Friday, April 25, 2008

Easy enchiladas

Since I got back from my travels, I've been drawn to simpler meals and simpler flavors. Partly, it's because working two part-time jobs is exhausting. But mostly, it's because the trendy American obsession with food--and my obsession with food--has gotten a little exhausting as well. One of the things I loved most about eating in Mexico, Spain, and Korea, was how good food felt very easy. I didn't have to search for it, I didn't have to pay a lot for it, and most of the time, it came from a stand or restaurant that specialized in one thing. More and more, I want to feel that way about the food I cook and eat. I'm still drawn to recipes for Georgian chicken broiled with yogurt or Tunisian chickpea stew, things I can only cook with a carefully drawn out grocery list and a propped-open cookbook, but I'm not making three-course meals for myself these days. My favorite food memories are small and singular, one dish or sometimes even one new, bright fruit, and it feels good to be building new memories that way at home.

So in that spirit, I've been cooking things like pasta in tuna-tomato sauce, or squid sauteed with bitter greens and a splash of soy sauce and lemon juice. And when I'm feeling up for a challenge, like a Rick Bayless fish enchilada recipe, I'm happy not to take on a salad, rice, and a roasted meat at the same time. That way, I can reserve energy to make my own tortillas.

I can't say that I've mastered them, as easy as they are supposed to be with masa harina, the instant tortilla flour. (You can't make truly authentic tortillas at home without fresh masa dough, and because fresh masa dough goes bad so quickly, you can only get fresh masa dough in the U.S. by living next to a tortilla factory.) But they were better than the last time I tried, more flexible and less doughy in my throat. Making tortillas is almost therapeutic, to roll each ball of dough, flatten it in the tortilla press the way I'd seen women do all over the streets of Oaxaca, and toss it on a cast-iron griddle.

The filling was a bit more work. There was the tomatillo-serrano sauce, made by first broiling 12 ounces of tomatillos and 2 serrano chiles under a broiler, about 5 minutes on each side. The tomatillos and chiles then melded in a food processor. In the meantime, I sauteed half a diced white onion until rich and brown, stirred in 2 chopped cloves of garlic, and when that had just cooked a minute more, the onions and garlic got added to the tomatillo-chile mixture and pureed until smooth. The whole sauce had to be transferred to a skillet to be fried, its flavor getting deeper with a bit of fish broth.

Then there was the half a pound of sea bass I bought to poach. I ignored the potatoes in the recipe and focused on the fish, flaking it and then mixing it with half a cup of the tomatillo sauce.

Finally, following Bayless's recipe, I added a bit of thick Greek yogurt to the remaining tomatillo sauce, since I couldn't find any creme fraiche or sour cream at the corner bodega.

The assembly was the easiest part: spoon some fish on a tortilla, fold it over, and then ladle on more sauce with a sprinkling of crumbled cotija cheese (my substitution for the queso anejo I didn't have) and some chopped raw onions and cilantro.

I ate nothing else that night, just these enchiladas with a beer. I was very happy.


Diane said...

Sounds so yummy. Wish I was there.

Megora said...

Hello. I stumbled onto your lovely and mouth-watering blog whilst searching for the cross streets of a restaurant here in Oaxaca. Just wanted to share how much I've enjoyed your culinary anthropology. And even though I've lived in Oaxaca for months now--I find myself following your nose to places I had yet to try. So thanks!