Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ancho and Guajillo Chile Chicken Enchiladas Recipe

This week was the premiere of Merce Cunningham's "Nearly Ninety", a tour de force of a dance created by the choreographer I performed with, whose dances I stage, whose technique I still teach. Ex-Cunningham dancers from all over the world descended on Brooklyn's Academy of Music to see Merce's latest creation, and to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. My dear friend and ex-colleague, Jeannie, now living in London, was one of them. She requested Mexican food (can't get it in London), and I happily obliged with ancho and guajillo chile chicken enchiladas and my version of Mexican rice and beans. What? I'm writing about Merce Cunningham and Mexican food? Merce's long-term partner, John Cage, loved a particular vegetarian tamale; is that a connection? Sure, I hear Merce say, and if not, we can just call it chance.

The choreography in "Nearly Ninety" is superb; tender, affectionate moments replace absurd ones, replace off-balance duets, replace nonchalant moments punctuated with humor, replace frenzied steps and near misses, replace sublime rhythmic changes, bizarre singular arm movements, and breathtaking subtlety. The dancers are exceptional, too, and perform leggy adagio of incredible strength and traveling jumps that change direction mid-stream. They are languid and sensual, and the next minute they dance so fast and sharp you nearly miss it. This ninety year-old man, whose physicality is now largely confined to the intellectual, created this? I was in awe. Again.

Humbled by our experience, and starving, Jeannie, my husband and I returned home to eat these cold enchiladas out of the pan, and reflect on our time with Merce. We all had important dancing to do while we were in his company, and, even though we knew it to be a significant part of Merce's philosophy that no one be seen as more special than another, now, witnessing again the grandiosity of his contribution to the world of art, we were able to recognize our truly small part in the more than 55 year history of Merce's work. It is bigger than all of us. Bigger than the many of us who share the honor of having worked with him put together. Maybe even huger than a theater built to house his collective audience over those 55 years. More collossal than that, I am sure. Happy birthday, Merce, and thank you for enriching my life in such limitless ways.

Ancho and Guajillo Chile Chicken Enchiladas

This is a very liberal adaptation from two recipes in Rick Bayless's Mexico, One Plate at a Time, but I changed things significantly, so I'm pretty sure I can call this my own.

For the sauce:

2 jalapenos
4 ancho chile peppers
4 guajillo chile peppers
1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 28 ounce cans of whole tomatoes in sauce
4-6 ounces of creme fraiche
(1 teaspoon honey)

For the enchiladas:

The shredded meat from a cooked chicken (see the post Mushroom-Studded Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Chiles and Goat Cheese)
16 (or so) corn tortillas
2/3 of a cup shredded mild white cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, mixed
cilantro, for garnish

To make the sauce:

Toast the jalapenos, ancho and guajillo chiles in a dry pan over medium high heat until the jalapenos' skin turns black and blistery and the anchos and guajillos get toasted, but not burned. Set aside to cool.

In a large pot, heat the oil, and add the onion. Saute over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and stir a minute or so.

When the chiles are cool, add them to a food processor with the tomatoes, and puree into a smooth paste. Add the mixture to the pot of onions and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.

Add the creme fraiche to the pan, and taste the sauce. If it's a little bitter, add a touch of honey to balance the flavors. If not, forget the honey. Add salt to taste.

If the sauce looks too thick, add some water to thin it. It shouldn't be too thick, or your enchiladas will dry out in the oven.

Assembling the enchiladas:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the shredded chicken with a little of the enchilada sauce (about 1/2 cup) and add a little salt to taste.

Warm a few tortillas at a time in a pan until they soften. Fill them with a bit of chicken, and place the enchiladas, seam side down, side-by-side in a baking pan (I used two pans: one 8 x 8 inch pan and one 9 1/2 x 13 inch pan). Spoon the sauce over the rolled enchiladas (don't be stingy, I had extra sauce, even, for freezing.)

Top the enchiladas with the shredded cheese, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or so, or until the cheese browns. Serve with the chopped cilantro as garnish.

Banu's Rice and Beans

For the rice:

1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 1/2 cups brown rice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 cups water
juice of one lime

In a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil, and saute the onion over medium-high heat until translucent. Add the tomato paste, and stir until the color darkens. Add the paprika and salt and stir a minute or so, until fragrant. Add the rice, stirring until all the grains are coated with the onion mixture, and then add the water. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the rice for about 30-35 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Take the rice off the heat, and stir in the lime juice.

For the beans:

4 bacon slices, cut into small pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 cup red wine
3 cups dried pinto beans
7 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 sprigs fresh epazote (you may leave this out, if you can't find it where you live)

Heat a large pot over medium high heat and cook the bacon until it is a little browned. Add the onion to the pot and cook until translucent (if there is not enough oil from the bacon in the pan, add some olive oil or vegetable oil). Add the jalapeno and cook until it softens. Add the garlic and the dried spices. Pour in the red wine, and stir everything until the wine reduces a bit. Stir in the pinto beans, and then the water, the oregano and the epazote (if using). Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the beans until tender, about 2 hours, perhaps more.


Jy said...

Thanks for the weekend update Banu, I thought of you guys a lot, knowing this was going on and how important it was. I wish I could have seen it! The recipe looks delicious; glad Jeannie got some Mexican food!

--hilary (using jy's email address)

oganp said...

Hi Banu:
What a wonderful ode to Merce and great slow food. Keep your postings coming; I may even start cooking your recipes.
Pekin (Baba)