You know, life hands us surprises sometimes that we do not expect. Sometimes they are unpleasant ones, but often, I have found myself on the receiving end of surprises that warm my heart, and that makes life just that much better.
Two such surprises happened to me this past week, and I am still all warm inside because of them.
The first one happened when I asked Dad what he would like me to make for his birthday dinner, which we would bring to him, as we had to bring Morganna to Charleston anyway, to drop her off with her best friends from there so she could go to the beach with them. I expected he’d say, “Oh, a steak is great, just make me a nice ribeye.” Or maybe he’d ask for roasted lamb, something he hasn’t had in years because my Mom won’t cook it. Or fried rabbit–another favorite that Mom absolutely will not cook.
No. He asked me for Mexican food.
I blinked, and said, “Enchiladas are okay?”
And he said, “Yeah, that sounds good. It isn’t too hard is it?”
Enchiladas are an all-day event around here because I make the sauces, the sides, the fillings and the tortillas from scratch, but heck–I was so thrilled that he asked for them that I lied and said, “It is no trouble at all.” Because it is an all-day event, I seldom make them just for Morganna, Zak and I to eat, but instead make them for friends and family. That way, all of the work is well worthwhile, because we don’t end up with huge amounts of leftovers to weary the palate.
The fact that he asked for Mexican food at all was a surprise, especially in light of the fact that he said, “I haven’t eaten much of it, but what I have, I have liked.”
The big surprise came later, yesterday, in fact, when Zak, Morganna and I decended on his and Mom’s kitchen, with my tubs of sauce, fillings, refried beans and assorted ingredients, and then proceeded to take over and begin a tortilla-making production line. In addition to making the tortillas and rolling the enchiladas by hand, I also made a bowl of quacamole to go with the enchiladas, and I never expected Dad to not only watch the process from beginning to end, and ask questions about avocados. Nor did I expect it when he took a chunk of plain avocado and tasted it, and declared it, “Tasted like something I’ve eaten before, but I’ve no idea what.”
At that moment, I nearly asked him who he was and what he had done with my father, but I kept my peace, and kept mashing up avocado with fresh garlic, lime juice, chipotle, cilantro, salt and a pinch of ground cumin. He hung over my shoulder and said, “That smells awfully good.” (For a recipe for my guacamole, check out this link, from around this time last year.)
Well, by the time the enchiladas were in the oven ( I made two different pans of them–Enchiladas Colorado–red sauced enchiladas filled with shredded pork, cheese, cilantro and scallions, and a pan of Vegetarian Enchiladas Verde–the recipe for which follows shortly), he was sniffing around the kitchen declaring that everything smelled pretty good, and he sat down and waited for everything to be done.
Let me explain exactly why this abnormal behavior from my father.
First of all, he likes good food, but he is a suspicious eater at times who is reluctant to try new things. Whenever my mother attempted culinary experimentation when I was growing up, he squelched that by being very critical of any innovation that involved too much flavor. He particularly is suspicious of ethnic foods of all sorts, though he generally reserves especial vigilance against Chinese, Thai and Indian foods, mostly because they all look so strange to him that he is instantly suspicious of them all. (That, and he doesn’t like the smell and taste of bottled curry powder from the grocery store and doesn’t believe me when I tell him that Indian people don’t much care for it, either, and that is is no more Indian than I am.)
And while I have seen him eat Mexican food and like it, he is not adventurous in what he chooses to try. He likes burritos, and tacos, but everything tends toward the more Tex-Mex sorts of foods that are familiar even to folks from West Virginia. When Mom has offered him guacamole to taste from her plate in the past he has rejected it roundly with a snort of, “I ain’t eatin’ that green stuff. It looks nasty.”
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather when we all sat down to supper last night, and not only did he taste the half teaspoon of guacamole he had put on his plate, he liked it so much, he took a heaping helping of about a quarter cup or so of it to go with the Vegetarian Enchiladas Verde he especially liked. Not only that, but he praised every last bit of dinner, which he ate with great gusto, over and over, as if he had never tasted such wonderful food, and he told me that I was right, the fresh tortillas -did- taste better than store-bought.
I am still amazed.
Apprently old dogs really -can- learn new tricks.
Over dessert, which was a lemon pound cake with raspberries that I had also made and brought along, I told him that for his 69th birthday next year, I was going to go all out and make him an Indian feast. “Allright,” he said. “If you tell me I will like Indian food, I reckon I believe you.”
Of course, the promise of a three-layer birthday cake made with white cake, lemon curd filling, and vanilla icing coated in coconut probably didn’t hurt. It is his favorite cake–Gram made it for him for his birthday every year and it was the only time they ever ate it. Of course, I have to make him one, now that I recollect that is his favorite. (And, of course, I am going to have to put some cardamom into the cake, you know, just to make it a little more special and to make it fit better with the Indian feast…..)
As for the vegetarian enchiladas verde–I am very pleased with how they worked out. I improvised the filling because I had two ears of grilled corn leftover from last week, and about a cup and a half of black beans I had cooked Cuban style sitting around. I had some chard, too, so rather than make some shredded chicken and have two meat enchiladas, I decided to make a vegetarian option. Besides, I have been in a vegetable mood–something that happens to me in the summer when it is hot and I barely want to eat. This summer eating pattern has also combined with my inability to tolerate much meat when I am pregnant to make me much more into cooking and eating dishes that are heavier in vegetables and grains than meat.
The improvised filling turned out to taste superb with my usual salsa verde with a mixture of sharp cheddar cheese and shredded Queso Quesadilla that I found at the Krogers. I will definately be making these enchiladas again and again.
Vegetarian Enchiladas Verde
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
pinch dried ground cumin or adobo seasoning
2 ears leftover grilled corn on the cob, or about one cup of fresh (or frozen) corn kernels (grilled corn tastes best here)
1 1/2 cups drained cooked black beans, or canned, drained black beans
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 cups chard leaves, cut into a thin chiffonade
dried ground chipotle chile to taste (I used a very tiny bit–maybe about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon here–because my parents don’t eat a lot of hot foods; you could also use minced chipotle en adobo in whatever amount you like instead.)
salt (and pepper) to taste
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Batch of homemade tortillas, kept warm (for recipe and instructions go here) or a package of storebought corn tortillas
Batch of enchilada verde sauce, kept warm (for recipe for both colorado and verde salsa, go here)
2 cups mixed sharp cheddar cheese and queso quesadilla
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup sliced scallions, white and green parts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet on medium-high heat. Add onion and saute untill soft and golden brown in color. Add garlic and pinch of cumin or adobo seasoning, and continue cooking until the garlic is softened and fragrant–about two minutes.
Add corn and beans and keep sauteeing until quite fragrant–another couple of minutes. (Cook corn longer if it is not grilled or frozen–you can saute raw corn in olive oil until it starts to caramelize–this adds extra flavor that mimics the flavor of grilled corn.) Add sherry and allow alcohol to boil off, stirring quickly.
Add chard, and chipotle, and allow chard to wilt and brighten in color, but do not cook until it dulls in color and becomes quite limp and slimy looking. Just barely cook it. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove from heat and allow to cool until you can handle it with bare fingers.
Use olive oil to grease a baking dish. Drizzle some sauce into the dish and use it to coat the bottom.
Dip tortillas, one at a time, in sauce coating both sides. Lay on a flat surface, and run a line of grated cheese, then the filling, with a sprinkling of cilantro and scallions on top, across the center of the tortilla. Roll into a thick cigar shape and lay it seam side down in the bottom of the pan. Repeat until pan is full, and start a new pan if you have enough tortillas, filling and sauce to keep going.
When tortillas are used up, ladle enough salsa verde over the tops of the rolled enchiladas to coat the surfaces well without making them soggy. (Use your judgement here, I trust you.) Sprinkle the tops with more of the shredded cheese, then some cilantro and scallion and bake for about 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until everything is bubbly and melty and good.
Serve with guacamole and refried beans on the side. (Don’t used canned beans. Just don’t–they suck. I make mine from scratch–and that reminds me–I should post a recipe for them someday soon.)
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