I decide to pick the tomatillos myself. They are for the green enchiladas I am making for the fiesta. The tomatillos must be plump and firm, smooth and shiny, a little sticky to the touch. Their husks, delicately veined, are almost as translucent as those of the wings of a dragon fly lightly skimming the water. The enchiladas will be stuffed with a savory tomato-y garlic-y chicken/potato filling that blends perfectly with the green light tanginess of the enchilada sauce. What better way to celebrate spring and summer and new beginnings than with an enchilada dish that tastes as beautiful as it looks? As much as I love spicy red enchiladas, I think I prefer eating them during the fall and winter months, when cool weather calls for big, bold flavor.
My husband and I start preparing for la fiesta. I cook the chicken and enchilada sauce the day before. My husband, the real baker (though not the butcher or the candlestick maker) of us two, whips up not one but two cakes. One is chocolate, his favorite "vegetable" as he calls it, studded all around with almond slivers; the other is a vanilla cake—its insides stuffed to the gills with fresh strawberries he bought from a neighboring field. He tops it with a little plastic wedding cake ornament and some tiny pink satin ribbon roses. Leave it to my viejo to make a homey cake, perhaps a little corny but very heartfelt (and not to mention out of this world delicious). When our friends sit down a la mesa, there is a huge green salad, beer marinated barbeque chicken, tender carne asada, sopa de fideo con tomates (a "dry" pasta soup made with chicken broth and tomatoes), corn tortillas, fresh from the tortilla factory, a blazing hot red chile salsa. Gloria brings a large bowl of pico de gallo. Lina shares some creamy beans made Puerto Rican style made with secret spices and chicken broth.
Celebrating en lo fresco with my husband and friends who are also family, surrounded by my garden of flowers, the sounds of our favorite mariachi music, my mother's manteles (tablecloths) and candlesticks, I feel the past and present converging in a brightly colored kaleidoscope of emotion. In my garden, there is mingling of joy and una dulce tristeza (a sweet melancholy)—as exquisite as the tangy coolness of some hot green tomatillo enchiladas on a brilliant spring afternoon.
As evening descends on the fiesta, we all look on as Beatríz and Mateo and Marina and David cut my husband's cake.
Green Tomatillo Enchiladas with Chicken/Potato FillingTraditionally, enchiladas are not heated up in the oven. However, if you are cooking for a crowd and need to heat them up in the oven for a little while (pre-heated to 350º), make sure to add a bit of enchilada sauce to the bottom of the casserole dish so the enchiladas won't stick to the bottom. I don't know about you, but I like to fry my corn tortillas before dipping them in the enchilada sauce. They maintain their shape better and I love the toasty flavor. If you are concerned about fat, do yourself a favor and don't smother these beautiful enchiladas under a fat-laden blanket of cheese. Let the wonderful flavor of the tomatillo shine through. A little queso fresco or cotija will do just fine. Also, save any left-over chicken broth, chicken filling or enchilada sauce to make delicious soups or tacos.
Ingredients for Chicken/Potato Filling:
1 whole chicken, rinsed, with giblets, neck, etc. removed
2 large potatoes, scrubbed
½ white onion
1 carrot, peeled and cut up
2 sprigs cilantro or parsley
1 large red juicy tomato, puréed in the blender; OR, one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce (If your tomato isn't super sweet and juicy, this time I'd go for canned tomato sauce.)
1 Knorr's® chicken flavored bouillon cube (optional)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
pinch oregano or to taste
Ingredients for Green Tomatillo Enchilada Sauce:
2 lbs. of tomatillos, husks removed
1 to 3 serrano chiles, stems removed
¼ to ½ white onion
2 cloves garlic
½ to 1 cup fresh cilantro to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
pinch of powdered cumin
seasoning salt to taste
crema mexicana, or sour cream(optional)
12 (one dozen corn tortillas)
To Cook Chicken/Potato Enchilada Filling:
Put the chicken in a large pot and fill with water to cover. Bring it to a boil. When the water becomes scummy, remove the chicken from the pot and discard the water (who likes scummy broth anyway? I don't.) Rinse the pot and put the chicken right back in. Add potatoes, pureed tomato or tomato sauce, bouillon cube, cilantro, onion, garlic, bay leaf, cilantro, oregano, and pepper. Add water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. Remove the vegetables from the broth and discard. Skim some of the fat off the chicken broth. If you are preparing the enchiladas a day in advance, let the chicken and the broth cool down before putting them in the refrigerator for the night. The next morning, you can skim off the fat from the chicken broth if you wish.
To Make the Green Tomatillo Enchilada Sauce:
Put the tomatillos and one inch of chicken broth in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the tomatillos are soft and fully cooked. (In the meantime, shred the cooked chicken, peel and chop the potatoes into small bite-sized pieces. Cover and keep warm.) Put the cooked tomatillos in a blender with ¼ white onion, garlic, serrano chile(s). Blend until smooth. Now add the cilantro and blend for a few seconds more.
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a saucepan. Add the tomatillo mixture, a pinch of cumin and seasoning salt to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit of chicken broth. If it is too thin, reduce by simmering uncovered for a little while.
Take a corn tortilla and heat on a hot heavily oiled skillet or griddle. Flip it once or twice until the tortilla is soft and flexible, about 10 seconds (don't worry if the tortilla is a little toasty). Using a spatula, lift the corn tortilla and dip it into the warm enchilada sauce for a few seconds. Then transfer the tortilla to a plate or other flat surface. Add a large spoonful of chicken/potato filling to one end of the tortilla. Using your fire-proof macha fingers, tightly roll up the tortilla and place seam side down on a platter or a casserole dish. Pour some hot enchilada sauce over the enchiladas and top with thinly sliced green onion, sliced black olives and or your favorite real cheese or crema mexicana (or sour cream). Serve immediately.