Sunday, April 12, 2009

Enchilada Casserole & Tortilla Soup

Tloque Nahuaque - Quetzalcoatl motif I was gonna save this recipe for my summer trip to Chebeague, but I'm hungry now, damn it. This dish has developed quite the cult following with devotees from San Diego to Limestone, Maine. I can only take partial credit for it, though. Whenever my mother was feeling particularly ambitious, she would make enchiladas for dinner. It was a four-burner, two-person, labor-intensive affair, and I was at her elbow every step of the way browning the ground beef and learning to soften tortillas just so in corn oil. Ma finished the production line by stuffing and rolling the enchiladas herself. My stepmother, by way of contrast, had a simpler method; layering tortillas, sauce, meat and cheese in a large baking dish. While easier to prepare, hers were always drier and a lot less savory than my mother's. One year, I decided to the merge the two schools of thought and come up with something of my own. Yet, both their spirits linger in every tasty bite.
Enchilada casserole
Enchilada casserole
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ lb each ground beef, ground pork, ground veal
  • 4 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground white pepper
  • black olives, sliced
  • 2 doz corn tortillas
  • 1 lb sharp cheddar cheese. grated
  • 1 lb Monterey jack cheese, grated
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • cooking oil (rendered fat from ground meat plus enough vegetable oil to equal ½ cup)
  • 6 cups low sodium broth (vegetable or chicken)
While sweating onion and garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat, combine ground meat and all the spices in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to combine thoroughly, then add to the onions and garlic. Cover and cook just to remove the pink color from the meat. Break up meat as it cooks. Transfer meat to a bowl, toss with the sliced olives and set aside. 
Sweat the chopped onionAdd the sliced garlic and soften
Mix in the ground meat and cook slowlyWhen the meat is just cooked through, transfer to bowl
Add enough vegetable oil to make ½-cup cooking medium and make a roux with the flour. Cook through until the roux begins to brown, then add the chili powder and continue to cook another couple of minutes. Whisk in the broth and stir to thoroughly combine. Move to back burner over low heat.
Add butter to pan drippingsAdd flour to start a roux
Add chili powder and stock to browned rouxCook chili sauce to reduce
Heat ¼-inch peanut oil in a small skillet over medium, medium-high heat until it just shimmers. Quickly fry tortillas, one at a time, flipping once until just crisp, but still pliable. Dredge tortillas in chili sauce, and layer in the bottom of a large baking dish. Tortillas should overlap in the dish.
Fry corn tortillas to just crisp
Dredge tortillas in chili sauce
Once you have layered the bottom of the baking dish with tortillas, spread a third of the meat over the layer, then top with grated cheese. Now repeat the frying/layering process two more times.
Add meat on top of tortilla layer
Continue with another layer of tortillasFinish with shredded cheddar and jack cheeses
Cover casserole with aluminum foil and bake on a sheet pan in a 275° pre-heated oven for 45-60 minutes, or until sauce begins to bubble in the baking dish. Uncover and let casserole set for 15 minutes before serving. Serves and army.
Finished Enchilada Casserole
Tortilla soup
I don't think any gringo loves Mexican food more than Rick Bayless. He has single-handedly altered the terrain of Mexican cuisine in the US with erudite study and enthusiastic delivery in his famous cookbooks, restaurants and PBS series. Here he has come up with one the easiest, most delicious tortilla soups I've ever tasted.
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • peanut oil for frying
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 2 pasilla or guajillo chilies, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 15 oz canned whole tomatoes, drained
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 6 oz queso fresco
  • 1 large avocado, cubed
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
Cut tortillas into ¼-inch strips. In a medium saucepan, heat ½ inch oil over medium heat until is shimmers. Add half the tortilla strips. Fry until golden brown and crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels. Brown the remaining tortillas in the same fashion. Pour off all but a thin layer of hot oil and return pan to the heat. And the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until browned, about 7 minutes. Press the garlic cloves against the side of the pan to extract as much oil as possible, then transfer the onion and garlic to a food processor. Add chilies to the hot pan. Toss quickly to toast. After 30-45 seconds, transfer chilies to paper towels. Add tomatoes to the food processor and purée mixture. Return to saucepan and reduce over medium-high heat until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then partially cover and gently simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Salt to taste. To serve, divide cheese and avocado among warmed soup bowls. Ladle a portion of broth into each bowl, top with tortilla strips and some toasted chilies on top. Garnish with lime wedges.
Cut corn tortillas into strips and fryGuajillo chilies
Brown sliced onions and whole garlic clovesReduce tomato, garlic and onion purée to thick consistency
It is absolutely criminal eating this well, but somebody has to do it. I've courted lovers, surprised young kids who thought they didn't like Mexican food, even charmed widows out of their millions with this menu. One word of advise: make enough for leftovers. It just gets better and better with time. Oh, and reheat the casserole in the oven. If you tarnish my efforts by nuking it in a microwave, well then, please turn in your apron on your way out the door.
Enjoy - Blog O. Food


Matt said...

Good God, I love this dish. While Bayliss indeed has done it on a grand scale, I like to think I have my own grassroots campaign.

Janis said...

Amazing... this dish looks delish! Another recipe that I'll have to make. As for surprising kids that didn't know they liked Mexican. Were you referring to my husband? His life changed after that surfing trip to Mexico!