As a high-schooler, I had a profound bias against any type of restaurant food that my parents tried to re-create at home. Pizza, sweet-and-sour chicken and enchiladas — none of those things, I believed, should be attempted in our residential kitchen. Enchiladas, my teenage brain said, are a cherished delicacy eaten only at Mexican restaurants with an appetizer of tortilla chips and spicy salsa followed by flan for dessert. They were not meant to be consumed in the living room while watching “Star Trek” reruns.
So whenever Young Monika asked what was for dinner and my mom said “chicken enchiladas,” I usually let out a pronounced groan of disappointment. It just seemed wrong to me, an egregious breach of protocol, to eat something so wildly out of context. What was actually wrong was me and my silly Rules for Appropriate Places to Eat Things. I would never have confessed it to her at the time, but those enchiladas were actually quite yummy. The fact is, delicious food needs no context.
Fast forward to my adulthood and my continuing regret at not appreciating my mother’s efforts in the enchilada department. As a sort of penance, I’ve been trying to re-create my mom’s chicken enchiladas for about 10 years. I’ve made some fair-to-middling approximations but nothing that hit the enchilada on the head, as it were. I understand that her enchiladas were not “authentic” in the sense of representing real Mexican cuisine. Now that I’ve found the recipe she used, I can see that it offers what I think of as a very Middle American take on enchiladas using cream of chicken soup and other store-bought ingredients.
Creamy Chicken Enchiladas
Mix two 12.5-ounce cans of chicken with 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, one 7-ounce can of diced mild green chiles and one 3.8-ounce can of sliced black olives, drained. Set aside.
Over moderate heat, cook 2 cans of cream of chicken soup with 1 pint sour cream and 2 cups of sliced green onions. This will create a thick substance the recipe calls “sauce” but with a consistency more like pudding. I wonder if another tasty option might be to use one 7-ounce can of mild salsa verde in place of one of the cans of chicken soup. The enchiladas would be spicier but it would also make the sauce a little thinner and easier to work with.
The recipe says to “dip tortillas in the sauce,” but it was actually more like squishing the tortillas down into a pot of hand lotion. To streamline the process, try spooning the sauce into a wide, shallow bowl to more easily coat the tortillas. Put the coated tortillas directly into the casserole dish, grab a glob of chicken filling with your other hand and spread it down the center. Yes, this is dreadfully messy, but it’s actually quite fun. Just embrace the gooeyness of it all and enjoy playing with your food.
The recipe doesn’t say how much filling to put in each tortilla, but I estimate it’s between 2 and 3 heaping tablespoons. Then I rolled the tortilla up tight and positioned it seam side down. Do this with all 12 tortillas; you will have to really squeeze them in tight, so use a large casserole dish. Scoop the remaining sauce over enchiladas and sprinkle with even more shredded cheddar cheese (just keep a giant open bag on hand). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
A note on the olives: Some people in my family don’t like olives. I have tried to explain that olives are delicious, salty and nutritious treats that have been enjoyed by humans for 7,000 years, but the husband and daughter still turn up their noses in disdain. If anyone in your family is also an olive-hater, you should feel nothing but pity for them, but as far as this recipe is concerned, you can do one of two things. You can substitute a cup of roasted red peppers or you can just go ahead and put the olives in there anyway. That’s what I did, because I get a secret pleasure out of sneaking disliked foods into recipes and seeing if my husband and daughter will notice. They didn’t and gobbled the enchiladas straight up while I endeavored to keep a poker face. Ah, I must have my little amusements.
For dessert, try making flan! Although flan was one of my mom’s favorite desserts, she didn’t leave me with a recipe for this delicious caramel custard. I found one on www.allrecipes.com after searching for “easiest humanly possible flan recipe.” I still hesitated to make it because I recently scorched the caramel for a tarte Tatin, making a sort of black tar instead. The flan came out a fair sight better, although it wasn’t nearly as pretty or as smooth-textured as restaurant flan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 1 cup white sugar until golden brown. While still hot, pour into a 9-inch glass pie dish, evenly coating the bottom and sides. Next, beat 3 eggs in a large bowl, then blend in one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, one 12-ounce can evaporated milk and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Pour egg mixture into caramel-covered pie dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for one hour. Let cool completely, then invert onto a plate and cut into slices.