Enchiladas have a casual reputation – fun family food, a good way to use leftovers, not a big deal. But by the time you’ve made the filling and sauce, put together the tortilla-wrapped rolls and sprinkled on the garnishes, the clock’s been ticking for more than a few minutes. Yet it seems we’re all inexplicably drawn to the texture of a soft, sauce-soaked tortilla – I particularly like it if the sauce is made from tomatillos jazzed with green chile and cilantro – around a toothsome filing with something cheesy or fresh on top. So, I’ve simplified the steps to this pleasure, using a light hand where heavy has often been the norm. Fried tortillas have been replaced with baked ones, meat has been swapped for (or augmented with) spinach and mushrooms and the typically Mexican-American melted cheese blanket has become the more typically Mexican light sprinkly of flavorful fresh cheese. Your only challenge will be temperature: In Mexico, most enchiladas are put together from warm ingredients and served right away – no baking. (But, then again, in Mexico, folks don’t like their food as hot as we do in the States.) My suggestions: When the tortillas come out of the oven, turn the oven off and slide your (ovenproof) dinner plates in to warm. And make sure the sauce, filling and tortillas stay as warm as possible.
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- Fresh hot green chiles to taste (I like 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed and quartered
- 1 ½ pounds (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
- ¾ cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro, plus a few extra sprigs for garnish
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil or bacon drippings (divided use), plus some for the tortillas
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 8 ounces mushrooms (button, oyster or shiitake are good), stemmed and sliced
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 10 ounces (about 10 cups) spinach, stems removed
- 1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded cooked chicken (about one-quarter of a large rotisserie chicken) or cubed ham (optional)
- 12 corn tortillas, preferably store-bought
- 3 tablespoons Mexican cream, sour cream, heavy cream or crème fraiche
- ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese such as feta or goat cheese
Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. With a food processor or blender running, drop in the garlic and chiles one piece at a time, letting each piece get finely chopped before adding the next. Add the tomatillos and cilantro; process until smooth.
Heat 1 ½ tablespoons of the oil or bacon drippings in a medium (3-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the puree and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the mixture has reduced to the consistency of thick tomato sauce, about 7 minutes. (The more you cook down this base, the richer and sweeter the tomatillo sauce will be.) Add the chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors.
While the sauce is simmering, heat the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons oil or bacon drippings in a very large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring nearly constantly, for a couple of minutes, until they begin to brown. Add about three-quarters of the onion (reserve the rest for garnish) and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for another minute or two, until the onion looks translucent. Add the spinach and optional chicken or ham and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or so, until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon. Cover to keep warm.
Lay out the tortillas on a baking sheet and spray or brush lightly on both sides with oil or bacon drippings, then stack them in twos. Slide the tortillas into the oven and bake just long enough to make them soft and pliable, about 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and stack them in a single pile; cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm.
Stir the cream (or its stand-in) into the sauce. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon (add the sugar if the sauce seems quite tart to you). Holding a tortilla by one edge, dip most of it into the sauce, then lay it on a plate. Spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons filling down the center, roll up and lay seam side down in a dinner plate. Repeat with 2 more tortillas, arranging them on the same dinner plate. Douse the enchiladas with about ¼ cup of the warm sauce, sprinkle with a quarter of the crumbled cheese and garnish with some of the reserved onion and cilantro sprigs. Assemble the rest of the servings, and carry to the table without hesitation.
Nutritional information is based on 1/8 teaspoon added salt per serving, but does not include optional shredded cooked chicken or cubed ham.