Thursday, July 12, 2012

Enchilada Sauce - a Tasty Labor of Love

Some people advocate for cooking at home because it saves you money versus dining out or buying prepared food. Other times it may cost more but the ability to control ingredients and preparation lets you know that you're making something that's tastier or better for you. And every once in a while, neither one of these is necessarily the case, but you cook it yourself because it's just so crazy fun. The homemade enchilada sauce we made tonight comes pretty close to falling into that third category.

Of course, our sauce didn't have a bunch of preservatives in it like the canned stuff does, so it probably was just a bit healthier. And in our humble opinion, the flavor did outdo storebought. But the main appeal, despite how laborious it was to make, was the fun of the process. So, if you want to make a delicious sauce that costs at least twice what they charge at the grocery store, clear a few hours from your schedule and follow along!

The first step is to collect some dried chile peppers. You can grow and dry these yourself; and with two dozen poblano and anahiem pepper plants in our garden, it's pretty possible that we'll try this after this year's harvest. But for now we needed to buy some. We got ours at Allspice in Des Moines, but another good option would be a Hispanic food store like you can find in many cities. We selected three good specimens of  ancho (dried poblano) and New Mexico. We put these on a sheet pan and roasted them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Once the peppers became fragrant, we knew it was time to pull them out.

Peppers keep most of their heat in the seeds and interior webs, so the next step is to cut them up and remove all the "guts." We want our sauce to have some kick, but these peppers have enough in the fruit that we don't need the seeds. The remaining pieces of pepper were chopped up and tossed in a bowl then covered with boiling water. We let this sit for about an hour to let the peppers really rehydrate.

After an hour the peppers had softened up, so we put them in the blender, along with some of the water they'd been steeping in. We didn't end up using all the water: just enough to get a good smooth, slightly runny consistency. Be careful at this stage not to touch your eyes since you will likely have plenty of capsacin on your fingers.

This still isn't sauce though, since it only has the one note of the peppers. To add a little bit more depth, we sauteed a chopped onion and three cloves of garlic in three tablespoons of butter. After it had all softened, we added a few tablespoons of flour to form a kind-of roux (a flour-butter mixture that thickens liquids). After the roux had cooked for a few minutes to remove the flour flavor, we poured in the blended peppers, a teaspoon each of cumin and Mexican oregano, plus a teaspoon and a half of salt. Again, we simmered the mixture for a while to blend all the flavors, then literally blended it to get it smooth!

In the end, we had about a quart of enchilada sauce. It only took an hour and a half to make it all, and it cost nearly $5 in peppers, but man oh man was it delicious.

We used it to make a huge platter of vegetarian enchiladas. We filled tortillas with a mixture of organic black beans, locally grown sweet corn, and sauteed green peppers, doused them in the sauce and baked them until everything had warmed up. They looked great!

And they tasted fantastic too. Greg could probably eat Mexican food every night, but this batch of enchiladas seemed superlatively satisfying. It's hard to say if it's because the sauce was so tasty or just so much fun to make, but by the end of dinner we sure were glad we'd done it. 


This post has been shared with Simple Lives Thursday.

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