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The whole enchilada

Passport & Plate - Hibiscus flower enchiladas with chipotle sauce

Mexico | Thursday, 13 March 2014 | 5 photos

Requested from and graciously given by the chef at Café SP in Oaxaca, Mexico, with only a little bit of arm twisting..

Serves 4

2 cups dried hibiscus flowers*
2 tbsps olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste
8 corn tortillas
Strips of Oaxaca cheese to garnish (Oaxaca cheese is a white semi-hard cheese with a stringy texture native to the Oaxacan region and hard to find outside of Mexico, I used mozzarella as a substitute)
Parsley to garnish

Chipotle Sauce:
8 chipotle peppers in adobo
2 tbsps vegetable stock
2 tbsps butter
2 tbsps flour
2 cups of milk, and a further 2 tbsps to help liquefy the chipotles

*Dried hibiscus flowers, called 'jamaica' flowers in Spanish, are available from Latin supermarkets or can be ordered online


How to prepare this recipe
To make the filling:
Place the hibiscus flowers in a medium saucepan and cover with 6 cups of water. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer until tender, around 25 mins. Once tender, drain the flowers reserving the liquid**. When the flowers are cool enough, chop finely. In a frying pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil before adding the onions, cooking for 2-3 mins to soften. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 2-3 mins or until softened. Add the chopped flowers with a pinch of sugar and mix through, cooking for 5 mins. Taste the flower mixture, adjust sugar if necessary, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, cover and leave to one side.

To make the sauce:
Place chipotles in a blender with the stock and 2 tbsps of milk and blend until liquefied and well combined. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat before adding the flour, stirring constantly. Once well combined, gradually pour in the 2 cups of milk, stirring constantly to ensure a smooth texture. Cook, stirring constantly, for 10-15 mins or until the sauce coats the back of the spoon and it has reached your desired consistency. Once thickened, add the liquefied chipotles, stir until well combined, and remove from the heat. Let cool slightly while you assemble the rest of the enchiladas.

Wrap the tortillas in aluminium foil and place in a low oven for approximately 10 mins, or until warm and pliable. Once heated, place two tortillas on each plate. Place the flower filling as a strip down the centre of each tortilla, distributing it equally among the tortillas. Roll the tortillas into a flute shape, cover with the chipotle sauce, before garnishing with strips of cheese and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

¡Buen apetito!

**The hibiscus cooking liquid can be used to make a refreshing drink. Once chilled, mix equal parts of water and hibiscus liquid, add sugar until it is sweet enough for your liking and serve in a glass with ice cubes.


The story behind this recipe
This technicoloured dish can be credited with restoring my faith in the wonder of travel at a time when it was sorely tested. It came my way about a week into a long anticipated trip to Mexico. I had been lured there by visions of sitting in various Mexican eateries, indulging in the local fare, making new culinary discoveries while soaking up the way of life. Sure, I was happy to visit temple ruins and the like, but more as something to work up an appetite for dinner. However, as so often happens, things didn’t go according to plan. A seemingly innocuous meal on my second day in Mexico City resulted in an anaphylactic episode and my being injected with a potent narcotic cocktail, by a doctor in 6-inch heels, in a deserted hotel lobby.

I am usually adept at negotiating the peanut allergy I have had since childhood but, with less than 48 hours in Mexico, my careful planning and pre-trip research had come unstuck. From then on each meal was a frightening affair – would I get another reaction? Had my previously-believed-to-be-passable Spanish been clearly understood? I started to eat ‘safe’ pre-packaged foods and avoiding the more exotic but unknown local delicacies. I had gone from wanting to taste it all to being scared of the salsa. As I forced down dry rice cakes, I felt as though my dream was slipping through my fingers, and, more worryingly, that the world of culinary travel had been forever closed to me.

I couldn’t let this fear ruin my trip, so when I walked past a hip new eatery in Mexico’s culinary heartland, Oaxaca, I summoned my courage, walked in and ordered these exotic sounding enchiladas. Hibiscus flower seemed a curious thing on which to build a savoury dish, but from my first bite, the sweet flowers mixed with the heat and tang of the chipotle sauce surprised and delighted me. Even now when I cook this dish I feel excited, both by the interesting mix of flavours, and by the memory of feeling like I was back in the culinary traveller game.

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