My urge to make green chile chicken enchiladas for New Mexico was driven by fond memories of El Patio de Albuquerque (Yelp), a funky little place near the University of New Mexico that serves a mean enchilada, as well as sopapillas that might reasonably cause a girl to swoon with delight.
Enchiladas in New Mexico are very mean. Salsa verde, done right, will blow the top of your head off and send your socks flying into next week. My discovery after two rounds of enchilada-making is that getting this right requires proper New Mexico chiles, which were not to be found at the Ultra-Luxe Kroger. So what we have here is an enjoyable and fairly easy enchilada recipe that will not frighten small children.
In the resulting mild and replete mood, let’s turn to Albuquerque’s Breaking Blue (Reverbnation), an Americana band whose members are probably feeling the burn at El Patio even as I type this.
Starting with “Reflections” gave me a little hesitation, as it’s covertly devotional, but it showcases vocalist Chrystal Anderson’s honey-sweet voice (you’ll want honey on the sopapillas), as well as the interplay between Randy Martin’s banjo picking and Stephanie Hanusa-Liu flute improvisation. Yes, this band has big improvised flute jams. This is why Americana is fun.
Less hesitation went into tossing a 1-pound package of chicken fajita strips (the cheapest form of chicken at the Ultra-Luxe Kroger) into a hot pan with a drizzle of olive oil. This is more chicken than I personally need, but I figure it’ll find a use during the week.
But you’re wondering what the fluffy yellow blob in the very first photo was. That’s corn casserole, which is incredibly easy, has nothing to do with El Patio, and puts the “umph” in “comfort food.” I’ll get to that later, though unless you have a double oven, you’ll want to start it before the enchiladas. Of such paradoxes, life is made.
Behold: peppers! That’s three jalapeños and a giant, alligator-like poblano. Core, deseed, and chop. Wash hands before touching anything ever again. Peppers have an edge.
The non-edginess of “Reflections” is what touched me off that the childlike hand-holding metaphor might refer to J-e-s-u-s. Breaking Blue’s songs aren’t all this sweet; and the lyrics are entertainingly enigmatic as a song mostly about trust; so I can’t help wondering what would happen with a slightly edgier arrangement or production.
While wondering, dump the cooked chicken from the pan into a bowl, drizzle in some more olive oil, and add the chopped peppers, along with a couple big dollops of chopped garlic. Heat it up for a bit, then, add a big pinch of white pepper and two cups of broth, however you manage broth. This needs to reduce, which gives us time to preheat the oven to 350 and listen to another song.
That murky bubbling substance is more photogenic than it was before it reduced. Around this point, I tried running it through the food processor to purée it, but I’m starting to think I’ve destroyed yet another food processor’s blades.
Moody whale noises! Banjo picking!
The faintly jazzy feel comes from bass player Shawn Berkompas; the layering of strings from rhythm guitar player Cassie Rogers (and Anderson also plays mandolin); and the unsettling percussion from Jeremy Dorr.
It’s time for assembly. I don’t want vast quantities of enchilada, so I decided to use one of my nouveau-Pyrex loaf pans so I don’t feel stupid for buying them. (Buy your Pyrex vintage. Seriously.) I also make New Mexico-style enchiladas, which are flat, like lasagna, because I am too lazy to roll tortillas.
So: layer tortillas (torn as necessary to fit pan), chicken, salsa, and cheese. Do this a couple of times and finish the top with a layer of tortilla, salsa, and cheese (Kroger has something called “authentic Mexican blend”). This is one of those “playing with one’s food” tasks that goes nicely with the theme of renewed innocence in “Crowded Room.”
I’m also rather enamored of the traditional folk groove to the picking. This sounds like a traditional tune, but it’s unsettled slightly by the interaction with bass and percussion.
Speaking of traditional: corn pudding. This also takes a 350 oven. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a 9×9 or 13×9 pan. Then pour into the pan: 1 drained can of corn, 1 can of creamed corn, 1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix, and 1 small container of low-fat sour cream. Give it all a good mix and put it in the oven for about 45 minutes (check at 25 and then watch it until the edges are brown). Do not balk at the Jiffy mix: it doesn’t contain anything ghastly, and at 48 cents, it’s cheaper than flour and corn meal.
Mmmmm… enchiladas! These end up being comfort food more than foodie-food, but with enough salsa in the mix, the texture is pleasantly creamy and the flavors, if mild, do meld. It’s about par with what you’d get at a mid-range Mexican restaurant, admittedly without unlimited free tortilla chips and salsa.
But my enchiladas come with corn pudding! Actually, these enchiladas were enough of a hit that I not only ate the leftovers voluntarily, but I made a second batch a couple days later.
Let’s wrap up with my favorite from Breaking Blue: “Nap Time.” Hear that banjo go! I really like how the vocals, while prominent, function musically as one more thread in the complicated interplay of instruments.