I have lived in upstate New York since 1986 and my steadfast complaint since that time has not been about the weather, although the weather does suck, but about the lack of decent tortillas. While politicians bray about the influx of illegal Mexican immigrants into the country, I have been praying that they would come faster, because we in upstate New York desperately need better food. For example, had I not taken them back to California on occasion, my children would think that a burrito was indistinguishable from a breakfast wrap. It has been a nightmare.
Imagine my surprise and delight at walking into our local grocery chain store, Price Chopper, and finding that they have started to carry passable corn tortillas. First and foremost, you can tell something is a passable corn tortilla when it actually has Spanish on the label. Second, the tortillas should not fall apart when you try to roll them because the purpose of a tortilla is to wrap it around food you want to eat, like eggs or cheese or vegetables or meat. Third, passable corn tortillas do not come in packs of 10. They come in packs of 50 or a hundred. People who eat tortillas eat lots of them, not 10. Price Chopper does not have packs of 50 tortillas, but they do have packs of 18. Hence, “passable,” not necessarily “good”.
They also carry Mexican cheese! Queso blanco and queso fresco. Hannaford, take note! I never thought I would be homesick for Safeway.
My discovery of Price Chopper’s recent enlightenment came on the same day that I bought tomatillo seedlings at the farmers’ market. Things are definitely looking up in upstate.
In honor of the corn tortillas and the tomatillo seedlings, now growing on a pot on the deck and in one of our community sharecropping gardens, I decided to buy some tomatillos and make green enchiladas. My own tomatillos will be ready in early August, but I didn’t want to wait. I broke out my favorite out-of-print Mexican cook book, Josefina Velasquez de Leon’s Mexican Cook Book Devoted to American Homes, to look up her recipe for tomatillo sauce. I changed it a little: she used poblano peppers, I had jalapenos; she used cream, I had one percent milk; she cleaned all of the seeds out of the peppers, I used fewer but left the seeds in one of them; I added cilantro, she didn’t use it. I am sure her sauce is better. She also filled her green enchiladas with larded pork instead of cheese. I part ways with Josefina when it comes to larded pork.
Green Cheese Enchilidas
Makes 18 corn tortillas
about half a pound of tomatillos
4- 8 jalapeno or poblano peppers
1 cup cream or milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
handful of cilantro
salt to taste
1 pound queso blanco or mozzarella cut into 18 sticks about 1/3 inch wide and 3 inches long.
Crumbled queso fresco or maybe feta cheese if you are not a purist
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash to remove the stickiness. Bring a pot of water to boil, add tomatillos and cook about 8 minutes or until a little tender.
Broil the chile peppers for five minutes on a side, or roast them in a cast iron pan at high heat or, better yet, over an open flame, until dark and blistered all over. Place them in a plastic bag for 10 minutes while still hot. Then remove the skins and stems and take the seeds out all but one of them. Be careful, the seeds are really hot and the sting lingers on your fingers. Contact lens wearers, use gloves.
In a blender, mix roasted chile peppers, cilantro and tomatillos for about a minute at high speed. Or grind them by hand in your metate if you have one. I don’t.
Pour sauce into a pot, mix in the cream and egg and heat gently. Add salt to taste.
Put about a cup of the sauce in a baking pan. Dip each tortilla separately in the green sauce. Roll the tortilla around a stick of queso blanco and place in the pan. Repeat until you use all of your tortillas. Add a little more sauce to the top of the filled pan.
Bake for 20- 25 minutes. Sprinkle on crumbled queso fresco, chopped radishes and chopped cilantro. Eat hot.