14 May 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge: Enchiladas

Our hosts this month, Barbara of BarbaraBakes 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 www.finecooking.com and written by Robb Walsh. 

When I first read the challenge, I was thrilled. Mexican food! I love Mexican food (well, I know that I love Americanized Mexican food, I don't really know about the real stuff). But I came down from my excitement high pretty quickly: the recipe was asking for ingredients I couldn't find immediately. Tomatillos, peppers, cheese. Yuck. A couple months ago, a PhD student in Jason's lab hosted a Mexican cooking night of sorts at our place. The group was truly international, and the Germans wanted to know what I missed the most food-wise from the US. Well, my answer came quickly... Mexican food. And of course the guy hosting the event agreed with me, but I think he was a little surprised, too. Traditional Mexican is not the same as Mexican food in the US, and by golly, the Mexican food here in Germany resembles German food more than it resembles Mexican food. Okay, so I don't know if that blanket statement is true, but I do know that the Germans I have questioned think Mexican food is just kidney beans with that nasty movie theater nacho cheese sauce, perhaps wrapped in a tortilla. With chopped kohlrabi and bell peppers on top.  Um, that's not even bad American-Mexican, let alone Tex Mex or Mexican. 

So two weeks after the challenge started, I had convinced myself that I wasn't going to participate. I'd looked into getting the peppers required (anaheim) and the fruits required (tomatillos) and decided that I didn't want to bother myself finding alternatives since neither the pepper nor the tomatillos is available in the stores here in April/May. Plus I was going to be in the US and have access to these ingredients 3 days after the post date. I even contemplated making the challenge in the US and posting late. But since the hosts were so kind and flexible, I eventually decided I needed to get myself out of the I-don’t-wanna-funk and find something that I could make here in Jena. Rick Bayless was the name floating around the forums, so I decided to look for one of his recipes. The second hit on a google search for Rick Bayless enchilada recipes turned out to be quite simple and manageable. The peppers called for were jalapenos, and it used tomatoes instead of tomatillos. Woot. Thursday, April 29, I headed to the store and picked out my ingredients so I could make the enchiladas that Sunday, May 2. Saturday was a holiday, so the stores would be closed, the stores are always closed on Sundays, and Friday Hubby and I were going to a cookout so I would not be able to go shopping Friday. So Thursday I bought all the ingredients I needed to make almost every meal the entire weekend. Needless to say, my tiny fridge was packed.

Because the recipe looked so quick and simple, I decided to make my own tortillas as well. I’ve previously posted Homesick Texan’s flour tortillas, and they got great reviews from me but not so great reviews from Hubby, so I decided to try the more traditional flour tortilla recipe that called for lard. Yes, despite my unfavorable opinion on cooking with lard, I was going to make my tortillas with them. Like I said, I wanted to this challenge to be a culinary challenge as well!

Friday rolled around and our plans changed completely. Hubby broke his fibula at the cookout and needed surgery. What would have been outpatient surgery in the US was a 10 day hospital stay here. While I was shocked at first, I came to be grateful that he was staying in the hospital so I would not have to look after him at home, and he could make it to the bathroom easily (ours is just too narrow for someone who has never used crutches before). But it did mean I spent well over an hour on the tram each day trekking to and from the hospital. On the days I worked a half day, I spent almost two hours on the tram. My iPhone has never seen so much use (solitaire was my friend). Nicely, the hospital had wireless so Hubby was able to have some entertainment. I brought him my laptop and some of our DVDs and we passed the time catching up on Frasier and Star Trek Deep Space 9.

On Sunday I realized that I HAD to cook the chicken or it would go bad. But my grill pan was dirty and I was too tired to clean it, so I stuck it in a pot with some water and bouillon (which is how our Mexican friend cooked his meat for enchiladas) and saved the leftover cooking “broth” for later. I was glad I did since the sauce recipe called for 2 cups of chicken broth!

I convinced Hubby that he would like the enchilada recipe, and made it on his second night home. As written, the recipe is actually disappointing and lacking in flavor. My tomato sauce tasted like tomatoes, and that was it. I was sorely disappointed after going to the effort to broil the tomatoes and peppers that they yielded so little flavor. I think I would have had better results from tomatoes out of a can. After mixing a little of the sauce with the meat, I decided the rest of the sauce needed something, so I added about a tablespoon of chili powder, which helped boost the flavor tremendously.

Whilst cooking the sauce, I started out following the directions by keeping the temperature at medium-high, but the tomatoes spattered violently and I still have a burn mark on my hand. I’ve never had frying oil spatter that much, so I definitely reduced the heat. But I reduced it after 10 minutes of letting it go, so my kitchen was a mess. After 30 minutes it still had not reduced to the constancy of tomato paste, but I was getting hungry and grumpy, so I just went on with the next step. I’m sure I lost some flavor by not cooking it down fully, but I still think the recipe needs more.

The challenge to me this month was not cooking the recipe itself, but rather getting through my mental block and depression about not having ingredients I took for granted when we lived in the US. And then came the challenge of getting Hubby to eat something new after spending 10 days in the hospital. I am grateful to the hosts for challenging me in ways I’m sure they never imagined.

did notice that this recipe is quite close to my recipe for taco meat. When I make enchiladas in the future, which I will, I will combine the two recipes a bit. Perhaps you should expect that post for next year’s Cinco de Mayo?

Enchiladas Suizas (Creamy Enchiladas with Chicken, Tomatoes and Green Chile)
SERVINGS: 4 to 6
3 pounds (about 20 medium plum or 6 medium-large round) ripe tomatoes OR 2 28-ounce cans good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, drained
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 3 serranos or 2 jalapeños), stemmed
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rich-tasting pork lard, plus a little oil for brushing or spraying the tortillas
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth, plus a little extra if needed
1/2 cup homemade cremacrème fraiche or heavy (whipping) cream
About 2 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken, preferably grilled, roasted or rotisserie chicken or slowly simmered in chicken broth (I used three chicken quarters)
2/3 cup shredded Mexican melting cheese (Chihuahua, quesadillaasadero or the like) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild cheddar I used cheddar
12 corn tortillas or 8 flour tortillas (needless to say, I didn't make my own this time around... I still have tons of lard left, so maybe I'll try it out when I return from the US)
A few sliced rounds of white onion, separated into rings, for garnish
Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish

The sauce. For fresh tomatoes: Roast the tomatoes and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, until they’re darkly roasted (they’ll be blackened in spots), about 6 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side—5 or 6 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatoes that are cooked through. Cool. Working over your baking sheet, pull off and discard the blackened tomato skins and, for round tomatoes, cut out the hard "cores" where the stems were attached. Transfer tomatoes and chiles to a food processor or blender, along with all the juices on the baking sheet. Blend to a smooth puree.

For canned tomatoes: In a small dry skillet, roast the chiles over medium heat, turning regularly, until they're soft and splotchy-black, about 5 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor along with the drained canned tomatoes. Blend to a smooth puree.

In a medium-size (4- or 5-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat the oil or lard over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and, when noticeably hotter, stir in the tomato puree. Cook, stirring, until darker in color and thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the broth, partially cover and simmer 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. The sauce should be a slightly soupy consistency—not as thick as spaghetti sauce. If it is too thick, stir in a little additional broth. Keep warm over low heat.

Other preliminaries. Stir the crema (or one of its stand-ins) into the sauce. I used crème fraiche which is just high fat sour cream that has a lot less tang b/c of the extra fat. Put the chicken in a bowl and stir 1/2 cup of the sauce mixture into it. I added 1 cup of sauce and should have added chili powder, too. Taste and season with additional salt if you think it needs it. Have the cheese at the ready.

Finishing the enchiladas. Heat the oven to 350°. Smear about 1/4 cup of the sauce over the bottom of 4 to 6 nine-inch individual ovenproof baking/serving dishes or smear about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish. Lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet (2 sheets if you have them, for more even heating), and lightly brush or spray both sides of the tortillas with oil. Bake just to warm through and soften, about 3 minutes. Stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep warm. Instead of heating my tortillas in the oven, I set a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and warmed them one at a time. That way, I didn't have to worry about the tortilla not being warm enough to roll. 

Working quickly so the tortillas stay hot and pliable, roll a portion of the chicken into each tortilla, then line them all up in the baking dishes. Douse evenly with the remaining sauce, then sprinkle with the cheese. I realized that was way too much sauce to douse and every bit of the tortilla would have been wet. I decided to only use half of the sauce during the actually baking process so the ends would be crisp. Bake until the enchiladas are hot through (the cheese will have begun to brown), about 15 minutes. Garnish with onion rings and cilantro sprigs. These are best served piping hot from the oven. There was too little cheese to add any flavor. Next time I make it, I'll probably add some cheese to the filling, use less sauce on top (serve extra sauce on the side for those who want it) and add more cheese on top.

To store the enchiladas, I added the rest of the sauce because staying crispy was no longer an option. I found the enchiladas surprisingly tasty cold from the fridge. I also reheated them in a microwave for lunch today, but would recommend using an oven or a toaster oven to crisp them after chicken has been heated. 


  1. It sounds as if this month was a challenge in way too many ways! I'm glad you overcame your reluctance to participate but I'm sorry it was a bit of a disappointment. With broken bones, burns and everything else to manage, it is amazing you hung in there. The picture looks really appealing!

  2. Mel, the dish looks delicious, but I have to agree with you. After reading the ingredients, nothing on the list would give it a particularly Mexican flavor. The jalapeños are a start, but they mostly give heat and not flavor. And unless you roast the tomatoes and peppers over coal, they won't get that nice smoky taste. Good call on adding the chili powder. Cayenne and achiote would have also been nice. Not to worry, the world of Mexican and Tex-Mex awaits you back in the States...

  3. I'm impressed you managed to participate in the challenge this month. I so agree on Mexican food in Germany (I wrote something similar in my post). I found canned tomatillos and masa harina online, and just used the standard chile peppers you find in every German supermarket (I used a Bittman recipe for the Enchilada Sauce). It was really good and even reminded me of real Mexican food. Check out my blog for the recipe and my online source. Also, if you make it to Berlin, there is a store that specializes in food things from Latin America (Latinoamerika Bundesallee 117 in 12161 Berlin) - I found out about it AFTER I had ordered online...

  4. @ Bunnee: Thank you for a wonderful challenge!

    @ Helen: Achiote is not an option here, but I'll be stocking up on Mexican chili powders when I'm in the US... if there is room in my luggage between all of the chocolate and peanut butter chips I'll also be purchasing!

    @ ap269: I'll definitely stop by that store when I make it to Berlin! I found an online shop for plants too and purchased some poblano seeds! My coworker is going to try to grow them on her porch since I have no sunlight on mine!

  5. My partner just got home to Canada after several months in Belfast, and he has a number of funny stories about carrying bottles of hot sauce around everywhere to spice up the food, and a colleague from Mexico who brought back a huge box of dried chilies after a visit home, so I have a newfound appreciation for how hard it can be to get these kinds of ingredients in Europe!

    It looks like your work-arounds were overall pretty effective though, and I think you made a good call by cooking the chicken in water!

    And I bet that the chilies will grow just fine in Germany. :)


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