Cooking Like a Mexican

Swiss Enchiladas

Tomatillos, or Mexican husk tomatoes, as some people call them, are another food that is 100% Mexican. You’ve likely seen tomatillos before, although you might not have realized what they were. These are the small, green tomato-like fruits that are covered in a papery husk.

In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the original name for these “berries” (the bushes they grow on look very similar to berry bushes) is tomātl. When the Spanish arrived in America, they gave both red and green tomatoes the same name, so the exact history of the tomatillo is a little fuzzy. But one thing is for sure: the natives had a specific name for each kind of tomatillo, like “sand tomatillo,” “field tomatillo” and many more. There are at least 100 species, and 73 of them can only be found in Mexico.

swiss.JPGAlthough tomatillos were a staple food for the Aztecs, they were not very well received when they were introduced in Europe. People believed these sour vegetables were poisonous, unripe, and caused hallucinations, along with some other species in their families, like potatoes and eggplants. Tomatillos back then were considered more like ornamental or medicinal plants.

Tomatillos are still considered to have many medicinal properties, including helping with respiratory infections. Tomatillos are high in fiber (which helps improves your digestion and lower your cholesterol), but have very few calories and low levels of fat. The antioxidants in tomatillos are also thought to help prevent cancer.

But back to the food. In this column, I have a funny story for you, followed by a delicious recipe. You know the enchiladas you Gringos typically get with the green salsa and white melted cheese? Well, those are a mix between two recipes: green enchiladas and Swiss enchiladas (you might see them listed as enchiladas Suiza in some restaurants). How did Swiss enchilada become a Mexican dish? Read on…


Our story begins at the end of the 19th century, when Emperor Maximilian was in power. Maximiliano’s butler was in charge of the emperor’s diet. When the empire fell, the butler had to run away with his family to his home state of Coahuila, taking with them a trunk full of recipes from the imperial castle.

During the Mexican revolution, the butler and his family had to flee again, this time to Mexico City. Needing to make a living and having nothing but a trunk full of recipes, he and his family set up a restaurant called the Imperial Café, where Swiss enchiladas were born.

There are a couple stories as to how the dish got its name. One of the most common is that the Sanborn brothers, who founded what is now one of the largest store chains in Mexico, bought the Imperial Café and subsequently made the dish famous. The story goes that when Walter Sanborn ate the dish, he said that the melted cheese reminded him of the snow on Swiss Alps. The important thing is that, thanks to these two men, we now have an exquisite authentic Mexican dish that is often copied but never really duplicated!


1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded

18 tortillas

1 cup sour cream

¼ sliced onion

18 boiled tomatillos

2 T chicken stock seasoning

3 serrano chiles

1cilantro sprig

10 oz. manchego cheese, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste



For the sauce:

In a blender, mix the tomatillos, sour cream, serrano chiles (remember, you can make this as spicy or as bland as you like, depending on how many chiles you add) onions, cilantro, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

For the enchiladas:

Lightly fry the tortillas in a shallow pan with about a half inch of oil. Once the oil is hot, put the tortilla in for a minute and then flip it over for about thirty seconds. Tortillas must be lightly fried; just enough so the enchilada doesn’t fall apart, but not crispy.

Once fried, dip the tortillas in the sauce and then stuff them with the shredded chicken. Roll and place seam side down an oven safe plate. Top with the remaining sauce and a generous amount of the manchego cheese. Place in the oven (heated to 350 degrees) on the highest rack, and bake until the cheese melts and starts to bubble and brown a little bit, about 15-20 minutes.

Serve warm, and enjoy!