Friday, April 27, 2012

Enchiladas verdes recipe

tomatillos

When I used to go home to Houston, my first stop after I got off the plane was a restaurant called Amalia’s. It was a Tex-Mex joint and on the menu there was one of my favorite dishes—enchiladas verdes.

Amalia’s enchiladas verdes were the best in their class. The sauce wasn’t complex, as it was just a tomatillo, serrano, garlic and cilantro blend. And the meat wasn’t fussy, as it was just sweetly caramelized little bites of pork that were both crisp and juicy. But when you combined those two with homemade corn tortillas, melted cheese, onions, avocadoes and sour cream, you suddenly had a plate of food that felt like home.

Now, I realize this is a restaurant dish I’m talking about, and one thing I’ve learned through the years is that nothing beats home cooking. But there was something to these enchiladas—which I’d been eating since I was 10—that made me happy. Amalia’s was a family restaurant so I suspect some love was added to each plate.

But then late last year I received sad news. The owner’s daughter had read an article in which I expressed my admiration for the enchiladas verdes, and while she thanked me for the mention she informed me that her mother Amalia had decided to retire and close her eponymous restaurant.

salsa verdes

Now, this might sound odd, but the news was devastating—it was almost as if a friend had died. For most of my life this had been my go-to restaurant, with the enchiladas verdes my first choice for a meal whenever I returned to Houston. Heck, one time my mom even got it as a to-go order for me since my flight arrived long past serving hours. She laughed as I came into her kitchen and stood at the counter eating my order of enchiladas straight from the container long past midnight. But if you have a favorite dish that you can’t find anywhere else then you completely understand.

Fortunately, the last time I ordered the enchiladas I took notes. “Tomatillo, serrano, cilantro and garlic,” was what I had written, which was a good place to start. There were also plenty of photos of the plate to guide me. It wasn’t much, but as it was all that I had, it would just have to work if I was going to make this dish at home.

Amalia’s salsa had a mellowness to it, which implied it was cooked as tomatillos are pretty tangy in the raw. To recreate it, at first I tried roasting the tomatillos and aromatics under the broiler, but the salsa was too strong and smoky. I then tried pureeing the vegetables with a long cooking time afterwards, but this version was still not quite right.

After a few more unsuccessful attempts, I read about a Hatch chile salsa that boiled everything before throwing the ingredients into the blender. I was a bit dubious, but I tried the method with my tomatillo and serrano salsa. Well, wouldn’t you know it—the boiling was the key and the result was a balanced salsa verde that was smooth enough to be eaten on its own but was also an excellent companion to the tortillas, cheese and pork.

While my favorite enchiladas verdes always had carnitas as the filling, you could just as easily use chicken, beans or cheese, too. Though I insist you top the enchiladas with slices of onion and avocado as these add yet another layer of flavor as you tuck into each bite.

enchiladas verdes

As with all recreations, these enchiladas aren’t exactly like the ones I grew up eating, but they’re still very good. I’ll miss driving straight from the airport to get my plate, but fortunately there are still plenty of other dishes that also say, “Welcome!” You know how it is—that first taste of Texas that tells you that you’re home.

Enchiladas verdes
For the salsa verde:
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled, cut into wedges
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 or 2 serrano chiles, cut in half, stems removed (depending on how hot you want it)
1 cup cilantro, leaves and stems
Salt to taste

For the enchiladas:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
2 1/2 cups cooked carnitas or cooked shredded chicken
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Muenster, Asadero or Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream
1/2 medium onion, peeled, cut into rings
2 peeled and pitted avocadoes, cubed

Method:
To make the salsa, place the tomatillos, onion, garlic, serrano chiles and cilantro in a large pot. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil on high. Continue to boil uncovered for 10 minutes or until the tomatillos go from a bright green to a light, muted green (If the water doesn’t cover them completely, don’t add more water just turn the tomatillos in the pot halfway through the cooking so all sides are exposed to the boiling water). Turn of the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the pot contents to a blender and blend until smooth. (If you don’t let the vegetables cool, the steam will make the blender lid pop off, which makes for a bit of a mess.) Add salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish and spread 1 cup of the salsa along the bottom. In a skillet, heat up the oil on medium-low heat. One at a time, heat up the tortillas in the oil, and then keep them wrapped in a cloth or tortilla warmer until all the tortillas are heated.

To assemble the enchiladas, take a heated tortilla, place 1/4 cup of the cooked carnitas or chicken down the center, and then roll the tortilla. Place filled tortilla in the baking dish and repeat.

Pour evenly over the rolled enchiladas the rest of the salsa. Top with the shredded cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbling. Serve warm topped with sour cream, onion slices and avocadoes.

Yield: 4-6 servings

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60 comments:

Anonymous said...

Finally!!!! Whenever I visit my friends in CA I always have chicken enchiladas with salsa verde. Yummy!! Puts a big smile on my face every time...for weeks :). But trying to find a recipe that works has been difficult. I will certainly give this one a try. Now, I live in a city in Canada and will probably not be able to find fresh tomatillos. So don't cringe.....how badly will the sauce be if I had to use canned (yikes) tomatillos?
Pat

Janus said...

Maybe you can get in touch with Amalia and see if she would be willing to share her salsa recipe here.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Pat--It should be fine--I'd use two 11-ounce cans of tomatillos, drained.

Janus--You know, I'd thought about asking the daughter for her recipes!

Class factotum said...

I wish I'd known about Amelia's. The last time we went to Houston, we plotted our eating very carefully. My husband's favorite CFS place, Dirty's, had closed, so we did some research and picked Hickory Hollow (amazing CFS photo at link), which was very good. We ate cajun at the Ragin' Cajun, which isn't as fun anymore now that it is fancy. We got Mexican at some dive that I don't even remember, but it is hard to go wrong with Mexican in Houston. Goode Company for BBQ, but that was because they did the catering before the football game.

It was easier to plan our food on the trip to Memphis last spring because it had only been three years since I had moved. It's been more than 20 years since I've lived in Houston and things have changed a lot.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Class Factotum--Things have indeed changed a lot over the years! Though Ninfa's on Navigation is still as good as it always was. Next time you're there check out El Real--it's good stuff, too.

Kalyn said...

I've felt that same way when a couple of my favorite restaurants have closed. But this recipe sounds like a great replacement.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Kalyn--It's hard, isn't it? But yes, these definitely hit the spot.

Melissa said...

My Mexican ex-SIL taught me to boil tomatoes or tomatillos and the jalapeƱo for salsa. It is so easy and makes the best salsa. If I'm forced to use canned tomatillos I just boil the pepper and use the tomatillos straight from the can.

Anna said...

Hi, I love your site, used to live in Texas as a kid, but now living in the UK. As I can't get fresh tomatillos over here and just barely canned, I figured I'd use the canned as someone mentioned here above. Two questions: would you drain the tomatillos? and if so would you still add the 3 cups water to boil them in or would you adjust that at all?

Kimberly said...

Lisa...I've tried a couple of your recipes from your cookbook...they were wonderful. I can't wait to try these enchiladas...my hubby LOVES 'em.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Melissa--Doesn't it make the best salsa? I'm so happy I discovered this!

Anna--Yes, I'd drain the tomatillos because the canning liquid is usually pretty salty. And I'd cut back on boiling the tomatillos since they're already cooked. Just boil the other ingredients in the water and then throw in the tomatillos after seven minutes or so.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Kimberly--Thank you! That makes my day to hear you're enjoying the cookbook.

Anna Lee said...

The best green enchiladas in Houston are at Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen on Wooday and Voss or Westheimer and Dairy Ashford. Ask for the Hidalgo or the Mexico City enchiladas.

rembret said...

Lisa, You always have such beautiful photos on your blog. Do you do all the styling and take the them yourself?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Anna Lee--Sylvia's is great!

Rembret--Thank you! Yes, I do all the shooting and styling myself.

starre said...

some mexican friends of mine taught me how to make salsa like this too. You can boil tomatoes, jalapeno and garlic for a red salsa. Never tried simmering the cilantro thats new to me. Also a splash of cream is good for a creamy sauce and you can cook the peppers and such in chicken stock instead of water

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Starre--Your variations sound fabulous--I can't wait to try them!

Farmer Jen said...

Yum! Just the thing to use up all of those tomatillos I grew in my garden last summer.

Kay said...

Lisa, I love your book. I moved to Connecticut after a lifetime in Texas, and 30 of those years in Houston. I usually plan my meals in Houston days before I arrive. I'm trying to remember Amalias - where was it?

Let me low if you figure out how to make Shipleys donuts!

Anonymous said...

Erika W,
Your final recipe is the one I have been cooking for my Texan husband (and myself) for 25 years, except that I also add chopped white onion to the food processor mix before boiling. It is one of our top meals and the recipe came from a Tex-Mex friend in Austin. For some years I had to grow my own tomatilloes, here in Delaware, but now they are often available and I make and 2-3 containers of the salsa verde and freeze them. I do make my own tortillas as the bought ones are pathetic and usually stale. My MIL nicely brought me a tortilla press from El Paso.

I enjoy your web site so much and you prevent home sickness in this family!

Mandy said...

Lisa. I was born and currently live in Houston, but have developed food allergies. Eating out, the local pastime, can be frustrating and dangerous for me. So, I use your recipes to make the food I love to eat out, here, at home. Thanks for all the deconstructing you do!

jerrie lee said...

my mouth started watering when i read the recipe which went well with my eyes tearing up when i read the story. thanks lisa.....

Ellicia said...

Thank you for jogging my memory. This brought to mind a pico recipe I had forgotten about. At this time of the year the 1015's, or as my family calls them Aggie Onions, are in. My friend used to bring this to work. He would blanch the tomatoes and fresh jalapenos in boiling water for a bit before he chopped them up with the fresh onion and cilantro to make his pico. The tomato and jalapeno mellowed out against the sweet tang of the onion and cilantro.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Farmer Jen--It's a great way to use up your tomatillos!

Kay--It was out in Cypress on Louetta.

Erika--That's a great tip for making it in advance. And isn't it wonderful to have fresh tomatillos? I remember when I could only get canned ones, but now I can even get them at the farmers market in the summer.

Mandy--You're very welcome. I'm glad you're able to still eat well at home.

Jerrie Lee--You're very welcome.

Babs George said...

Hi Lisa, My husband loves most any type of spicy,Tex-Mex or Mexican concoctions. However, he is a cilantro hater. Any ideas for substitutions or ways to camouflage this typical Mex food ingredient? Your recipes are all so good. I usually just don't even try any with cilantro. Leaves a lot of good recipes on the wayside. Thanks!

Bruce said...

Do you add the vegetables and the water to the blender oe just the veggies and drain the water?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Babs George--There's no good substitution but it will be fine without the cilantro, so you can leave it out of the recipe.

Bruce--Add the cooking water to the blender along with the vegetables.

Susan said...

Ah, Lisa ... does every out of state Texan run straight for Tex-Mex upon arrival in The Great State? Certainly my family and friends do.

I don't know why, but this recipe reminded me of the chile relleno at Mattito's in Dallas. It's an Anaheim with very light breading - not eggy, spongy, or soggy - filled with beef, chicken, seafood, or veggies. It's topped with pecans and raisins and a bit of sour cream. Heaven.

I've never been able to replicate it, but have had fun trying. If ever you eat at Mattito's, order this gem.

Your cookbooks reside in our family kitchens - already splattered and dog-eared. Thank you for deconstructing these wonderful Texas foods for those of us who can't be home.

Susan

p.s. So happy to be able to make Magnolia's gingerbread pancakes - they are a must have any time we're in Austin. Thanks again.

AustinCFoster said...

Made this sauce tonight and both my hubby and I thought it was awesomely good - even using canned tomatillas. I used 1.5 serranos, mild enough for him, and added a little hot sauce on my portion. I added just a dash of fat free half&half to give it a little creaminess, which i thought was good, but not necessary. used some leftover fajita chicken meat with the peppers and onions chopped up for the filling, then added a can of drained black beans around the filled tortillas. I only made 4 enchiladas, so with half the sauce, it was very well sauced! Used low fat Mexi-cheese blend and some regular pepper-Jack for topping it. Baked at 375 for 30 minutes, which was about right for the amount of sauce. Good one - rest of the sauce is waiting in the freezer :-)

Joy Tilton said...

I miss Ninfa's Verde Enchiladas so much. We used to live in San Antonio, there's just no place here with the same kind of food. This recipe will make me happy... making it today! Thanks for sharing another great recipe and always love your thoughts!

janna said...

Chicken enchiladas verde are my go-to order for any Mexican restaurant. Of course, none of the so-called Mexican restaurants here in Iowa have them, so I've tried making them myself. (I can get tomatillos, etc., -- but no one who owns a restaurant seems to know what to do with them!) My results have been okay, but I'll definitely be trying yours!

janna said...

I also meant to say -- in response to Babs, whose husband is a cilantro hater -- I don't like raw cilantro either (tastes like soap) but if it's cooked, I'm okay with it. Maybe the same is true with him? It took me years in San Antonio to figure that out -- and to realized that I"m not alone in thinking it tastes like soap!

Jay said...

looks super yummm & healthy
new to your space
awesome space you have
interesting posts with nice presentation
happy following you..;)
do stop by mine sometime
Tasty Appetite

Anonymous said...

sounds about right. i'm from houston but don't know this amalias, but i have a recipe from a friend whose grandmother make an awesome tomatillo salsa and she basically boils everything (but hers includes regular tomatoes too) together then blends it up. it's amazing!

flowercityfoodie.com said...

This recipe sounds similar to the one that was accredited to you in Country Living Magazine a couple of months ago. It used canned tomatillos instead of fresh. I made that recipe a week or two ago and it was phenomenal! Definitely a good option for those of us who have a harder time getting fresh tomatillos.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Susan--Every homesick Texan I know goes straight for the Tex-Mex, unless they hit the barbecue instead. Thank you for the kind words about my cookbook--I'm so pleased y'all are enjoying it!

AustinCFoster--Glad y'all liked it!

Joy--You're very welcome. Hope the recipe makes you feel closer to home.

Janna--Good point!

Jay--Welcome!

Anon--I like the addition of regular tomatoes! I'll have to try that sometime.

Flowercityfoodie--The Country Living recipe had a sour cream sauce with some tomatillos thrown in for tang while this is just straight tomatillos--that's the difference. But both are wonderful!

stephaniet said...

Fantastic! Made these this weekend from whole frozen tomatillos from the garden and it worked great!(Poured the water over them while still frozen and hit the gas. I added a little lime juice and cumin before blending (I think the frozen added extra moisture) and it made more than I needed for the enchiladas....thank you! Love your recipes and stories! Do you think that beer would be a good substitute for water here?! :)

joanna said...

We loved Amalia's! Amalia's was where my mother pointed out, when I was 11 years old, that I was officially too "developed" to reach across the table and help myself to food, because my boobs were getting in my enchiladas.

SeattleDee said...

I'm giving this recipe a whirl over the weekend! After reading through the comments & responses, I'm almost ready to give canned tomatillos a second chance - almost. It's challenging to find fresh produce when we travel north in the summer.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Stephaniet--So glad the recipe worked well with your frozen tomatillos. I've never frozen any, but will have to do that later this year when they're at the farmers market. And I think beer could be an interesting substitution for the water. A salsa verde borracha!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Joanna--What a memory!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

SeattleDee--You can definitely use canned tomatillos. Just make the adjustment for cooking as they're already cooked. Enjoy!

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

I have a bunch of tomatillo plants going in next week...This looks wonderful. I love the idea of boiling and then blending. Typically I roast mine, but this looks easier and I bet the flavor is sharper...

Leanne said...

I am so grateful to you for your experimentation with this!! I'm a native southern New Mexican, transplanted to the east coast, and your practice of heading straight to your favorite restaurant immediately after arriving back home is a familiar one. These look perfect and absolutely authentic ... I cannot wait to try them!! Thanks!

Joy Tilton said...

Thanks so sharing one of my favorites, I'll make this time and again! I felt the same way when Ninfa's closed at San Antonio, loved their food. It's hard to say goodbye to our favorite places, the recession took it's toll on some and just like Amalia's families don't always want the long hours of restaurant work forever. Love your recipes and they make me feel like I'm still in Texas!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a while, but this is the first time I have commented. Made your carnitas yesterday, and used them in the enchiladas verdes tonight...was incredible. I'm a Wisconsin girl, but I think I have a little Texas in my soul....thank you for the fabulous recipes!

fortworthtomemphis said...

As a native Texan (Fort Worth area), I've been craving enchiladas verdes like the ones I used to get from a little restaurant my parents and I used to frequent. Within the past couple of weeks I've been SCOURING the interwebs for a recipe that reminds me of the enchiladas I used to love.

I will definitely have to give this one a whirl and see if it hit's the spot.

meatballsandmilkshakes.com said...

These sound amazing and I have really been craving enchiladas lately--will have to try them!

Tracee said...

I always broil my tomatillos, peppers, onion, and garlic. I get mixed results and I can only attribute that to the tomatillos themselves. If they are a bit too bitter, I find that the juice of a lime, then add sour cream a teaspoon at a time to cut the acidity. Too much sour cream and it's ruined though. It's a fine line.

Rosie said...

I'm going to give this a try. I've been using a recipe that calls for simmering the tomatillos till they soften, then throwing them (with some of the liquid), cilantro, onion, garlic, serranos into a blender. Then you pour the puree back into a hot saute pan and saute till reduced by 1/3. I've had great luck with this and people love it.
But I'm always interested in different ways to make salsa verde and want to see if this will replace mine or just be a great alternative.
Glad I found your blog - looking forward to trying many recipes.
Even though I was originally from the East Coast, I lived decades in California (where I had my first enchilada!) and had many visits to Baja California. I'm back on the East Coast and decent ethnic restaurants are hard to come by in my area, so I have to make everything at home.
Thanks

the dated said...

Made this for lunch...Yum!

a second chance? said...

I am a Mexican gal living in good 'ol Cali.
I've read all the post regarding the enchiladas verdes and think that everyone has awesome tips.
Homesick Texan, you may want to try something that I usually do when I make enchiladas rojas.
After the salsa is done, drizzle some oil (or lard - usually, restaurants use this to fry), in a hot pan and once it's hot, dip the tortillas in the salsa and then into the oil (warning - a lot of hot oil will splatter), for just about a minute on each side. And then, continue as usual :) I myself could never resist...once the contents are in the enchilada, I have to try the first one or three as I stand there doing the rest :p
Anyway, this might be the one lil step that will be most reminiscent of Amalias???
Btw, cumin is a staple for us when making this dish as well as not boiling down the cilantro, that really dissipates it's flavor, we always add it at the very last moment possible.

a second chance? said...

I apologize, I forgot to include my name....
Kari :)

Anonymous said...

Do u add the water from the pot to the blender as well,or just the vegtables?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Anon--Yes, I add both the water and the vegetables to the blender.

Shannon Mader said...

Wow! Finally I made my favorite...Green Enchilada Sauce! I am a Cali. Mexican/Italian 49 yr. girl. all these years I thought it would be too hard! With your recipe...it was a breeze! Luv your story with this recipe...had to try it! It is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. It will now be a family tradition at our table...woohooooo! XO

Robin Cowley said...

Cooked this for friends last night - it was a huge success. This is the third tasty recipe I have cooked from your blog, so thank-you so much for taking the time.

MelissaM said...

I made these and they tasted fantastic but the corn tortillas turned mushy and it ended up serving up more like a casserole since I couldn't get the enchiladas out of the pan without them falling apart. Any ideas of what I did wrong?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Melissa--Could be a number of things, such as the quality of the tortillas or how long you cooked the tortillas in the oil. Instead of frying them first, you could just dip the tortillas in the warm salsa to soften them before rolling.

Bill R. said...

Lisa, I cant wait to try this. Our family gets tired of Turkey/Ham by Xmas time so we usually have a Tex-Mex Xmas dinner. My wife's family are all from New Orleans so I have somehow been nominated as the Tex-Mex Chef. Your book has saved me many times. Thanks again, Bill R. Houston,TX

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