The Green Ones
Enchiladas have been a favorite in my family for many many years. My grandma has been making them longer than I have walked this Earth. And they are wonderful, let me tell you. When she makes them, my dad, uncles, and my aunt all go nuts almost to the point of violence. Well, not really, but you get the picture. It's an event. It's something to behold. It's bigger than all of us.
The problem I have now is that her enchiladas are filled with beef. And since I no longer eat my fellow Earthlings, I had to come up with an alternative. I fancy my standards pretty high when it comes to the culinary arts. If it isn't amazing, why waste your time, right? That being said, I needed something that might rival my grandma's legendary enchiladas. (Grandma, if you're reading this, they'll never be as good as yours) Now, I don't know if mine are even close but they are pretty freakin' good if I might say so myself.
You can fill an enchilada with a million different things and make them taste good. But the most important component of a good enchilada is the sauce in which you cover it. I have searched the world (wide web) over for a decent enchilada sauce. The vast majority of those out there are tomatillo based. And this is all well and good but in my humble opinion, tomatillos are a touch too twangy. Say THAT 5 times fast! Now, I'm not adverse to a touch of twang. But gosh twang it, to much twang is twagic. Okay, I've gone too far. Sorry.
So I did what any desperate dude would do in a situation like this. I looked at the ingredients list on the the back of a can of Las Palmas enchilada sauce. The main ingredient? Green chile peppers!! Not a tomatillo to be found.
My brain did, however, tell me that no tomatillos at all is probably not the right way to go. After all, why would 90% of all the enchilada sauce recipes out there call for them if it wasn't right? Right? A little twang is good but we needed to counter-balance it with a bit of mild chile pepper flavor.
The plan of attack was to make a tomatillo based sauce and, also, to make a chile pepper based sauce and do a side-by-side comparison. The tomatillo sauce was fantastic. However, it was a bit twangy. How did I not see that one coming? The chile pepper sauce was also fantastic but it need a bit of.....I dunno.....twang.
Eureka!! A combo!! Half tomatillo, half chile pepper.
This recipe will make roughly 20 enchiladas depending on how well you portion your filling. I like to make extra so I have leftovers for days. You can easily cut this recipe in half if you want a smaller batch. However, if you choose to go full throttle, you're gonna need two baking dishes to accommodate the 20 enchiladas.
For The Sauce:
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound Anaheim peppers, rough chopped and seeded
2 poblano peppers, rough chopped and seeded
1 pound tomatillos, quartered
1 medium onion, yellow or white
5 garlic cloves
1-2 jalapenos, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp salt (I use a seasoning salt called Johnny's. Better flavor than salt and less sodium)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups veggie stock
For The Enchiladas:
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 half red bell pepper, julienned
1 half yellow onion, julienned
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, shredded and divided
2.25 oz sliced olives (you can also used diced if you prefer smaller pieces)
2 15 oz cans of black beans
1 15 oz can of vegetarian refried beans
1/2 cup of cilantro leaves, chopped (from about 10 sprigs)
24 corn tortillas
Heat oil in a large skillet to a medium high heat. Add the anaheims, poblanos, tomatillos, onion and garlic. There will quite a bit of veggies here so you may have to do it in 2 batches. Blacken the veggies a bit in the skillet making sure not to over burn them. See the photo above. This is how they should look when they are done. That blackened parts on the veggies will give your sauce a little bit of smokiness that really adds depth.
Next, place the cooked veggies along with the remaining sauce ingredients and blend until it's smooth. Pour the sauce into a sauce pan and heat on a medium high until it begins to simmer. Turn down the heat and continue to simmer on low for about 10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes or so.
To Prepare The Enchiladas:
Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the bell pepper, onion and black pepper. Saute for about 3-5 minutes. You want the veggies cooked about halfway but still a little crisp. Remove from heat and add to large bowl. Add 1 cup of the cheese, the olives, black beans, refried beans, and cilantro to the bowl. Combine the contents of the bowl with your hand or a spoon until evenly distributed. You'll want to "fold" these ingredients together being careful not to smash the veggies and the black beans.
Take a half cup or so of the enchilada sauce and spread it around the bottom of your baking pan. This will help your enchiladas from sticking to the pan after baking.
Wrap your tortillas in a kitchen towel and heat them in the microwave for 30-45 seconds. I do them in batches of five so they are not all heated at once. This way you can heat five, assemble five, then heat five more and so on. You want them warm so they are pliable and you can easily wrap your ingredients in them without breaking the tortilla. Some people might fry them in oil to achieve this but it just adds too many unneeded calories. Once you have your first five tortillas heated, take one and dip it into the sauce to coat. Then, add your filling to the center of the tortilla and roll it up. Place it into the pan and repeat this process until all the enchiladas are assembled.
Once all are assembled, spread some more of the sauce onto the top of the enchiladas to cover them a bit. Don't feel obligated to use all of the sauce. This recipe may make a bit more sauce than you actually may need or prefer. Then take the remaining cheese and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the enchiladas. Cover the pans with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
Traditionally, enchiladas are topped with shredded lettuce. I usually put the lettuce on the plate under the enchiladas and serve them immediately before the lettuce wilts. I personally prefer Romaine or iceberg lettuce. It gives a little crunch with each bite and the contrast of the warm enchiladas to the cool lettuce is quite nice.
You can also top them with avocado, sour cream, Mexican crema, fresh diced tomatoes, etc. Me? I just like the enchiladas over the lettuce only. I don't like to smother them with too much other stuff. This way, I get the full flavor of the dish.