The winter weather left me feeling dilapidated and a bit despondent these past couple weeks. I felt myself shuffling around in a haze, not really knowing why I was feeling so low but not entirely sure how to snap out of it. So this past weekend I did what I usually do when I’m feeling down, and I made comfort food. And not just any comfort food, but Mexican comfort food; the richest, freshest comfort food there is. I did it in hopes that the vibrant colors and warm spicy flavors would bring a little ray of sunshine into my gloomy scape, and they did manage to cheer me up quite a bit, at the very least while I was in the process of making and eating them.
This was my first time making enchiladas, and I was a bit nervous about the corn tortillas falling apart as I’d read horror stories about this online, so I tried the trick of dipping the tortilla in the enchilada sauce before adding the filling and folding it, and it worked out fine. The enchilada sauce keeps the fairly dry corn tortillas moist and supple so they won’t tear when you fold the flaps over the filling. I also heard that you can dip them in the enchilada sauce and then quickly pan fry them in oil, but that seemed a bit messy and the idea of handing a hot tortilla right out of the frying pan intimidated me slightly, so I stuck with the simple dipping method. If any of you have tried this dip then fry method, though, I would love to hear how it works for you.
I used two dried chile pepper varieties as the base for the enchilada sauce, arbol chilies and ancho chilies. Arbol chilies are verrrry spicy, small, and deeply crimson. Cayenne peppers can be substituted for arbol chilies, if you have a hard time finding them. Ancho chilies (aka dried poblano peppers) pack some heat too, but are not quite as spicy as arbol chilies and have a warm and almost chocolately flavor to them. New Mexico chilies can be substituted for the Ancho chilies, too. You can find these and a wide variety of other dried chilies in the Mexican foods section of most grocery stores. They’re always in these little plastic bags that look like this and are usually hanging in rows. (They also sell cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in this section on the cheap, fyi.)
For the filling, I used spice-rubbed chicken breasts, bell peppers, and some crumbled queso fresco. For those of you unfamiliar with it, queso fresco is a Mexican cheese that crumbles easily like feta, but has a flavor very close to mozzarella, making it perfect for incorporating into fillings. You could also easily make this dish vegetarian by substituting black beans for the chicken breasts, just make sure you still incorporate the spices into the bean mixture to keep that nice cumin-y flavor in the dish.
Also, since making the enchilada sauce is the most time consuming part of this recipe, I’d recommend doubling or tripling it and then freezing the extra batches of the sauce in a freezer-safe container. That way you can make enchiladas again much more quickly the next time around!
And just some updates about what I’ve been up to in the world the past few months. In the late fall I was able to do some product photography for Addiction Mixology which was a blast. Larrian, the owner, left me with a few jars of their wine-complementing jams which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially since I didn’t realize I loved tarragon so much until I had it in a jam (seriously, craaaaaazy good.) I also did another post over at One Kings Lane last month for their style blog. I made an elegant-yet-simple Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with a Pomegranate Glaze, the tart yogurt paired really well with the sweet, fruity glaze and I loved the way the glaze drizzled down the sides into little candy cane-like stripes. Quite festive, indeed.
Note: Makes about 14 enchiladas
1 yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 lb. chicken breasts
1 cup crumbled queso fresco
1 red onion, diced
Begin by making the enchilada sauce. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, dried arbol, and dried ancho chilies and stir so that they’re coated in the oil. Allow to continue to cook in the oil until the onions become translucent and the peppers soften, about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Stir in the water, tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasonings. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer until the tomato chunks have mostly disintegrated, about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and puree the mixture in a blender or food processor. Pour the enchilada sauce back into the pot and set aside.
Now you can begin preparing the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Rub the spices and herbs onto the two chicken breasts, coating them in spices. Place the chicken breasts in the pan and pan fry until cooked through, (about 10 minutes on each side, but cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken breast). Once completely cooked, remove from the pan and allow to cool until it’s warm enough to handle. Then tear the chicken breasts into small strips and toss them with the queso fresco and red bell pepper. Set aside.
This is the part where it gets a little messy, and that’s totally okay. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour enough enchilada sauce into (2) pans to just cover the bottom of the pan (there should be about 1/2 inch of sauce at the bottom). Take a tortilla and dip it in the enchilada sauce so that it is completed coated, then lay it flat on a working surface. Lay a small handful of the chicken filling in a line that goes down the middle of the tortilla. Gently fold the flap on each side over the filling, flip the enchilada over (taking care not to spill the filling out the ends) and set it in the baking pan. Continue this process until all of the enchiladas have been assembled. Then, pour the remaining enchilada sauce over both pans and sprinkle the queso fresco over the tops of the enchiladas. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, then remove and allow to cool for 15 minutes before plating. Garnish with the red onion and cilantro and serve immediately.