Entertaining with an authentic taste of Mexico

06/23/2014 3:34 PM

06/24/2014 1:06 PM

Mercedes Mora infuses a warm spirit into her Mexican cooking.

Born in the Michoacán region of Mexico, Mora moved to Kansas City when she was 2 years old but still travels back to see relatives at least twice a year.

She has been married to Jorge Sanchez for 24 years, and the couple has 2 children and one 10-month-old granddaughter.

Despite a busy lifestyle, Mora is an entertaining cook who loves to give people an authentic taste of her homeland.

Residence: Kansas City

Occupation: Substance abuse counselor

Special cooking interest: Mexican food

What is the largest misconception about authentic Mexican food? It’s a myth that all Mexican food is spicy and the food is limited to tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Real Mexican food is flavorful, and we use oregano, garlic, cilantro and onions in our cooking.

My husband doesn’t like his food spicy, so I put the chile peppers into the condiments so people can top the food off to their tolerance of heat.

I love watching the women in Mexico prepare food. Mexican cuisine is much broader than what we think it is here in America. For example, outside Mexico City, I saw women preparing lamb stew outside. When you think of Mexican food, you don’t necessarily think “lamb stew,” but they use ingredients that are fresh and available.

How did you learn to cook? My mother, Mercedes Mora — yes, we have the same name — is an awesome cook. I learned many things from her: She is detail-oriented and very organized when it comes to the home. My grandmother, Concepcion Mora, was also a wonderful cook.

I actually learned to really cook when I worked at a Mexican restaurant, which is where I learned how to make staples like Mexican rice and how to boil a pot of beans.

But it was my aunt Chole Santoyo, who would have family gatherings every Thursday night, that influenced me the most. I remember those fun events when we would all get together with her 12 children — all the cousins and extended family — and I would say to myself: “I want to do this when I grow up.” So now, every Sunday, there’s always family dinner at my house.

Because of the work you do and the way you feed people, do you consider yourself a nurturer by nature? I enjoy making a plentiful amount of food for others, and my cooking at home includes guests.

I love having people over, and I am not shy about designating responsibilities to make guests feel comfortable and at home. Of course food brings people together, but when you have people over to your home, you must be relaxed and comfortable and pass that along to everyone there.

I remember one of the first parties we had celebrating our daughter’s first birthday: I think I was upset because the napkins didn’t match the plates. My husband told me, “Calmate!” or “Calm down!” and I’ve learned that people don’t remember if the napkins and plates match. They don’t remember if your house looks perfect. They just remember the good time they had around the table sharing food.

Why did you choose this recipe to share? No matter when I ask my husband what he wants for dinner, he always says, “Enchiladas.” But these are unlike what you would see at a restaurant — unless it’s an authentic Mexican place. These enchiladas are super fast to make because I’ve learned to just buy a roasted chicken for the shredded meat rather than spend hours cooking it.

We are all busy in our hectic lives, but if being in Mexico has taught me anything, it is to slow down and enjoy what you have. I love when my younger nieces come to help me in the kitchen. I want to give them good memories of eating together and enjoying the company of family and good friends.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Green Sauce Chicken Enchiladas

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons oil, divided

1/2 cup minced onion

2 garlic cloves

8 tomatillos, peeled and halved

1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, stem removed

1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

12 corn tortillas

2 cups warm shredded, roasted chicken

Garnish:

Mexican sour cream (sometimes sold as “crema”)

Mexican Queso Fresco shredded cheese

Thinly sliced onion

Fresh cilantro leaves

Into a sauté pan, warm 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat. Sauté onion and garlic until translucent and fragrant. Stir in tomatillos, pepper, cilantro and salt, and turn heat down to low. Cover pan with lid and continue to simmer at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatillos and pepper are soft and cooked through.

Transfer contents of sauté pan into the bowl of a blender and process until smooth. Add teaspoon of sugar if sauce is too bitter.

Warm 1 tablespoon oil in sauté pan over low heat. Pour contents of blender back into sauté pan and allow to simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Before serving, warm a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn tortillas, one at a time, to hot skillet, warming each for about 5 to 10 seconds on each side. Tortillas should be warmed only so they do not crack when rolled.

Place warmed tortilla on dinner plate. Sprinkle about 2 to 3 tablespoons warm shredded chicken onto one of side of tortilla. Roll tortilla up, starting with the side full of chicken, and place seam-side down on plate. Ladle green sauce over rolled chicken tortilla and top with sour cream, cheese and onion slices, as desired.

Continue process of rolling tortillas with chicken until complete. Place 2 to 3 enchiladas on each dinner plate.

Serve with rice and beans, and garnish with cilantro.

Per serving, based on 4: 361 calories (26 percent from fat), 11 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 49 milligrams cholesterol, 43 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 448 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.

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