong, maybe this will work. But it does have a Lilliputian quality to it, with a small screen and smaller keyboard.

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Several weeks ago,  I made a tasty dish of Enchiladas Suizas — Swiss Enchiladas for you non-Spanish speakers — and the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Gee, this would be a great recipe to share on the blog. If I were still blogging.” A few days later, while replying to a reader’s comment (yes, the comments still kept coming, and readership stayed surprisingly high during my overly long sabbatical), I read over some past comments. One reader wrote. “Thank you so much for all the information! It has fueled my passion for Mexican cooking and culture. I wish you were still writing.” That was the tipping point. I had a decent recipe, and someone wanted to hear from me again. So to Sydney, and all the others (mostly biased family members) who asked me to continue, I’m back. And here for you is a recipe added only recently to Mexican cookbooks.

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Enchiladas Suizas originated at Sanborns, a well-known department store chain in Mexico’s larger cities and towns, and known for their restaurants’ consistently good, traditional Mexican fare. The story goes that a chef at Sanborns created this recipe in 1950 when he added cream to salsa verde. His dairy-heavy enchiladas took on the name “suiza” (Swiss) as homage to the country of Alps and cows.

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I researched my cookbook shelves and could only find a recipe in a booklet by El Universal, a national newspaper in Mexico which published over a dozen recipe booklets specializing in recipes of the states of Mexico. The booklet for the state of Mexico and Distrito Federal (aka Mexico City) included Enchiladas Suizas, which is fitting, as the Sanborns in Mexico City is this dish’s birthplace. There are a number of online recipes, and Saveur’s recipe looked most appealing. Plus, I love their magazines. This is mostly Saveur’s recipe, influenced by El Universal. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

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A trip to the local tienda was first, to buy fresh crema from a rancho south of Puerto Vallarta, freshly made queso añejo — used to garnish the frijoles refritos which you may or may not choose to serve on the side, tomatillos, cilantro, and corn tortillas hot off the press. We had already brought a roasted chicken home from Costco. How we ever managed without Costco in Puerto Vallarta is hard to imagine. Did you know that the roasted chicken at Costco in the US is organic and is about as cheap as you can buy an organic chicken anywhere? Sadly, the chickens here at Mexico’s Costcos are not organic, but I am ever hopeful, as new organic items show up on their shelves almost every week.

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Enchiladas Suizas, with a filling of shredded chicken breast, encased in tender corn tortillas and smothered in creamy green sauce and melted cheese, may not go back hundreds of years in Mexico, but it is showing up on more and more menus in Mexico. I think it is worthy of my comeback recipe.


Enchiladas Suizas (Swiss Enchiladas)        Serves 4

Adapted from Saveur, July 16, 2012 issue, and El Universal recipe booklet, Cocina Estado por Estado, issue No. 10

  • 1 1/2 lbs. (680 grams) husked tomatillos
  • 2 serrano chiles
  • 1/2 medium onion, cut in half
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 large poblano chiles
  • 1 cup (1.38 oz./38 g.) chopped cilantro, including tender stems
  • 1 cup (240 g.) sour cream (or crème fraîche,  or, if in Mexico, crema)
  • Salt to taste
  • Vegetable oil as needed for skillet
  • 3 cups (12 oz./375 g.) cooked, shredded chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 oz./170 g.) grated cheese (Manchego, Swiss, or mozzarella)
  • 8 corn tortillas 
  • Chopped red onion, additional sour cream and cilantro leaves for garnish 
  1. In a hot skillet, under a broiler, or on a hot grill, toast tomatillos, serrano chiles, halved onion, garlic and poblano chiles until blistered black spots start to appear. Blacken most of the poblanos.  Don’t overcook the tomatillos or they will burst and lose their juice.
  2. To make sauce, cut serrano and poblano chiles in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds with a spoon. Lay poblano and serrano halves on a cutting board skin side up and scrape off blistered skin with a serrated knife, spearing the chiles with a fork to protect your fingers from chile burn. Don’t worry if some skin doesn’t come off. Texture is good. Coarsely chop chiles, onion and garlic. Process in a blender with cilantro and sour cream until smooth. Salt to taste. Set aside.
  3. Moisten shredded chicken with one cup of sauce. Set aside.
  4. Lightly oil a hot skillet and heat tortillas, two at a time, until soft, about one minute per side. Don’t allow to become crisp. As you soften tortillas, spoon 1/4 cup of hot chicken filling down the center of each, roll up, and place in a dish. Repeat with two more tortillas, oiling skillet as necessary, until all are filled.
  5. Cover the bottom of a 9″x9″ oven-proof dish with a generous layer of sauce. Arrange enchiladas over sauce, cover with more sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese. Heat in a 350 F. (180 C.) oven until hot and the cheese has melted.
  6. Garnish with thinned sour cream (or crème fraîche or crema) and top with finely chopped red onion and a few cilantro leaves. Any remaining sauce can be served in a separate dish if more sauce is desired.

Notes

~ Tomatillos, pictured in the center of the second photo, are a member of the ground cherry family. They add a distinctive tang and tartness to dishes, and are indispensable in salsa verde. The husks are inedible.

~ When assembling, I used very hot sauce and chicken filling. This way, the enchiladas only needed to be in the oven long enough to melt the cheese. The longer the dish is in the oven, the more sauce is absorbed, which is not a bad thing.

~ Another option is to heat individual servings of two enchiladas per person on a heat-proof plate, following the same instructions above.

~ I think the best chicken enchiladas are made with breast meat.

~Left over sauce is great on potatoes, pasta, eggs and grilled meat.


Licuado de Nopal– Cactus in a Glass

Licuado de nopal, a cactus smoothie, has recently become my new favorite breakfast drink. I had it few years ago at nearby El Tigre Golf Club’s Sunday Brunch, and then promptly forgot all about it until I read about this green drink last week on Muy Bueno Cookbook. Their (always) gorgeous photos helped inspire me to make it, and it turned out awesome.

Muy Bueno Cookbook uses water in their recipe, though Yvette, the main MBC hermana, writes me that she is now using fruit in her daily drink. The first time I made it, I used cut-up watermelon, including the seeds, instead of water. The taste was delicious, but the color was murky green, so you will not see a photo of that version. Today I made it with freshly squeezed orange juice. Not only was it a beautiful, green color, it tasted refreshing.  Licuado de nopal  has become a part of  my morning routine. After drinking a glass this morning, I took a 30-minute power walk, something I used to do until a month ago when the morning chill and dark made me lazy. Now Chucha and I are walking again, right after my green refresher.

Licuado de Nopal serves 2

  • 2 medium-sized nopal pads, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or 1 cup cut-up watermelon or other fresh fruit
  • 2 mint leaves, optional, plus more for garnish
  1. Add all ingredients to blender and zizz until smooth.
  2. Pour over ice (optional) and add mint leaf for garnish.

Notes:

Nopales are the young, tender “paddle” leaves of Opuntia cactus, the common prickly pear cactus of Mexico and the American Southwest. They are eaten as a vegetable all over Mexico and are found in Mexican grocery stores in the US, as I learned last year when I visited Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Nopales are quite prickly to handle if the spines have not been removed, but if you buy them in a grocery store, they are already de-spined. We have a thriving prickly pear cactus in our yard (photo above, with an agave in the foreground), but I don’t harvest its pads. Every time I tried, I became a human pin cushion, my fingers stuck with impossible-to-see, minute spines. Mexicans must be born with the knowledge of how to de-spine prickly pear pads, but I lack this skill. I’m now content to buy them from the supermarket and leaving the handsome specimen in my yard untouched.

A bit of etymology and history: Nopal is from the Nahuatl word, nopalli, meaning pads.  An Aztec legend tells of finding a new homeland by looking for an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake. On this spot, Tenochtitlan (meaning place of nopal cactus), was settled, taking its name from nochtli, another Nahuatl word for nopal. Tenochtitlan is present day Mexico City, and this image of the eagle on the cactus is depicted on the Mexican flag.

If you live in a small Mexican town, like I do, you will find fresh nopal, de-spined and either whole or pre-cut, at your local carnicería, the meat market. I have no explanation for why they are sold at carnicerías and not in the produce section at the little, corner grocery stores. In large supermarkets, they will be in the produce section, where you will also find sugar, another puzzlement for me.

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Enfrijoladas with avocado and tomatillo salsa

 

Enfrijoladas are on the menu at La Cascada restaurant in La Cruz. This elegant, yet simple dish is nothing more than tortillas covered with bean sauce . “Bean sauce?”, you are saying. Yes, you are. I can hear you. Bean sauce. Beans, thinned to a sauce-like consistency and coating the tortillas, with some avocado, queso fresco and crema on top. That’s all it is, and boy, is it good. You can top it with a salsa verde if you want, but it is also good without a salsa if you want something simple to prepare.

Like much of my cooking, this is a cobbled together recipe. An avocado and tomatillo salsa recipe from Epicurious. Part of an enfriolada recipe from my wonderful, wonderful, new cookbook by Diana Kennedy, Oaxaca al Gusto. And another part of an enfrijolada recipe from Bon Appetit that I made a number of years ago when we were replacing our roof.  Back then, we had a simple, traditional Mexican roof that was nothing more than tiles stacked across wooden beams. That day, the day I made enfrijoladas, all the tiles had been removed and the entire house was exposed to the shining sun, with the clouds and the birds overhead. I could look up and see the swaying bamboo outside the kitchen door. But I wasn’t seeing it out the door. I was looking at the rustling bamboo through the gaping hole where our tile roof used to be.

After such a unusual day of seeing the roof removed, the workers finally left, and I was faced with making dinner in my disordered, discombobulated kitchen. (See photo here of my exposed kitchen.) We could have gone out to eat. Or I could have made something easy like sandwiches or omelets. Instead, I found a favorite 2003 Bon Appetit magazine, one of their “Special Collector Editions” with Soul of Mexico on the cover. I had already read every recipe six or eight times and was especially intrigued by the one for enfrijoladas, because I, too, said, “Bean sauce?” Here is my version, inspired by Bon Appetit and Diana Kennedy.

Enfrijoladas with Avocado and Tomatillo Salsa serves 4

Salsa:

  • 2 cups (8 oz./250 g.)tomatillos (also known as tomate verde), husked, washed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium serrano chiles with seeds, minced
  • 1 medium white onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium avocados, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (50 ml.) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • salt
  1. Process tomatillos and serranos in food processor until coarse puree forms.
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat  and add onion, cooking until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds more.
  4. Add tomatillo puree to onion mixture, and cook 3 minutes, stirring.
  5. Spoon salsa into a bowl and stir in avocado and cilantro.
  6. Salt to taste.

Refritos:

  • 2  tablespoons olive oil (or lard if you really want to be authentic)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 serrano chiles, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups (28 oz./800 g.) cooked beans
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon ground comino (cumin)
  • water as needed
  • 1 dozen heated corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado and chopped cilantro for garnish
  • Crema (sour cream or crème fraiche)
  1. Heat skillet over medium-low hat and add oil to pan.
  2. Saute onion and serrano chile until onion is translucent.
  3. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds longer, stirring.
  4. Add cooked beans, oregano, comino, and enough water to make it soupy.
  5. Simmer 10  minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Mash to a puree with a bean masher (potato masher) or in a food processor, adding more water to make it very soupy.
  7. Salt to taste.
  8. Dip hot tortillas in bean sauce, coating both sides generously with bean puree and roll up or fold into quarters or halves.
  9. Spoon bean puree on each plate and place folded tortillas on puree, spooning more puree on top of tortillas.
  10. Garnish with avocado slices, grated cheese and chopped cilantro.
  11. Serve avocado and tomatillo salsa and crema on the side.


Notes:

I used flor de mayo beans for this recipe, because I can buy organic flor de mayo at Mega (gracias a dios!). In Oaxaca, black beans are used to make enfrijoladas. Pinto beans would make a fine substitute.

Remove seeds or not from the serrano chiles, depending on your own level of heat tolerance. I found that removing half the seeds was just right for our taste.

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La Cascada in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, my home town, is blessed with an abundance of fine restaurants, La Cascada being one of them. New owners Joe and Priscilla Sulham are offering an international menu, and feature beautiful Mexican plates for breakfast.

Lucky me. I live almost right across the street from La Cascada (Spanish for waterfall). Three minutes after we walk out our gate, Russ and I can be placing our orders for Squash Blossom Crêpes in a creamy poblano sauce or Enfrijoladas (pictured above). Somedays, it is hard to stand in front of the stove when I know what awaits us at nearby restaurants. This was one of those days.

While I was visiting their kitchen, this classic Mexican dish of Enfrijoladas was being prepared for another table. I took advantage of my proximity, but unfortunately, all I had in my hands at the time was a camera and not a fork. La Cascada’s version of Enfrijoladas is corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and chorizo, bathed in a bean sauce. (En-frijol-adas –“in beans” is the literal translation.)

Two of my table mates ordered Crêpes Filled with Squash Blossoms, Mushrooms and Huitlacoche. I was faced with a familiar conundrum. Do I order something else for the sake of a different menu item to review, or do I follow suit, because that’s what really appeals to me. “Make that three orders of crêpes”. While the crêpes themselves are not traditionally Mexican, the fillings sure are, and that was good enough for me. The creamy poblano sauce was so good, I should have asked for a spoon. And a bowl of sauce on the side. I think Angélica, our attentive waitress, would have obliged me.

Inside dining is offered, but on such a beautiful day the patio with its waterfall and tropical landscaping was a lovely setting for a relaxed, mid-morning breakfast. And a great place to linger over coffee and conversation long after our plates had been cleared.

A great looking dish of salsa was offered for the omelet. I love taking photos of salsa. Their primary color lights up any table, any plate of almost anything. As beautiful as it was, this was a very mild salsa. Maybe it was set at a low heat level for gringos.

Other Mexican entrées for lunch and dinner include Sopecitos de Cochinita Pibil, a pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula, Molletes, an open-faced bean sandwich with melted cheese, Chilaquiles, Cheese Enchiladas with Peanut Sauce, and Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple-Mango Dipping Sauce. North of the border fare, such as rib-eyes, T-bones and fillet mignon are also offered, as are a variety of egg dishes for breakfast. More La Cascada menu items can be seen on line.

La Cascada offers relaxed dining six days a week from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m; closed Tuesdays. Wifi service is available. Coral #61, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Phone: 329-295-5948.

Update, Oct. 2011: La Cascada Restaurant has closed. We miss their great breakfast offerings.


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The mystique of making café de olla, Mexican coffee

There is really no mystique to making coffee in Mexico. If you can boil water and have some cinnamon sticks, you can make coffee the way they still make it down on the rancho, the way it is still made in many small restaurantes and mercados (markets).

Diana Kennedy’s excellent book, The Cuisines of Mexico, provided my first instructions for making café de olla many years ago. And I probably learned from one of her books that an olla (pronounced OH-yah) is a round, earthenware pot, bulbous at the bottom, used for making coffee, hot chocolate, beans, soups, and much more. Mexican cooks swear that earthenware pots impart a better flavor.

Coffee has been a hot drink in Mexico since its arrival from Africa, via the Middle East and Europe in the late 18th. century, when it was brought from Cuba and the Dominican Republic by the Spanish. By the 1790s, coffee was being cultivated in the Gulf state of Vera Cruz. It wasn’t until after the Mexican Revolution that Mexican farmers saw it as a viable commercial crop.

Throughout the coffee growing states of Mexico, there are many cooperatives supporting farmers in the growing and marketing of coffee. If you are traveling through a coffee growing region, seek out a coopertivo to buy locally grown coffee, often organic and shade-grown. Today, Mexico is one of the largest exporters of organic coffee. Mexico grows the superior tasting Arabica bean, which makes a very good cup of coffee.

Café de Olla

  • 3 cups (3/4 l.) boiling water
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml.) coarsely ground coffee
  • 2″ (5 cm.) cinnamon stick
  • piloncillo for sweetening (optional)

Add ground coffee and cinnamon stick to boiling water and allow to reach a boil again. Remove from heat, slowly stir to settle the grounds, and return to heat to bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and strain into mugs.

In Mexico, coffee is served very sweet in small pottery cups. The traditional sugar for coffee is piloncillo, cones of dark, unrefined sugar with a slight molasses flavor.

I don’t have a metate, a rectangle of volcanic rock upon which grains are ground with a mano, but I wanted to experience the making of coffee in a slightly more traditional way, so I ground the beans using my mortar and pestle. I’m not recommending you do this. A high-quality burr grinder will do the job just fine.

Full disclosure: I have to admit that our usual morning routine is to turn on the espresso machine. This morning, when I handed Russ, my chief taster and food critic, a cup of café de olla, he immediately detected the cinnamon aroma and declined his usual cream, wanting instead to enjoy the full body and cinnamon flavor unmasked.

I’m sorry to say that Puerto Vallarta now has a Starbucks, serving all the usual lattes and cappuccinos. I hope they also serve Café de Olla with cinnamon, and buy from Mexican coffee growers, but I have never been there to find out.

Notes:

When shopping for coffee beans, look for organic. Many coffee growing countries do not have stringent laws regarding pesticide use. Some of the pesticides used in coffee growing include Endosulfan, which takes years to break down in the environment and is toxic to birds, mammals and fish; Chlorpyrifos (brand name Dursban) linked to birth defects and to low birth rate of birds; and Methyl parathion, banned in Indonesia, restricted in Columbia, but used in some Central American countries. It is very toxic to birds and marine life. I could list more, but it is too dreary to contemplate what so many of us are exposed to, and what we are subjecting the field workers and the environment to, by buying non-organic coffee.

Another designation to look for is “shade-grown”. Coffee plants naturally grow in shade under taller trees. Shade-grown coffee takes longer to mature, but is less prone to competition from weeds and pathogenic infection. Farmers have found that they can increase production by growing coffee in full sun-light. The loss of the upper-growth of trees has decreased bird habitat and biodiversity. Yes, organic and shade-grown coffee costs more, but we can pay now or pay later.

The word “Mascota” on the earthenware mugs in the top photo is the name of a small town in the mountains near us. If you take a trip in that direction, take the San Sebastian turn-off to buy organic coffee grown on the hillsides outside of town. You will be treated to little mugs of hot coffee and be able to see a hillside of coffee plants behind the hacienda.

More Reading:

Home Roasting Coffee in a Popcorn Popper

Smithsonian Report on Bird Friendly Shade-Grown Coffee

Shade Grown Coffee Farms Support Native Bees


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