Like Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo is a much bigger deal in the States than in the cultural home it celebrates. Everyone’s Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, and everyone’s having a fiesta on Cinco de Mayo. I love such wholehearted embracing of the different cultures that comprise This American Life! I couldn’t have anything to do with looking for an excuse to enjoy the excellent food and beverages that those cultures have brought us …
Okay, that might be part of it – but that’s okay. I mean, everyone loves a good party.
Anyway, no one loves Cinco de Mayo quite as much as my sister. Both of my sisters, actually, love all things Mexican food- and drink-related, regardless of the date. You say ¡Fiesta! and they’re in – with maracas and a pinata. Really, they’re more fun than I am.
But I bring the food.
And in their honor (and in the honor of Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín) I offer these appropriately-Americanized (but still more authentic than Taco Bell) Mexican dishes. Enchiladas Verde smothers a comforting chicken and cheese mixture in a pleasantly tart and mildly piquant green sauce built from roasted poblano peppers and canned tomatillos. The Arroz Mexicana starts on the stove and finishes off in the oven, producing a pilaf with clean Mexican flavors that pair well with the enchiladas – or with any grilled meat, I would imagine.
Neither photograph particularly well in their final states, but they taste great, so just go with it.
Now, off to find a margarita …
(adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated, July 2008. Serves 4-6)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion , chopped
3 medium garlic cloves , minced (about 1 tablespoon)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1½ cups chicken broth
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 11-ounce cans tomatillos, drained and rinsed
3 medium poblano chiles , halved lengthwise, stemmed, and seeded
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
Ground black pepper
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
thinly-sliced scallions, sliced radishes, sour cream and pico de gallo to garnish
Adjust oven racks to middle and highest positions and heat broiler.
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering; add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons garlic and cumin; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Decrease heat to low and stir in broth. Add chicken, cover, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking. Transfer chicken to large bowl; place in refrigerator to cool (about 20 minutes.) Remove ¼ cup liquid from saucepan and set aside; discard remaining liquid.
While chicken is poaching and cooling, toss poblanos with remaining 1 teaspoon oil; arrange skin-side up on rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, with poblanos skin-side up. Broil until the peppers blacken and start to soften, 5 to 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cooking. Cool 10 minutes, then remove skin from poblanos. Transfer to the food processor. Decrease oven temperature to 350 degrees. Discard foil from baking sheet and set baking sheet aside for warming tortillas.
Add the tomatillos, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, remaining teaspoon garlic, and reserved cooking liquid to food processor; process until sauce is somewhat chunky, about eight 1-second pulses. Taste sauce; season with salt and pepper and adjust tartness by stirring in remaining sugar, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Set sauce aside.
Pull the cooled chicken into shreds using hands or 2 forks, then chop into small bite-sized pieces. Combine chicken with cilantro and 1½ cups cheese; season with salt.
Spread 3/4 cup of the tomatillo sauce over the bottom of a 13- by 9-inch baking dish.
Place tortillas on 2 baking sheets. Spray both sides of tortillas lightly with cooking spray (or brush lightly with more vegetable oil.) Bake until tortillas are soft and pliable, 2 to 4 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 450-degrees F.
Place warm tortillas on countertop and spread 1/3 cup filling down center of each tortilla. Roll each tortilla tightly and place in baking dish, seam-side down. Pour remaining tomatillo sauce over top of enchiladas. Use back of spoon to spread sauce so that it coats top of each tortilla. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup cheese and cover baking dish with foil.
Bake enchiladas on middle rack until heated through and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes.
Uncover, sprinkle with scallions, and serve immediately, passing radishes, sour cream and pico de gallo separately.
Mexican Rice (Arroz Mexicana)
(adapted, barely, from Cooks Illustrated, September 2004. Serves 4-6)
2 ripe tomatoes (about 12 ounces), cored and quartered
1 medium onion , preferably white, peeled, trimmed of root end,and quartered
3 medium jalapeños
2 cups long grain white rice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1½ teaspoons table salt
½ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime , cut into wedges for serving
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350-degrees F.
Process tomatoes and onion in food processor until smooth and thoroughly pureed, about 15 seconds. Measure the mixture – you should have 2 cups. Spoon off any extra, or add water to equal 2 liquid cups.
Remove ribs and seeds from 2 jalapeños and discard; mince flesh and set aside. Mince remaining jalapeño, including ribs and seeds; set aside.
Rinse rice under cold water in large fine-mesh strainer until water runs clear – about 1½ minutes. Shake strainer to remove all excess water.
Heat oil in heavy-bottomed, oven-safe 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan or Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat, 1 to 2 minutes. Add rice and fry, stirring frequently, until rice is light golden and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and seeded minced jalapeños; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1½ minutes. Stir in pureed tomatoes and onions, chicken broth, tomato paste, and salt; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cover pan and transfer to oven; bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring well after 15 minutes.
Stir in cilantro and reserved minced jalapeño with seeds – to taste. Serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.