...the following is a guest post by my mother. Thanks, mom!
Tomatillos on tile
Food transports us home quicker than clicking our heels together three times. I have been thinking a lot about comfort food as I prepare for a weekend of family—all of our kids, grandkids, and significant others gathering at our house, which, except at Christmas, doesn’t happen very often. I want to cook the foods that everyone loves…that remind them of home and love and hugs. Every family has these foods. Some are family recipes passed down from previous generations. For me these were roast beef and Yorkshire pudding from my mother’s side and Hungarian chicken, matzo ball soup and nutmeg tea cakes from my father’s side. (Obviously, this was BEFORE I stopped eating meat!) Then there are the new recipes we stumble upon or are given and then cook over and over because everyone loves them so much. These foods create new traditions and, at some point, like a stuffed animal with its eyes loved off, transform into symbols of home and love.
When my son David graduated from college and moved to Boston, I made him a cookbook filled with his favorite recipes from his childhood, all of his “comfort” foods. And now that he is coming home with his girlfriend, Alyssa, for five days, I want to cook some of these foods for the family. Today I baked “Mimi” cookies, my grandmother’s out-of-this-world nutmeg tea cakes (I promise to post this recipe another time). And I am planning to make a recipe that is one of my kids’ favorites, that lights up their eyes when I mention it—one of those new recipes that has become one of our family’s traditional comfort foods.
Living so close to the border, Mexican food has always reminded our family of home, so much so that we created a tradition of greeting our college kids at the airport on their trips home with a fresh and warm burrito, usually devoured by the time we collect their suitcase at the luggage counter. Burritos are delicious, but the Mother of all Mexican Comfort Food in our house is my tomatillo enchiladas. I was given the recipe for tomatillo sauce thirty years ago and I’ve been making these melt-in-your-mouth enchiladas ever since. Tomatillo enchiladas are one of those dishes worth the little extra time it takes to create because they are so amazing. I guess I think of them as “special occasion” comfort food, and there could not be a more special occasion than all of us being together.
At Rachel's senior recital last Fall
To make this recipe less time intensive, I make the sauce a day or two ahead. You can also prepare your fillings ahead of time. The traditional, non-vegetarian fillings are chicken or fresh crab but I recently came up with a spinach filling that is to die for. And, it takes no time putting these together if you get some help with the final assembly. We made these on Saturday after playing in the pool all day, and since all of the fillings and the sauce were made ahead of time, we had dinner ready in 30 minutes, especially since I had such great helpers!
Try to get the best quality corn tortillas you can get…the thicker the better. We get ours from a tortillerilla where they are made fresh every day. If you can’t find them at your grocery store, you can often get good quality tortillas at farmer’s markets or from Mexican restaurants. If you can’t find fresh tomatillos, you can use canned tomatillos, mostly drained, but they’re not nearly as tasty as the fresh ones. (Find these in the Mexican section of your market). Or next summer, grow your own! They are as easy to grow as tomatoes.
2-dozen large tomatillos (also called husk tomatoes), more if they are small
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 Anaheim or 2 jalapeno chiles, chopped, (depending on how hot you want this)
1 onion, chopped
4 T chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
2 corn tortillas
1. Peel off husks on tomatillos, cover with water, and boil until soft and tender.
tomatillos with husks
tomatillos sans husks
tomatillos boiling until they're soft and tender
2. Drain off half of the liquid.
3. Meanwhile, heat half of the oil in saucepan.
Add chiles and onion and cook until soft but not browned.
4. Mash garlic with salt (with mortar and pestle or wooden handle of your knife).
Add cilantro and garlic to onion mixture.
5. Cook 5 more minutes.
6. When tomatillos are cooked, blend with immersion blender until smooth. Add onion mixture to the pureed tomatillos and cook another 5 minutes.
7. Heat the rest of the oil in the pan and fry tortillas briefly on each side, just until soft.
8. Put softened tortillas in blender or food processor with some of the tomatillo sauce and blend until smooth.
Masa made from softened tortillas blended with a little of the tomatillo water.
9. Pour into salsa and whisk in:
(to prevent lumps, make sure the “masa” you made from the tortillas isn’t too thick.).
2 lbs fresh baby spinach leaves (or frozen spinach which has been thawed, drained, and squeezed dry)
2 smashed and chopped garlic clove
2 cups sour cream
1. Cook spinach in a pan with a few drops of water until wilted.
(Do this in batches and drain in a colander, squeezing out all excess water with your hands. )
2. Chop cooked spinach and add the sour cream and garlic.
3. Stir until smooth.
Enchiladas Verdes (tomatillo enchiladas)
Tomatillo Salsa (see above)
Spinach filling, or filling of your choice
1 ½ lb Jack cheese or queso blanco, grated (or any other semi-soft melting cheese)
2 cans chopped roasted peppers (or freshly roasted Anaheim peppers)
1 chopped onion, cooked until soft and not brown
2-3 T chopped cilantro
About 16 tortillas
(If you made the sauce the night before, you'll want to warm it quickly on the stove.)
1. ...Then, put a layer of sauce in the bottom of a large pan.
2. Soften tortillas one at a time, in heated vegetable oil by frying a few seconds on each side:
Use tongs to turn:
(If your tortillas are thin, you might want to turn with a metal spatula so they don’t tear).
3. Drain on paper towels.
4. Put filling ingredients in bowls.
Fillings for enchiladas: spinach and sour cream, cheese (jack or queso blanco), onions and cilantro, and roasted peppers.
5. For each enchilada, place on softened tortilla, 1/16th of spinach, onions, cilantro, and peppers.
6. Sprinkle generously with cheese and roll, placing seam side down in sauce.
7. Continue until all filling is used.
8. Pour more sauce on top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.
(Any leftover sauce can be used as salsa).
9. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese melts, about 20 minutes:
...Top with sour cream mixed with chopped garlic and cilantro and a side of black beans and polenta for an incredible meal!
***I hope you enjoy this recipe and I look forward to sharing with you some of my family’s other comfort foods in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what foods send you home!