Tangy Guacamole Enchiladas

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Roberto Santibanez Truly Mexican Guacamole

Like many Midwestern Americans, I’d venture to guess, my first exposure to Mexican food was convenient, bastardized, and required no cooking at all, unlike the seventy-nine cent frozen burritos we’d zap for dinner once a week. Then, you might ask, could it even be called Mexican food? Probably not. But these were the late eighties, when microwavable TV dinners, velour, and Zubas were all the rage. Tastes were questionable, bad decisions forgivable. Taco John’s was somewhere between the hundred miles of road from our house to the town where my grandparents raised my mom and her sisters. Every single time we made the trip, we’d stop there for hard shell beef tacos and Potato Olés®, those crispy euphoric hashbrown rounds.

Somewhere along the way, thank Christ, I learned the difference between a real taco and a taco that is not. How to make good guacamole. How to ruin a pair of contact lenses while mincing a jalapeño. Sometimes, I wish I had never acquired a taste for fast food, but the seed was planted early. Even if I know better now, sometimes I want to rebel.

Cooking curbs those cravings, in part because it gives me time to reassess what I love about food. It keeps me present, or it transports me, depending on what’s on the stove. Cooking connects us, too, like collective projects tend to do. My new friend Rocio and I met a few weeks ago, while prepping for a big farm dinner in Ham Lake. Rocio is from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and she’s an avid home cook, so it didn’t take us long to land on the topic of food. Pretty soon, we got to talking about our mutual love for the recipes in Truly Mexican. We made plans to fix dinner together, and last week, she came over with her husband Matt to make enchiladas from the book. They brought a homemade hibiscus syrup, which Matt stirred with tequila and triple for the best margarita Annie said she’s had in years. Rocio got to work on the guacamole, and I pureed our tomatillos and chiles for sauce. About three hours later, dinner was ready.

And I came to a conclusion: Mexican food was never meant to be fast. It was meant to be cooked cooperatively. Make this fun. Pull some friends into it and make it an evening. Don’t forget the margaritas (I’ll be back with that recipe for Matt’s, if he’s willing to give it up).

Roberto Santibanez Truly Mexican Guacamole Enchiladas

Guacamole Enchiladas with Guajillo-Tomatillo Beef Sauce (from Truly Mexican)
1 pound tomatillos (10-12), husked and rinsed
3 ounces guajillo chiles (about 12), wiped clean, stemmed, slit open, seeded, and deveined (find these at any Mexican market)
4 cups water, or more
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon aniseed
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon fine salt)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef (or 1 1/4 pounds finely chopped beef sirloin or chuck, trimmed)
12 corn tortillas
guacamole (recipe below)
1/4 cup oil for frying (sunflower, coconut, or vegetable)

Put the tomatillos and chiles in a medium heavy-bottomed pot, add 4 cups of water (enough to cover the tomatillos), and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently, turning the tomatillos and chiles occasionally, until the tomatillos have turned tender, and from lime green to khaki-green in color, about fifteen minutes. They should still be in tact. Gently drain the tomatillos and chiles with a sieve and large pot. (Take care to keep the tomatillos in tact). Also, reserve the cooking liquid.

Put the tomatillos and chiles in a blender. Add the garlic, aniseed, oregano, salt, and about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid. Don’t fill the blender; instead, work in batches. Cover the blender jar with its top, and cover its top with a towel. Hold firmly and blend. Strain the sauce through a sieve to catch the chile skins and seeds (as the photos will show, I forgot this step).

Wipe the original pot clean, and heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in it. Gently pour the sauce into the oil, and let the sauce simmer, stirring often, until it’s thickened slightly, 5-7 minutes.

Add the rest of the reserved cooking liquid and return the sauce to a boil. Add the beef, stirring to break up the meat, and simmer hard. Simmer and stir until the sauce has just thickened to the consistency of a thin Bolognese, or Sloppy Joe mixture. Season with salt, and keep the sauce warm.

Soften the tortillas by heating a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a frying pan. Place one tortilla in the oil let it hang out for about 8 seconds. Carefully, with tongs, flip and let the other side fry for a few more seconds. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel, then roll each tortilla with 2 tablespoons of guacamole. Spoon the beef sauce generously over each plate of enchiladas.

Guacamole (from Truly Mexican)
2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and chopped (skins removed)
a squeeze of lime

Mash the onion, chile, salt, and half the cilantro into a paste. Add avocados, lime, and the rest of the cilantro. Toss, then mash it all, and add additional salt or chile to taste.