How Dallas Gained After the Swiss Immigrated to Mexico and Began Cooking

Grupo Sanborns is a large department store, pharmacy, retail and restaurant chain. Headquartered in Mexico City and employing some 18,000 workers, Sanborns was founded in 1903 by California immigrants Walter and Frank Sanborn, who also established the country's first soda fountain. Think Wal-Mart with a better food court and you've got the idea. But unlike the pride of Bentonville, Arkansas, Sanborns has actually impacted culinary history when one of its Swiss-born chefs allegedly created enchiladas suizas.

Suiza means Swiss in Spanish. According to food writer Amy Hernandez, the dish was inspired by the dairy predilections of Swiss immigrants south of the border. She notes, "As Swiss immigrants came to Mexico with their dairy cows, they began to influence the culinary traditions around them. This was done through the contributing of additional dairy products including new varieties of cream and cheese. As these ingredients became more available, it wasn't long before the traditional green salsa enchilada made with tomatillos and fresh chiles was married with cream and cheese to create what became known as enchiladas suizas or Swiss-style enchiladas. This delicious twist on an even older standard grew in popularity and over time has blossomed into a beloved dish eaten throughout Mexico and the United States."

When preparing this delicacy, chicken breast is the meat of choice. Contrary to popular belief, Dallas icon Stephan Pyles doesn't spend all his time chowing down on such high-flung dishes as Black Bean -Goat Cheese Enchiladas with Mango Relish. He's also a major Tex-Mex fiend who loves chicken enchiladas. In his book The New Texas Cuisine, he notes with obvious relish, "I judge the quality of Tex-Mex restaurants by their chicken enchiladas, just as truckers judge truck stops by their coffee. Chicken enchiladas are one of my favorite foods, and I try to track some down every two weeks or so."

Pyles restraint is admirable. Many of us cannot last two days without Tex-Mex, much less two weeks.

Believe it or not, Chicago is a growing hotbed of Hispanic cuisine, with food writer, restauranteur Rick Bayless the resident guru. His recipe from Mexico: One Plate at a Time includes ripe tomatoes, fresh hot green chiles (either serranos or jalapenos), chicken broth, onion, salt, coarsely shredded cooked chicken (preferably grilled, roasted, or rotisserie), shredded cheese, cilantro, and tortillas. He employs homemade crema, crème fraiche, or heavy whipping cream to create the bechamel-style sauce that gives the dish its sinfully rich texture and signature flavor.

Luckily, Dallas is also a major Mexican food metropolis, so home preparation is not necessary. Veracruz Cafe, tucked away on a side street in Oak Cliff's Bishop Arts district, offers an excellent rendition of Enchiladas Suizas as part of its Authentic Blue Corn Enchiladas series. For about 10 bucks, you can get three of the azul tortillas stuffed with marinated chicken and topped with Huasteca red sauce, queso fundido, and cream sauce, and you can even ask for the off-the-menu salsa that packs plenty of molten heat. Served with rice and black beans, Veracruz's dish beats Wal-Mart's food court any day.

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Chris Meesey