December 27, 2008

Spinach and mushroom enchiladas with tomatillo sauce

I've only been to Mexico once, and it wasn't what I'd consider a "real" travel experience. I went to a conference in Cancun with my husband. He was a keynote speaker and the conference organizers had offered to bring the spouses of the main speakers to the conference all-expenses paid. At first I declined the invitation, not being a fan of large resorts in artificial settings, but then I had a last minute change of heart, and decided it would be more weird to not go than to go. After all, it was January and cold here, and January and warm there.

The resort was pretty much what I expected, but I did my best to be friendly and join the other spouses each day for beach going, shopping and relaxing. I took the bus to the tourist malls and bargained for jewelry (a bracelet that I still wear every day), and soaked up the rays and breezes on the beach. I do love to walk for a couple of hours on a beautiful beach, but the previously storm-battered and sadly eroded beach was not what I had envisioned. It was very narrow and filled with cabanas, and the sand at the water's edge, where I like to walk, slanted at about a 45˚ angle and was mushy instead of firm. After a short stroll, one leg hitting the sand at a much higher point than the other, my hip began to ache, and instead of enjoying the sight of miles of ocean lapping at sand, I envisioned a chiropractic adjustment table in a sterile room, and knew it was time to return to my cabana.

The resort was unwilling or unable to make vegan food accommodations beyond plain pasta with no sauce, so we opted to bus into town for our meals. We found a small chain of natural foods restaurants that served amazing local foods. The meals were so delicious that we tried repeatedly to lure other conference attendees to come with us, but they were all frightened of the word "natural" and chose to eat at the hotel instead. Interestingly, a large number of the group started disappearing. We later found out they had succumbed to dysentery and were recovering in their rooms. Although we ate enthusiastically, neither one of us ever had any problems. I just wish I had taken notes and photos so I could remember and recreate the wonderful traditional Mexican food we ate.

And this brings me to Rick Bayless. At first glance, Mr. Bayless seems to cook only animal-based Mexican dishes—with lots of chorizo and lard. Not exactly vegan food for thought. But, if you look beyond that first impression, you can find lots of inspiration for amazing meals. He was recently in Madison for a fund-raising event at which I was supposed to help, and I was really excited to meet him and watch him cook in person. At the last minute, I was unable to attend. I was very disappointed, but had a post-event opportunity to purchase one of his (signed) cookbooks for half-price. There were two choices, and I poured over each one, trying to determine which I was more likely to use. I chose "Mexican Everyday" instead of "Authentic Mexican 20th Anniversary Edition," because it contained meals you could make in 30 minutes. But the latter contained a treasure trove of information and would be a wonderful reference book. He provides so much insight into the flavors, ingredients and techniques involved in authentic Mexican cuisine, it's relatively easy to adapt the dishes into vegan versions without losing the fabulous taste. Plus, for many of the dishes in the book I selected, he offers vegetarian alternatives. And the side dishes and vegetables sound amazing. For example, you can skip the pork but make the Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Guajillo Salsa. I'm looking forward to substituting tofu, tempeh, seitan, beans, avocados and eggplant or other veggies for the animals, and using the preparation methods and sauces from the book, to create exciting flavors.

Our first try was Tomatillo-sauced enchiladas with spinach and mushrooms. We had only a few tomatillos in the house so we supplemented them (as per Rick's suggestion) with bottled tomatillo salsa. For the spinach we used a 12-ounce bag of chopped frozen spinach. We used eight ounces of white mushrooms, and we substituted vegetable stock for chicken stock and left out the shredded chicken (which is listed as optional in the recipe). We have lots of frozen jalapeños and other hot peppers from our garden, and we used those instead of fresh. This dish was easy to make and so delicious I had to force myself to stop eating. And following Mr. Bayless' easy method for softening corn tortillas, the tortillas were so much better than any we had prepared before. If you would like the revised recipe, e-mail me.


  1. Sounds like a lovely trip--and glad you found such great sources of food (way better than plain pasta!). These enchiladas look wonderful. I've always wanted to try out tomatilloes. .. never have got around to it. Next time we get some in our organic box, I now know what to do with them!

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  3. They look delicious! If you ever get another chance to go to Mexico, I highly recommend Puerto Escondido. It's everything the resort towns are not. There are a number of American chefs and hotel/restaurant owners who enjoy getting to know visitors and making them feel at home.

    If you're ever looking for another signed Rick Bayless book, Point Reyes Books has a nice selection of signed cookbooks and I think I may have seen some of Rick's!


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