Indian cuisine's love for chillies is legendary. Chillies lurk in every corner of my kitchen: the freezer contains "fresh" frozen green and red chillies, the refrigerator contains bell peppers, the pantry stores bottles of dried buttermilk-soaked chillies, and the spice box had a little cylinder of the hottest red chilli powder. Not to mention the fact that chillies have a place in so many of the spice mixes that I use everyday. However, for this month's JFI, I turned to another cuisine that loves and respects its chillies, and uses an astonishing variety of them: Mexican cuisine.
A word about nomenclature: How do you spell this word "chilli" anyway? This has confused me for the longest time. From what I understand (and wiki seems to agree), the most acceptable spellings are Chile (in North America) and Chilli (in the rest of the world). Chili is not the preferred spelling because it more commonly refers to the stew of the same name. Chilly is not the right spelling (it means "cold"). And what about the whole chilli pepper business: is it chilli or is it pepper? Wiki goes on to say that botanically, all chillies and peppers are basically chillies, and that pepper properly refers to our black "peppercorn" pepper. But in common use, chillies are often called peppers or chilli peppers.
Coming back to my Mexican-inspired recipe, here is why an enchilada is an appropriate entry for JFI:Chillies ...Enchilada comes from the verb enchilar (= "to add chilli pepper to") (according to Wiki)! In the simplest form, enchiladas are made by dipping tortillas (corn or flour rotis) into sauce, then rolling them up with some stuffing inside, and baking them with sauce and cheese on top. Enchiladas are messy to make, and messy to eat, and taste absolutely wonderful!
The chilli that I used for the enchilada stuffing is the Poblano Chilli which gets its name from the Pueblo region of Mexico. Poblano chillies are gorgeous- with their lovely shape (it resembles a tapered heart) and a sparkling deep green color.
Their taste varies from sweet and mild to moderately spicy, and you would have to taste them to figure out the spice level of the ones you have bought. Poblanos are often stuffed and deep-fried to make a classic Mexican dish called Chiles Rellenos. Another traditional way is to pair them with potatoes and use them as a stuffing for tacos. In my non-authentic-but-tasty-nonetheless recipe, I pair roasted Poblanos with kidney beans. Here is how I roasted them: (a) Drizzle chillies with 2-3 drops of olive oil each. Rub the oil all over. (b) Place chillies on a sprayed baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F, turning once or twice, until the peel gets blistered. I used a toaster oven for this. (c) Remove chillies from the oven and place them in a covered bowl. When they cool down, the papery skin will peel right off. Cut away the core and slice the chillies.
The salsa I am using today is a home-made salsa verde (green salsa) made with another Mexican ingredient: Tomatillos.
These fruits resemble green tomatoes, however, they are more closely related to gooseberries (amla/ avla). Just like gooseberries, they are very tangy! The salsa is extremely easy to make (boil ingredients together, then puree) and contains no added fat at all. Tomatillos contain come pectin-like substance, and when you let the salsa cool down, it becomes a wonderful thick sauce.
I use store-bought tortillas for enchiladas, have not tried to make my own just yet. I prefer using ones made with corn for enchiladas, but when I opened a pack of beautiful blue corn tortillas (from Whole Foods, bought on Sunday) to make this recipe, I found that it was moldy (!!!). So I ended up using whole-wheat flour tortillas this time.
Salsa Verde(adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, makes 2 cups, originally posted here)
6-8 tomatillos, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 hot green chilli, minced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper/red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
2 tbsp minced fresh basil
2 scallions/ spring onions/ green onions, minced (green and white parts)
1. In a saucepan, combine 1.5 cup water and all ingredients from tomatillos to salt. Bring to a boil, cover partially and simmer for 10 minutes. Let it cool a little.
2. Process this sauce in a blender/food processor/immersion blender to get it slightly smooth (you can leave it as chunky as you like).
3. Let it cool down. Mix in the fresh herbs and scallions. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.
6 flour tortillas or 8 corn tortillas
2 C salsa verde (see recipe above)
1 C loosely packed shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
2-4 Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into strips (see note above)
2 C cooked red kidney beans
1 C loosely packed shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
1 small onion, sliced thin
1/2 C packed minced cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a small, mix together the ingredients for the stuffing. Be gentle with the salt, because cheese contains quite a bit of salt.
2. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
3. Take a square or rectangular baking dish and spread 1/3 cup of salsa all over the bottom of the dish.
4. Place the remaining salsa in a shallow container. Dip each tortilla into the salsa to coat it all over, then place some stuffing in it and roll it up like a cigar. Place it seam side down in the baking dish.
5. Once all the filled tortillas have been placed in the dish, pour the remaining salsa over the tortillas and sprinkle with the cheese.
6. Bake for 25 minutes or so, or until the cheese is all gooey and melty!
For best results, serve piping hot enchilada with a chilled beer, or your favorite juice on ice.
I'll see you on Sunday, with the Z of Indian Vegetables!