Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mole mushroom melee.

Enchiladas with mushroom and caramelized onion. © Ryan Schierling
When most of us consider sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions, we don't immediately think "Oh, Mexican food!" First inclinations might turn to a pizza topping, a side for steak and potatoes, or a stroganoff staple. 

Not around here.

One of our longtime-favorite enchiladas is this simple en mole recipe. The mushrooms lend a meaty texture and the sweetness of the gently-caramelized onions – with an added kick of heat from some chopped jalapeños – make for a very satisfying and well-balanced filling. A good mole sauce with all its chile pepper bravado, nutty complexity and hint of sweetness, is the perfect compliment. Mole sauce is usually served with chicken, and all too often that chicken is boiled, beaten and barren – dry as the desert. It is rare to find a meatless alternative that is savory enough to stand up to the richness of mole sauce, and this one works rather splendidly.

All this talk of mole – I don't want anyone thinking they have to either reach for a grocery store jar or make one of those 47-ingredient recipes that take three days to prepare. There is a happy medium, and it isn't the least bit difficult. Some version of this recipe has been floating about the inter-webs for years, and for enchiladas, it is perfect. Do be careful with the addition of nut butters, though. While peanut butter is likely in your pantry, and is perfectly acceptable to use, be cautious with the quantity, or it may taste a little too much like peanut sauce. Alternate nut butters such as almond or hazelnut impart a nice nutty flavor without being quite so distinctive. You can also play around with the use of seed butters such as sesame (tahini) or pepitas for a twist on the complexity the nut butters provide. If you're really, truly desperate, you can use those six-month-old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups from your Halloween candy stash. (I can neither confirm nor deny that this has been attempted in our household, by Ryan, on at least one occasion.)

Enchiladas with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions

1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 white onions, quartered and sliced
3-4 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded with membranes removed, chopped
8 corn tortillas
Mole sauce (see recipe below)

Heat two tablespoons oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Scatter onions in hot oil and begin to caramelize. Stir about every 5 minutes for 40 minutes. When the onions begin to turn brown and wilt, add the jalapeños and mushrooms. Sauté for another 5-10 minutes until everything is tender. Season with salt, to taste. This is your enchilada filling.

Spoon some mole sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish. On a lightly greased skillet, heat corn tortillas one at a time. Then, spoon the filling mixture onto the warmed tortilla, roll snugly and place in casserole dish. Smother the top of the enchiladas generously with the mole sauce. 

Cover pan with foil and bake at 350-degrees for about 15 minutes, then remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until bubbling around edges.

Garnish with freshly-crumbled cotija (if you're feeling not-so-vegan), toasted sesame seeds and lime zest.

Mole Sauce
(Adapted from this recipe on Food.com, circa 2002)

4-5 cups chicken stock (or substitute vegetarian stock)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped white onion
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons chili powder (buy fresh in bulk if you can)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ounces dark chocolate (something around 70-80% cacao)
1-2 tablespoons nut butter, to taste – almond or peanut butter work (be careful not to overdo it with the peanut, though)
Agave nectar, to taste
Salt, to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, oregano, cumin and cinnamon, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft. (About 10 minutes.) Using a whisk, mix in the chili powder and flour, stirring for about 3 minutes (you're making a roux). Begin whisking in the stock a cup at a time.

Increase heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce heat and simmer until somewhat thickened – about 30 minutes. Turn heat to low. Whisk in chocolate and nut butter. Season with salt. Add agave nectar to taste. Sauce should coat the back of a spoon. If too thick, whisk in a little more stock. If too loose, turn up heat and reduce for another 10 minutes or so.

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