Swiss Enchiladas (Enchiladas Suizas)
by S. John Ross ©1998,1999

There's nothing fancy about this one, but it's amazingly tasty, and a little unusual, because it's Mexican food that isn't cut from the "Tex-Mex" mold that's so familiar to us from restaurant eating: Regardless of what you call them, they're unique and elegant, and they'll feed six very hungry people, or up to eight if you provide chips and some guacamole as an appetizer. Have plenty of fresh cilantro on hand as a tasty and aromatic garnish.
  • Olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
  • 1 or 2 fresh jalapeños, sliced paper thin and then chopped
  • 18 ounces tomato paste
  • 4-5 chicken breasts (depending on size), cooked and chopped
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • Chicken boullion or soup base suitable for six cups
  • 12-15 soft tortillas (corn or flour)
  • 1 lb Queso Monterey (Monterey Jack), cut into 24-30 strips (two per tortilla)

The Filling: Saute the onion, garlic, and jalapeño in a tablespoon or two of the olive oil, until the onions just barely begin to turn clear. Add to tomato paste and chicken. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat.

The Cream Sauce: In a saucepan, warm one cup of the cream and melt the boullion or soup base into it (if you're using boullion, use a high-quality brand like Knorr if it's available). Remove from the heat, and stir in the rest of the cream.

Preparation: Preheat the oven to 300°F (not very hot at all, since you don't want the cheese to brown or the tortillas to crisp). Dip each tortilla in the cream sauce and roll up one measure of the filling into it. Place the enchiladas in a shallow baking pan and pour the remaining cream over them. Top with the Monterey Jack, and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve Hot: When the enchiladas come out of the oven, cut them across the middle with a knife or spatula; serve three of the resulting halves per person. Your big eaters will want seconds, but many normal folks will find the first plate very filling.

Variations and Options: This dish is very rich, and not a gram of its excessive fat content is wasted in terms of flavor. However, if you're looking to trim things down a bit, you can substitute many things for the cream, from drained yogurt to fat-free condensed milk to a blend of sour cream and skim milk. By trimming down on the cheese, baking the enchiladas "dry," then drizzling the sauce over them on the plate, the dish takes on a different character while remaining delicious and becoming much "leaner."

The number of jalapeños to use is a matter of taste. Back in Virginia, I found two gave the dish just enough extra flavor without actually making it hot in any real way. Here in Texas, just about all of the vegetables are bigger and juicier, and all the peppers plumper and more packed with spicy oils . . . And two Texas jalapeños might be a bit much for the creamy and delicate flavors of the dish. Experiment and enjoy.

Notes: In Mexican cooking, the term "Swiss" is applied to any dish that prominently features cream. The version of the recipe found here owes a good deal to James Beard, who first introduced me to the dish in his Menus for Entertaining. Many other versions of Enchiladas Suizas, as well as my own shifting tastes, have nudged it this way and that over the years. A very fine "lean" version of the dish can be found in the excellent Low-Fat Mexican Cooking, by Patrick Earvolino.

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