Little Hot Grill

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La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, our little town, has a sweet, little restaurant, The Little Hot Grill. We live in an area very popular with foreign tourists, winter visitors, and expat residents. Fancy restaurants cater to this clientele, with fancy prices to match. The Little Hot Grill features very good, very real Mexican cooking, with prices affordable for the Mexican residents, as well as for us expats who watch our budget.

Eye-popping orange and blue tiles in the kitchen and the prettiest doors anywhere in La Cruz set The Little Hot Grill apart from other eateries. Marisol, the proprietress and cook, has a sweet disposition and smile to match her welcoming restaurant.

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The first time I ate here, I had Enchiladas Suizas. They were so good, it was hard to order anything else for the next several visits. Cheesey, creamy, filled with tender chicken. I was stuck on them.

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Some of our friends are of the opinion that Marisol’s Chiles Rellenos eclipse her Enchiladas Suizas, though that’s a hard call. Relleno coatings this tender, eggy, and delicate are not always found in other restaurants attempting the same dish.

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When we met friends for lunch recently, all five of us ordered Chile Relleno, and I found myself in the position of having to order Enchiladas Suizas para llevar (to go) just to have a photo of lunch beside Rellenos. Dinner was taken care of very well that day, much to Russ’es delight.

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Friday is the day for Chiles Rellenos, but every day has different specials, with no set agenda. You just have to show up to see what the day’s special is. It might be Pozole with Pork, Birria, Mole Rojo, Mole Verde, or Caldo Tlalpeño pictured below.

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Marisol tells me that her customers include visitors from all over the world — Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and even guests from the Four Seasons Hotel in our area. That last tidbit is worth more than any gushing Trip Advisor review, of which she has many.

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Marisol’s pico de gallo — fresh salsa, which literally translates to beak of the rooster — is special for its cucumber chunks, which give a pleasing crunch and freshness, and not usually found in pico de gallo.

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Her salsa roja is wonderful, but the tortillas are special. They are made from nixtamal, dried corn treated with lime to soften the outer hull and then ground. Marisol uses a blend of nixtamal and masa dough for tender tortillas, made to order with an industrial-looking tortilla press.

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In our conversation, I learned something new about our town. The local tortillaría sells nixtamal at seven each morning to cooks who want to make tortillas with a better corn flavor. I had assumed that only tortillas made from packaged Maseca, a dry, coarse corn flour, were available in La Cruz. I guess this ignorance reveals where I am at seven every morning, and where I am not.

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If you eat at The Little Hot Grill, treat yourself to a freshly squeezed juice — orange, carrot or beet. I had a cool blend of beet and carrot, bright and refreshing. Also offered were agua de guayaba (sweetened guava water) and iced jamaica (hibiscus tea). Different fruit aguas are offered on other days.

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Eggs any style are served for breakfast, which includes Huevos Rancheros and Huevos a la Mexicana. A variety of tortas — sandwiches made on bolillos, Mexico’s crusty rolls — are on the menu, including the popular Torta Cubana.

The Little Hot Grill is open six days a week, closed on Sundays, from 8 am to 5 pm. Starting in December, hours will be 8 am to 9 pm, seven days a week. The Little Hot Grill is in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on the corner of Calle Camaron and Calle Atun, the road that leads down to the fish market at the marina. Look for the pretty doors with the lilies.

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~ This is one of the few times I have used so many photos in one article. Let me know if this takes an inordinate amount of time to download, and I will delete some. There were so many photos that gave a good sense of the place and food, that it was hard not to use them.

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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.