Preparing Enchilada Sauce

Salsas Verde y Roja

Some good friends are coming to visit next weekend and I want to make something special for them.  One of my friends is a native Texan, currently living in Boston.  Now, I know that good Mexican restaurants can be found all over the country nowadays but you can’t always find good homemade Mexican food. 

I am nearing the zenith of peak season at my work and I have only had one day off this week.  I thought it would be wise to get some of the prep work out of the way so that I don’t have to slave away in the kitchen while my friends are here.  I want the dinner to come together quickly so that I can spend time visiting with my friends, rather than bouncing around in the kitchen like a madman.

I’m preparing enchiladas  – –  some red, some green.  I’m making the sauces today and I’ll keep them in the refrigerator until I need them.  I almost bought canned enchilada sauce today, which would be perfectly fine, but a 20 ounce can of the stuff was selling for over $3.00, and I just couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for salsa, when I can make it for less than half the cost.  Plus, what kind of food blog would this be if I just showed pictures of me opening cans of stuff and dumping them in a pot?

Red Enchilada Sauce (Salsa Roja)

Ingredients:

12 guajillo chiles

4 or 5 ancho chiles

2 to 5 chiles de arbol (these are spicy!)

1 Tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 medium sized yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

Directions:

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a heavy pot. 

Cut the stems off the chili pods and remove the seeds and loose pieces of fibrous ribs from the interior.  Add the chiles to the boiling water, turn the heat off and cover the pot with a lid.  Allow the chiles to steam for at least twenty minutes.

Garlic, Salt, Cumin and Oregano

In a large skillet, add olive oil and sauté the garlic and onion for a few minutes.  Add the salt, cumin and oregano and stir.  Turn the heat off and let it rest for a few minutes.

Strain the chiles and reserve the water.  Remove the chiles de arbol and set aside.

Add the softened chiles to a blender.  Add the sautéed garlic, onion, salt, cumin and oregano.  Add about 2 cups of the chili water to the blender.  Pulse a few times and then puree the mixture.  Taste the sauce.  If you want more heat, add more chiles de arbol.  Strain the mixture and keep the pulp. 

Add the sauce to the large skillet and add the strained pulp back to the blender.  Add the remaining two cups of chili water and puree again.  Strain again and add the liquid to the skillet.  Discard the pulp.  Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes on low heat.  Allow the sauce to cool before transferring to a storage container.  The sauce will stay fresh for about a week in the refrigerator.  This should make 4 cups of sauce.

Green enchilada sauce (Salsa verde)

Ingredients:

8 tomatillos

2 or 4 fresh serrano chiles

½ small yellow onion

¼ cup cilantro, leaves and stems

3 garlic cloves, roasted

1 tsp salt

1 to 2 tsp  sugar

Directions:

Peel the husks away from the tomatillos and remove the stems from the serranos.

Slice the tomatillos in half, along their equator.  Slice the serranos, lengthwise.

Lay the tomatillos on a backing sheet.  Add the cut serranos and garlic cloves to the baking sheet and place in a 400° oven for about 15 minutes, or until the tomatillos begin to char.  Remove the chiles, tomatillos and garlic from the oven. 

Place the roasted tomatillos and garlic in a blender.  Add the salt.  Add one or two serranos to the blender…reserve the remaining serranos, for now.

Chop the onion into ¼” pieces.  Chop the cilantro, including the stems.  Cilantro entero!.

Add the onion and cilantro to the blender. 

Puree the mixture in the blender and then taste (after the blender has been turned off, thank you.)  It will probably have a bitter taste.  Add a little sugar and blend again.  Taste and add a little more sugar.  Two teaspoons of sugar should be enough to tame the sauce.  If you want a little more heat, add some more serrano.  Blend again and taste.  The sauce should have some kick but I recommend keeping it fairly mild. 

That’s it!  The salsa verde is ready.  This should make about one pint of sauce.  Store covered in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas

Most of my entrée recipes contain meat, in some way or another.  Some recipes seem like meat, meat and more meat.  Other recipes lean toward vegetarian dishes…until I throw in some chicken stock.  This is a bona fide vegetarian dish. 

Until I started this blog I didn’t give much thought to other people’s recipes.  I have spent the last twenty-plus years relying on my own instincts and re-imagining dishes that I have had in the past.  But now I find myself perusing other cooking blogs and WOW, there sure are a lot of vegetarians and vegans out there!

I have gained an appreciation for what those cooks are doing.  It’s easy for an omnivore, such as me, to look at vegan recipes and think, “oh, those poor people…they have given up meat and they must be miserable.”  But, on closer inspection, I have found that vegetarians and vegans are bravely redefining what it means to be conscientious cooks.  Nutrition and taste can be achieved without meat.  There, I said it.

As I plod along searching for delicious and nutritious ways to satisfy my soul, I consider every lifestyle diet equally important.

This is one of those rare meals that came out just as I imagined it would.  The creaminess of the tomato based sauce and the three types of cheese made this a very gratifying dish.  It lacked a significant amount protein, which concerned me a bit but I grabbed a few handfuls of peanuts while I made this and life was good.

Ingredients:

7 green onions

2 garlic cloves, smashed

4 cups fresh spinach (8 oz)

16 oz fresh mushrooms

3 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

2 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

32 oz vegetable stock

6 oz tomato paste

½ cup half-and-half

8 oz Colby-Jack Cheese

4 oz sharp cheddar cheese

4 oz Mozzarella cheese

12 white corn tortillas

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables:

Chop the green onions.  Think of the green onion as three parts.  There is the white root section, the light green middle section and the dark green tips.  Cut and separate the green onions accordingly.

My recipe calls for 4 cups of spinach but I used more.  This might be considered a “heaping” four cups.  The beauty of fresh spinach is that it quickly wilts down to a much smaller amount when it is cooked. 

Chop the mushrooms.  I used baby portabella mushrooms because the price was right…any type mushroom will do.

In an oven proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil at medium heat.  Add the chopped white ends of the green onions and garlic.  Simmer for one minute.  Add the spinach and stir.  After a minute, the spinach will begin to soften and wilt.  Add the chopped mushrooms and stir for another two minutes.  Remove to a bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter.  Add the flour and whisk to make a roux.  Add cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper and stir to incorporate.  Add one half of the vegetable stock, (16 ounces) and tomato paste and whisk to thicken.  Add the half-and-half and whisk to mix.  Simmer on low heat to allow the sauce thicken. Thin the sauce with the remaining 16 ounces of vegetable stock. Simmer on low while the enchiladas are assembled.

Add the half-and-half.
Sauce will become very thick after adding half-and-half.
Add remaining vegetable stock to thin the sauce.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mozzarella and cheddar cheese and 4 ounces of the Colby-Jack cheese.  Add the chopped middle sections of the green onions.  Add the cooked spinach and mushrooms.  Mix thoroughly. 

Soften the tortillas in a microwave or wrap in foil and warm them in a conventional oven.

Adding sauce to the pan keeps the enchiladas from burning

Add ½ cup of the enchilada sauce to the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Spread the sauce to cover the bottom of the dish.

Assemble the enchiladas:

Lay a tortilla on a clean work surface.  Add about 1/3 cup of the filling to each tortilla.  Roll and place in baking dish. 

Once all of the enchiladas are in the casserole dish, pour the sauce over the enchiladas and scatter 4 ounces of shredded Colby-Jack cheese on top.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Top with chopped green onion tips and cilantro