Cooking Like a Mexican

 Cooking Like a Mexican

SWISS ENCHILADAS or ENCHILADAS SUIZAS

Tomatillos or “Mexican husk tomatoes” as some people call them, are another ingredient which is 100% Mexican. 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 named both red and green tomatoes the same, so the history is a little fuzzy. One thing is for sure, Natives had a specific name for every kind of tomatillo, like “sand tomatillo” “field tomatillo” and many more. There are at least 100 species, 73 of which can only be found in Mexico. 

Once tomatillos got to Europe though, they were not very well received. People believed these sour vegetables were poisonous, and unripe, and caused hallucinations like some other species in their families, like potatoes and eggplants. Tomatillos back then were considered more like ornamental or medicinal plants.

I have talked about ancient markets before, and I can’t stress enough how amazing they were. Talking about tomatillos here, there were only a limited amount of men who could sell tomatillos, and they also sold chiles, as the rotation of both crops made the earth richer. Most of the documentation we have today is thanks to Fray Bernardino de Sahagún. He was a Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering ethnographer who participated in the Catholic evangelization of colonial New Spain (now Mexico). Born in Sahagún, Spain, in 1499, he journeyed to New Spain in 1529. He learned Nahuatl and spent more than 50 years in the study of Aztec beliefs, culture and history. Though he was primarily devoted to his missionary task, his extraordinary work documenting indigenous worldview and culture has earned him the title of “the first anthropologist”. He also contributed to the description of Nahuatl, the imperial language of the Aztec Empire. He translated the Psalms, the Gospels, and a catechism into Nahuatl. In a 1969 book, Sahagún wrote about tomatillos and their wide range of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, and even pink! The ladies who sold food at the market offered green tomatillo salsa to go with their dishes, and they were also used to season tamales. “yn centetl cacavatl cenpualtetl yn miltomatl” Is a sentence in Sahagún’s book which means “a cacao seed for 20 tomatillos” referring to the price of vegetables in the Teotihuacán market.  

Tomatillos have been found to have many medicinal properties as well, including antibacterial properties, helping with respiratory infections. Besides, these vegetables are being researched to find a cure for cancer. Heart disease and blood pressure can also be reduced by tomatillos because they have such a great positive potassium-sodium relation. Cholesterol levels can also be lowered because this vegetable is high in fiber content. 

This edition 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 the melted cheese? Well, those are a mix of two recipes: green enchiladas and Swiss enchiladas. Yup, swiss, but a Mexican dish anyway, from the second Imperial times. 

THE WHOLE ENCHILADA 

Our story begins at the end of the nineteenth century, while Emperor Maximilian was in power. There was a man, Maximiliano’s butler, who was in charge of the emperor’s nutrition. When the empire fell, the butler had to run away with his family to the state of Coahuila, where he was from and they took a whole trunk full of recipes from the Imperial castle. 

The Mexican Revolution was very hard up north, making the whole family go back to Mexico City. With a great need to make a living and 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 two main versions here: The first one says that the butler’s wife named the dishes at the café after the Hasburg castle. She did that because she loved the emperor’s house so much, she wanted the memory to live on with dishes like “Imperial bread” and Swiss enchiladas. Then, the Sanborns brothers who came from California (Sanborns as in the nationwide fampus restaurant/shop/diner/bar), bought the Imperial café and made the Swiss enchiladas nationwide famous. The second story is more about the name; when Walter Sanborn had this dish, with melted cheese on top he said that the melted cheese reminded him of the snow on the swiss alps, and he named them like that. Both stories are closely related, which makes reference to the name mostly. The important thing is that thanks to these two men we now have an exquisite typical Mexican dish which is often copied but never really achieved! 

Ingredients: 

1 whole chicken breast, boneless, skinless, cooked and shredded. 
18 tortillas 
1 cup sour cream 
¼ sliced onion
1 clove of garlic
18 boiled tomatillos 
2 tablespoons chicken stock seasoning 
3 serrano chiles 
1 cilantro sprig
10 ounces of manchego cheese, shredded 
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: 

For the sauce: 

In a blender, throw together 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, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper. 

Blend the sauce until smooth. Strain if you want a super smooth salsa. 

In a saucepan, heat a spoonful of oil and let the sauce season boil on medium for five minutes. The consistency should be a medium sauce, if it happens to come out too runny, you can boil it a little longer to thicken. 

For the enchiladas: 

Lightly fry the tortillas in a shallow saucepan with about ½ an inch of oil. Once the oil is hot, put the tortilla in for a few seconds and then flip it over for about thirty seconds. Tortillas must be lightly fried so they don’t turn crispy but enough so the enchilada doesn’t fall apart and is flexible. 

Once fried, flip them around in the sauce and stuff them with the shredded chicken and roll them onto an oven-safe plate. On the plate, place the enchiladas and some more sauce on top. Then, put a generous amount of cheese on top of the enchiladas, depending on how many enchiladas you place on the plate. 

Pop the plate in the oven on the highest rack so the cheese melts and starts to bubble and brown a little bit. 

Serve warm, and enjoy! I am always happy to hear from you at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com