Chicken Enchiladas With Green Pumpkin-Seed Sauce

8 Jan

Enchiladas are always a good choice for a potluck, a big dinner party or a make-ahead-and-hide-in-the-freezer dish.

Remember a while ago, when I posted yet another chicken recipe, I mentioned I made some green mole sauce that didn’t get used? Finally, here’s the recipe and what I ended up doing with it. And it was certainly worth the wait.

Especially since we served it when our friend was here from Italy. He’s not Italian, but married a lovely Italian woman after growing up here in Laguna Beach. Therefore whenever he comes home, he feasts on Mexican food as it’s tough to get in a small Italian village. I can empathize: I did the same when I would come home on a visit from London. My family was prepared for this eventuality, and would take me only to restaurants that had Mexican food on the menu, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Not the best representation of the look of the enchiladas, but sometimes this food photography thing is not easy. Sorry, kids.

So Sean was overjoyed that, for one of his last meals in California, I cooked a full Mexican meal for him, with enchiladas, beans and rice. And margaritas, of course. That green mole sauce came in real handy, as it took a step out of the somewhat laborious process of making enchiladas, which The Husband and I whipped up on a Sunday afternoon.

The pepita sauce took a while to make, but it was definitely worth it. It’s not a true “mole” sauce, and it’s not very spicy at all. If you’d like, feel free to add some extra chili for some kick. Of course we used a chicken from our lady Lydia at the farmer’s market, which always provides the best flavor.

Note: The sauce freezes very well, and the enchiladas can be made ahead of time to be heated up before serving. If they look a little dry, add a little chicken stock before throwing them in the oven.

Vegetarians and vegans: You could replace the chicken in these with fake chicken (duh, that was extremely helpful, right?) or a bunch of vegetables. I’ve made enchiladas stuffed with mashed potato and kale, which would go nicely with this sauce. Puréed sweet potato and sliced mushrooms would be a delicious filling for this sauce, as would (for vegetarians) a combination of nice cheeses and some chopped onion.

And let the recipes begin!

Make sure your pan is the right size to fit the enchiladas snugly.

For pumpkin-seed sauce

1 1/2 cups hulled green pumpkin seeds (about 7 ounces)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 allspice berries
3 cloves
6 black peppercorns
1 pound fresh tomatillos or a 28-ounce can tomatillos
6 fresh serrano chilies (Proceed with caution! Check how spicy those buggers are before you add them all.)
1/2 large white onion
4 garlic cloves
1 cup packed coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
3 cups stock (ideally stock from cooking chicken, but any other will do)
1 fresh poblano chili

Heat a large, heavy, high-sided frying pan (Le Creuset or cast iron works well here) over medium heat until hot and toast pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly, until they have expanded and begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch them carefully! They turn brown very fast.
Transfer seeds to a plate to cool. Now place the sesame and cumin seeds, allspice, cloves, and peppercorns in to the same pan, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute, and transfer to plate. When seeds and spices are cool, in an electric spice/coffee grinder grind mixture in four batches to a powder.
++Note: If you have a coffee grinder and are afraid to grind spices in it, here’s a tip. Put in about a 1/4 cup of plain, white uncooked rice into the grinder both before and after you grind your spices. This will get all of the prior contents out of it cleanly and without any additional flavor being added. Voilà!

If using fresh tomatillos, peel the husks off and rinse with warm water to remove stickiness. Stem serrano chilies. Place them in a saucepan, cover them in salted water and simmer fresh tomatillos and serranos for 10 minutes. If using canned tomatillos, drain them and leave serranos uncooked. Roast the poblano over an open flame (see this blog for further instructions) and peel, removing seeds but not running the chili under running water.

Transfer tomatillos and serranos (use a slotted spoon if simmered) to a blender and purée with the poblano, onion, garlic, cilantro, and salt until completely smooth. Please be careful, as this mixture will be very hot. Make sure you cover the blender with the lid, or use caution if, like me, you only have a stick blender to work with.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil or lard and (again, carefully!) pour in the tomatillo purée and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups stock and stir in powdered pumpkin-seed mixture. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes, or until slightly thickened. The sauce is ready to use immediately, or you can store it until you need it. It should last in the fridge in an air-tight container for about a week, and in the freezer for about a month.

Chicken Filling

1 whole 3 1/2-pound chicken
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in half horizontally
1/2 large white onion
6 long sprigs fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 black peppercorns
3 allspice berries
Place the chicken and the rest of the ingredients in a large stockpot; cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour.
Remove the chicken and let cool before removing the meat from the bones and shredding it. Discard the skin, the onion and the spices. Strain the stock through a mesh sieve, pushing the garlic cloves through.
Use the stock to flavor the sauce, although there should be plenty left over to freeze for other uses.

Frying the sauce-covered tortillas makes them easy to roll and deliciously flavored. Trust me. I'm a doctor.

Enchilada Assembly

Pepita sauce
Shredded chicken (or other filling)
Corn tortillas**
Oil for frying
Get two frying pans on the stove, both big enough to fit a tortilla in. Get your enchilada pan at the ready, and your cotija cheese crumbled and on hand (or grated cheese, if you’re using that). You’re going to start in on a big assembly line here. This is where The Husband’s help was greatly appreciated, for sure. In one frying pan, get some sauce heated up on low heat. Then get some oil heated in the other frying pan.
Once they’re both ready, let the great rumpus begin—dip a tortilla in the sauce to coat it on both sides, then straight into the heated oil. Fry on both sides, then quickly give to your helper, who should stuff it with fillings, roll it up and place it in the enchilada pan. Repeat until you either have enough enchiladas for your party, or you’re out of fillings.
I usually have a few casserole dishes on hand for this, as sometimes you’ll need an extra one or find that another one fits the bill better. I try to measure the pan to the tortilla size, but it’s not an exact science.
Once you’ve got your pans of enchiladas all sorted, cover them with the rest of the green sauce and some cheese, if you fancy. This is where you can stop, cover them with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for a few days until ready to heat and eat, or you can throw them straight in the oven for a Mexican feast.
I heat them up in a 375 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. The sauce can dry out, so it’s probably best to keep them covered in foil during the reheat process. Again, if they are looking dry, add some stock and the tortillas will soak it up.
*If you like your enchiladas super cheesy, then use a mild cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese instead. This is a fairly dry Mexican cheese
**We used sprouted corn tortillas, which stand up well to enchilada-making and taste delicious.
++If you’d like my down and dirty, fast and delicious refried beans recipe, let me know in the comments and I’ll share it! Or I may post later this week. I’m not sure yet if I’ll have time.

2 Responses to “Chicken Enchiladas With Green Pumpkin-Seed Sauce”

  1. Pamela January 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    Looks delicious!!You know our family and Mexican food. I’ll try it after I use up the 6 dozen tamales that I have in the freezer. My friend taught me how to make them last year and some good friends came over the week after Christmas for an afternoon of tamale making. Lots of work, but lots of fun.

    • tinykitchenstories January 10, 2012 at 10:29 am #

      Thanks, Pamela! They did come out quite well, although I think I would have wanted a little oozy cheese in there for that comfort feel.

      I’m jealous of your tamales! I’ve yet to try making them, but I bought a new cookbook in December that will give me the impetus…thanks for the inspiration!

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