When it comes to Cinco de Mayo cooking, I’ve got these things going for me:
- I lived in way southern Texas (San Antonio) for four years. Hot is my only comment.
- Southern Colorado has been our home for most of twenty-two years.
- I’ve studied cooking more than a few times at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
- My late dear friend and brother-in-law, Alfred Barrionuevo, was from Mexico and began his professional career as a chef. If you were in the kitchen with him, he was the teacher, and he had extraordinary passion for his cooking. Not only that, his much-loved mother–fondly called “Abelita”–passed on her simplest and best “Mexican” rice recipe to my sister, who then gave it me –nothing written down, you know. My version is in this post.
below: Alfred with Dave at one of our many happy dinners together
Perhaps it’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got. Besides the fact that I do know how to cook. If I’m totally honest, I never wanted to see another tortilla again when I looked at Texas in my rearview mirror in 1992. I’d eaten enough breakfast tacos to fill the Alamo and by God I’m a wine drinker, not a Dos Equis fiend. I was done. Air conditioning at Christmas was the final blow. And besides, my sister knew how to make enchiladas; why did I need to worry about it?
As time went on, however, a few strange things happened. I began to lust after a little pico de gallo (fresh salsa/salsa fresca) on my fried eggs now and again. A mess of pinto beans made an appearance on the Morgan household menu, albeit with buttered cornbread a la Alyce’s mom rather than with tortillas. Summers, my very best guacamole came out when friends arrived for dinner on the deck. I twisted Dave’s arm around to learn how to make a perfect margarita like made by that great Mexican line cook, Ina Garten. In other words, I guess San Antonio never left my system despite a Scottish background, living in 25 different houses, journeys around the world–including Mexico– and nearly ten years of teaching cooking and blogging things that rarely included food from south of the border. You can take the girl out of Texas…
And now every year, I’m lucky when Cinco de Mayo shows up…
Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, is a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Cinco de Mayo 2018 occurs on Saturday, May 5. A relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations.
…and it’s time for me to channel my inner Tex-Mex cook again. Friends who love “Mexican” food might also find this meal on the table when their birthdays come around; you know who you are! Whenever I make it, shades of long-gone hot Texas nights resurface and these kinds of things once again run through the girl from Chicago’s head:
What IS an enchilada, anyway?
Enchiladas are corn tortillas rolled around a savory filling, then topped with a chile sauce and baked. They began as a street food that brought together two staples of Mexican cuisine: tortillas and chile sauce. (The Spanish word enchiladas means “in chile.”) The appeal is easy to pick up on. This is an economical meal that can be made using leftovers, and it’s both hearty and versatile. While traditional Mexican enchiladas are made with cheese, nowadays, they can be filled with any variety of meat, chicken, seafood, or vegetables.
And how do you actually pronounce that? ehn-chee-LAH-dah
Me recuerdo yo hablo Español. Solamente un poquito. Lo siento. (I remember I speak Spanish. Only a little. I’m sorry.)
And somehow, a little platter of taquitos shows up or fajitas are grilled, or as in this case, chicken enchiladas are folded and covered with sauce and light Mexican fresh cheese. I slide them into the oven for a happy party dinner complete with the regular old Tex-Mex restaurant sides made tastily at home, this time skipping all the queasy ground beef grease and dyed orange-fatty cheese. The pitcher of Barefoot Contessa cocktails is chilled, limes are quickly cut to fit beer bottles, and I might even think about chasing down the world-famous tamale lady who parks on the side of the road I take home from the grocery store with her coolers full of hot, spicy fare. Who knows?
This year’s menu includes:
- Margaritas or Dos Equis beer
- Tortilla Chips and Fresh Vegetables with Pico de Gallo
- Avocado Salad–RECIPE INCLUDED
- Alyce’s Easy Chicken Enchiladas–RECIPE INCLUDED
- Abuelitas’s Rice–RECIPE INCLUDED
- Pinto Beans with Onions and Bacon–RECIPE INCLUDED
- Mexican Chocolate Pudding
So read a good Mexican cookbook (Try Diana Kennedy) and turn up the MEXICAN TRADITIONAL STATION on Pandora. Try this or something from Diana Kennedy on Saturday or any night soon:
If you use smaller tortillas, you might fit 14 enchiladas into a 9″ x 13″ pan.
ALYCE’S EASY CHICKEN ENCHILADAS
serves 4-6 (makes 12 enchiladas)
These enchiladas are very flavorful without too much heat. If you like spicy, use a whole jalapeño with seeds and membranes removed or add a shake or two of hot sauce to the blended sauce in the food processor. (Or pass hot sauce at the table.) If your chicken is already cooked, this pan of goodness comes together very quickly as the sauces are purchased and nearly ready to go. Read through before beginning.
- 2-3 bone-in chicken breasts (or use 2 breasts and 2 thighs of purchased cooked rotisserie chicken)
- Olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon each: Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 3/4 cup Canola oil–for briefly frying/softening tortillas
- 12-14 corn tortillas
- 2 small white onions, chopped, divided (1 for sauce in pan, 1 for garnish)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 jalapeño, minced–seeds and membranes removed
- 2 7-ounce cans salsa verde such as mild Herdez, divided (1 1/2 cans or 10.5 oz to make the sauce, other half for bottom of pan)
- 8-ounces jarred tomatillo salsa (1/2 of a 16 ounce jar–use rest for dip with chips)
- 10 ounces crumbled queso fresca, divided (1/2 for baking, 1/2 for garnish after baking)
- 3/4 cup light sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
- Juice of lime
COOK CHICKEN OR BUY ROTISSERIE CHICKEN/SHRED: If cooking: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush chicken with oil; season well with salt, pepper, and oregano. Roast 45-60 minutes or until juices run clear and instant thermometer reads 160 degrees F. Cool briefly; remove and discard skin and bones. Shred. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees F. If you’ve purchased rotisserie chicken, remove skin, bone, and shred it. Set aside.
DIP TORTILLAS IN HOT OIL: Heat 3/4 cup canola oil over medium flame in a heavy small skillet or medium sauce pan. It’s ready if you put a tiny piece of tortilla in and it bubbles up very quickly. Dip each of the tortillas in the oil and let cook 5 seconds, then 5 seconds on other side. Remove to a rack to drain. Tortillas should be pliable and easy to roll.
“MAKE” THE SAUCE: In a food processor or blender process/blend until smooth 1 of the onions, the garlic, the 1/2 jalapeño, 1 1/2 cans salsa verde, which is 10.5 ounces (save the rest for the bottom of the casserole–see below), and the 8 ounces of tomatillo salsa.
PUT TOGETHER THE ENCHILADAS: Spray or grease a 9×13 baking pan/casserole dish. To the bottom of the pan, add the reserved half can salsa verde and spread evenly. To each tortilla, add a couple of tablespoons of shredded chicken and about a tablespoon of the blended sauce. Roll and place seam-side down in pan. Repeat until all of the tortillas are in the pan. You may have 10 in a row in the middle of the pan and one on each side at center.
BAKE ENCHILADAS: Pour the rest of the blended sauce evenly over the enchiladas, making sure all of the tortillas are covered and wet. Sprinkle half the cheese over the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until very hot and bubbling.
MEANWHILE, MAKE THE CREMA (SOUR CREAM SAUCE): In a measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, lime zest, a couple of tablespoons of milk or cream and the juice of the lime, making sure the mixture is pourable–add a little more milk as needed. Set aside.
GARNISH/SERVE HOT: Remove pan from oven. Sprinkle enchiladas with the other half of the cheese and the reserved chopped white onion. Drizzle with the sour cream sauce or pass at table, if desired. Serve these hot with avocado salad, Abuelita’s rice, and Pinto Beans, if desired.
6 servings (easily increased)
- 2 cups diced cucumber
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper, diced
- 2 large diced ripe tomatoes
- 4 ripe diced avocados
- 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 2 minced cloves garlic
- Juice of 2 lime
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Generous pinch each: kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, crushed red pepper
Toss together very gently in a medium bowl. You don’t want guacamole, but rather want each element to be tasted individually bound together with the lime and oil. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Cover well and refrigerate or leave on counter if you’re eating within 30 minutes or so.
INSTANT POT: BACON PINTOS serves 6-8
My recipe calls for beans that have been soaked overnight or quick-soaked, which means you’ve covered them with water in a pot, brought to a boil covered, and let them rest for an hour before cooking. If you forgot to soak/quick soak, you can still make the beans, though you’ll need to pressure cook them 40 minutes or more.
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 3 strips thick bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- Small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 pound pinto beans, rinsed and sorted for stones, soaked overnight or quick-soaked
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2-3 shakes hot sauce or to taste
- Salsa for garnish, optional
Select SAUTÉ on the Instant Pot and adjust to NORMAL. Drizzle in olive oil evenly and when it’s hot, add the bacon. Sauté for about 2 minutes; add onion. Cook, stirring, another 3 or 4 minutes, adding garlic at the end, or until bacon is cooked through and onion is softened. Press CANCEL.
Add beans, water, salt, pepper and hot sauce; stir. Make sure beans are completely covered with water and that the entire mixture doesn’t come above the half-way make in your pot. Secure lid on the pot. Close pressure release valve.
Select MANUAL and cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. it will automatically go to the KEEP WARM setting. Use a natural release to depressurize. Serve hot and when done serving, press CANCEL.
Taste and adjust seasonings; serve hot with salsa if using.
COOK’S NOTE: If you’d like less liquid in your beans, after you’ve finished pressure cooking and have depressurized the pot and canceled, again select SAUTÉ, adjust to NORMAL, and cook, stirring, until the liquid is reduced as you like. CANCEL again. You can also mash any or all of the beans using a potato masher. I like them as is.
ABUELITA’S RICE (EASY MEXICAN RICE)
Whether or not I remember Abuelita’s recipe correctly is a good question, but this is how it’s developed over the years in my kitchen. You’ll need a large skillet with a cover. I use a 5-quart covered sauté pan and sometimes make 2 pans at a time for a larger group.
- 2 tablespoons each canola oil and salted butter
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 stalk celery, sliced and diced
- 1 small carrot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Pinch crushed red pepper
- 1 cup white rice (I choose Uncle Ben’s for this.)
- 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes, puréed, or 2 medium fresh tomatoes, puréed
- 1/2 cup Chicken broth or more as needed
SAUTÉ VEGETABLES: Heat a large, deep skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat and add oil with the butter. Let butter melt and stir in onion, celery, and carrot; sauté, stirring, 5-7 minutes until softened. Add garlic and season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.
SAUTÉ RICE: Sprinkle in rice evenly and cook, stirring, until rice is translucent and just beginning to change color; do not burn. Add a bit more oil if needed.
POUR IN LIQUIDS, BOIL/REDUCE HEAT/COVER + COOK: Mix puréed tomatoes and chicken broth to make about 2 1/4 cups of liquid. Stir into rice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a bare simmer, cover, and let cook about 20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, checking a time or two for dryness. If the liquid is totally absorbed and the rice isn’t tender, add more broth or water, cover, and continue cooking a few more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
SERVE HOT: Serve hot or warm and pass a bottle of hot sauce at the table. Cold rice is also a lovely snack.
COOK’S NOTE: I like this rice simple, a tish on the tomatoey-sweet side and rather plain as a foil to more spicy foods, but you can also add herbs (oregano, basil, ground cumin, parsley), as well as additional heat in the form of minced jalapeño or more crushed red pepper. Fresh cilantro leaves and freshly-squeezed lime juice for garnishes can be served at the table with the rice.
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Thanks for reading today and welcome to new subscribers. I’m glad you’re spending more time at the table and will look for you around the blog! COOK ON.
Sing a new song; make some enchiladas and celebrate the first day of sandals,