I don't know much about Mexican food. If you don't count Do's sister's scuba-diving wedding in Cozumel (I wouldn't), I've never been to Mexico. I do know something about Dominican Republic food, since my family lived there for four years and I worked there for two summers, but since I live in San Francisco and not Brooklyn, that doesn't help me much.
When my Dad and I were driving from D.C. to Berkeley, we made a big effort to eat at uniquely local places. In El Paso, after driving 570 miles in a day, we had our socks knocked off at a Mexican roadside diner, Carnitas Queretaro. It didn't look like much on the outside, a cheap diner next to a gas station on a major thoroughfare. The restaurant had been recommended by Steve, a blogger who writes extremely thorough and helpful restaurant reviews. Oh man. The food was really, really superb. Moist, flavorful, with the right degree of spice, perfectly prepared -- this wasn't trashy Tex-Mex. This was top-of-the-line Mexican food. Wow. Must repeat.
Fortuitously, this month's Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for Enchiladas Verdes (someone has posted the full recipe here) This is your cue to laugh at me for trusting a guy from New Hampshire to teach me to make Mexican home-style food. A couple thoughts:
1) Tomatillos are just plain cool. They're not actually tomatoes -- check out that husk! -- though they are of the same family. Many Latin American sauces char-grill tomatillos before turning them into pulp for sauces, and the flavor is incredible. Think smokey and tart. I am SO EXCITED to have a neighborhood grocery store that offers tomatillos (and poblanos, and varieties of plums that I've never heard of... more on how much we worship the Berkeley Bowl at another point).
2) This recipe was a lot of work. Think Madhur Jaffrey or Silver Palate or Gourmet level of work. It consists of 6 mostly-unrelated steps that have to be done in sequence, so that you can add the broth from step 1 to the salsa in step 3 and stuff the filling from step 4 into the tortillas in step 5... ack! Definitely not a project for a weeknight or for a cook who doesn't excel at multi-tasking. I actually had a lot of fun, but that's probably because my little brother and I made this together, with a couple of beers, Randy Newman on the kitchen speakers, and a leisurely evening of Battlestar Galatica reruns in front of us. With two, the complicated, inter-related steps seemed almost like a dance.
Of course, it helped that the result was absolutely spectacular. This recipe gets added to our All Time Favorites category. It was that good. The chicken was moist and flavorful, the tortillas soaked up the tomatillo salsa and the cheese to have the perfect texture, and the salsa itself was delightfully smokey. The cumin and peppers give the salsa a light, bright flavor, then cheese and chicken keep the enchiladas firmly anchored on the ground. This recipe is outrageously good. Please, if you have two hours to spare and aren't feeling stressed, make this recipe. It's really, really good.
My brother and I followed the recipe closely, with very few changes (we added more cumin to the salsa and a dash of black pepper). Our tortillas were already pliant, so we didn't bother to soften them before stuffing them. We also couldn't bear to throw away the fragrant liquid in which the chicken cooked... so we drank it. It was so, so delicious. Finally, Cook's Illustrated didn't remind readers that roasted poblanos are easier to peel if you throw them in a paper bag and let them sit for a few minutes. As my brother discovered, it makes a big difference.
Two thumbs up.