on enchiladas and why my Spanish sucks.

So tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo. Contrary to popular American belief, this is not Mexican Independence Day (that day is later on in September). May 5 commemorates the day that the underdog Mexicans kicked some serious French ass in a battle oh so long ago.

My friend Charles has told me for years that he thinks I should not celebrate Cinco de Mayo, on principle. He’s gone so far as to say he forbids me to take part in any festivities. I haven’t seen Charles in about 15 years. We’re pen pal type friends – and by that I mean we actually write letters to each other, the old fashioned way with pen and paper. We keep stationary stores in business. Charles hasn’t embraced the Internet age and doesn’t intend to. While it’s true that I type easier than I write, I don’t mind the whole letter thing because it helps me maintain my penmanship which is otherwise used only to sign credit card receipts and make grocery lists. I have never written to Charles about how I usually do celebrate Cinco de Mayo, in the sense that I have Mexican food on that day. I don’t get stinkin’ drunk, I don’t make a total ass out of myself, but I do partake in a bit of When In Rome syndrome.

So lately I’ve been on this somewhat serious quest to learn Spanish. Other than culinary Spanish (like, PLATOS POR FAVOR, and the occasional swear word), my Spanish sucks. Part of the reason is that I don’t devote as much time to learning as I’d like to. The running joke around this house is that I have too many hobbies, and God, do I ever. I like stuff and doing stuff. Perhaps I should specialize and stick to one hobby, but what fun is that? I take an interest in everything. Anyhoo- since I’m learning from these mp3 thingies, I tend to march around the house shouting vocabulary words and verb conjugations, because why not? How else am I going to learn? I haven’t gone so far as to stick Post It notes on everything I own with the Spanish word for whatever it is written on it, but hey that’s an idea!

One word I’ve grown fond of is bocacalle. It’s so much fun to shout out. ¡Bocacalle! Our Hispanic neighbors whose house abuts ours out back probably think I’m nuts for screaming Intersection! and probably wonder what kind of game I’m playing with the dog. I think I like to shout out foreign language words willy-nilly because of my friend Patty. She and I determined that if you’re out in public, one must shout out things like C’EST SI BON and COQ AU VIN because it’s fun, especially if one uses a funny voice. So it’s because of her that I’m now shouting out ¡BOCACALLE! and IMPERDIBLE. Tomorrow I may just shout out things like COMEMOS MUCHOS TACOS because why not? I mean no disrespect. I’m having fun while learning. Allow me this little frivolity.

I’ve made the enchilada dish below a couple of times recently, and I’ll more than likely make it tomorrow. It’s heavily borrowed from one of Rick Bayless’ recipes. I love that man. I wonder if he goes around shouting Spanish words while he marches around his kitchen? It’s an amusing image. I'd like to think he does.

For this recipe, I used a ton of leftover pulled pork from a pork butt I smoked a while ago and froze. I didn’t do anything special to the meat after it defrosted to prep it for its Mexican transformation; I just heated it up. I typically make a North Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce that I mix into smoked pulled pork, but that flavor blends well with this Mexican situation. You could use any leftover meat, or even roast a chicken or buy one already roasted from the grocery store and pull that apart and use that. I have no measurements for the leftover meat; just use whatever you have and you'll probably be fine.

Enchiladas with salsa verde

Small corn tortillas (I buy a big package but only use 12 and save the rest for another recipe. How many you use will depend on how big your baking dish is and how much filling you have).
Leftover shredded meat
Monterey jack cheese (or you can be more authentic and get some queso fresco or even queso Oaxaca)
1 pound of fresh tomatillos, husked and washed
2 serranos or jalapeños, stemmed but not deseeded
 6 or 7 sprigs of cilantro
1 small onion, chopped
Couple of cloves of garlic, peeled
2 cups chicken stock
Vegetable oil

1. Make the salsa verde:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the tomatillos and chili peppers. Cook until the tomatillos are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain.

Toss the tomatillos and peppers into a food processor (or blender) along with the cilantro, the onion, the garlic. Process until smooth but still retaining a texture (I kept mine kind of chunky cos I like it that way). 

Heat up a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, toss in all the tomatillo purée; it will sputter and pop and whatnot and make a racket. Stir, stir, stir. Stir for about 4 minutes, then slowly add the chicken broth. Return to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with about a ½ teaspoon of salt. Set aside and keep warm.

2. Heat up your shredded meat in a saucepan. Heat up another skillet and warm up your corn tortillas one by one for about 30 seconds on each side, then set them to the side until ready to use.

3. Preheat your oven to 350 F.

4. Put some of the warmed salsa verde in a plate, and take one of the tortillas and lay it in there, flip it over (you want all the surfaces of the tortilla to have been shown the sauce), and lay a couple of tablespoons of your pulled meat into the center. Roll it up and put into a baking dish. Do the same with the rest of the tortillas and filling.

5. My baking dish is on the small side, so I have room for 12 rolled and filled tortillas. When your baking dish is full, pour some of the remaining salsa verde over the enchiladas. Top with a tablespoon or two of grated cheese, cover with foil, and put into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at the most. Remove the foil, sprinkle with more grated cheese. Eat. ¡COMEMOS! And yes, my baking dish is in the shape of a pig. ¡UN COCHINO!


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