Though I have been known to search online for particular recipes, clip tasty looking dishes from the pages of magazines, and peruse cookbooks for menu ideas, most all of the recipes I repeatedly make have come to me through personal relationships and lived experience. Time spent in other countries, as well as in other people's homes right here in the United States, have been my most fruitful sites of recipe collection. Even if all I've done is adopt ( and usually adapt ) a recipe someone else clipped from a newspaper, one made for me and my family at their dinner table, the fact is that rather than actively looking for recipes, I wait for them to come to me.
What this means is that, for me, recipe collection is somewhat unexpected, an unanticipated magical moment when I feel compelled to transition a particular gesture of hospitality from someone else's table to my own.
Last fall, I traveled to Albuquerque as a way of creating time and space to write. The friend I usually stayed with had acquired new roommates and while there was still room for me at her house, new roommates, boyfriends and girlfriends had converted what I had once experienced as a quiet space into more of a dormitory situation. So, I asked Ginger, someone I knew through this other friend, if I could stay with her.
For me, Ginger's green chili chicken is noteworthy principally because, for Ginger, the meal we ate was nothing more than a way of converting leftovers into dinner. The ingredients used were chosen by lot, not by design. She had an onion, a mexican zucchini ( a squash that is light green in color than standard zucchini, fleshier, and with fewer seeds ) , one cob of corn, and the remains of a grocery store rotisserie chicken.
She began by chopping and frying the onions and zucchini; then she added the corn. I looked into the fry pan and was sure it'd be fine, but I also know now that were it not for the next ingredient, I would never have remembered, let alone reproduced, this dish. "Here's what I always use to make things taste good," she told me as she removed a can of medium-hot green chili enchilada sauce from her cupboard. "You really can pour this over anything and it'll make it better."
She added the can of sauce and the chicken to the vegetables, turning the heat to low, stirring until the veggies were soft and the sauce thickened. We ate the stew-like concoction with tortillas. Read more story below....
I have to admit, I rarely cook with this little of a plan in mind. Recipes may come to me as unforeseen miracles, but the meals I make are planned. Perhaps it is a reflection of my type-A personalitymy needing to know what I am doing each night, to be sure I have the ingredients I'll need, to not leave the feeding of my family to chance. Certainly, this is one reason why I have codified her miraculous refashioning of refrigerator odds and ends. I wanted to be able to repeat the experience, to bring the flavors and textures of the meal into my own life on a regular basis.
But there's something else at work here, too. Each time I make this recipe, each time I invite other people to our table to share this food, I think about Ginger. I recall our time together, the meal we shared, the city of Albuquerque and all of the friends I have there.
Admittedly, you may not have any connection to Ginger, or Albuquerque, or me. But what you do now have, in addition to the recipe, is the story. And what I know is that recipes and stories sustain much more than our bodies. They enrich our lives. I could tell you that you want to make this dish because it is easy, economical and delicious. But, really, I encourage you to give this a try, invoking the same spirit in which the recipe came to me: one friend's hospitality to another.
Ginger's green chili chicken:
1 to 1 1/2lbs of already cooked chickenI have used roasted chicken and grilled chicken breasts
1 large sweet onion ( if available )
1 larger "Mexican" zucchinibut regular zucchini with the seeds removed will work
Corn removed from 1-2 cobs
½ tbs of olive oil
1 can of green chilis
1 can of green chili enchilada sauce
Queso fresco and chopped cilantro ( optional )
1 ) Dice onion and zucchini; cut corn ( can be cooked or uncooked ) from cobs.
2 ) Heat a pan with olive oil.
3 ) Add onions to the hot pan first, for a few minutes before adding the zucchini and corn. Cook until the onion is translucent.
4 ) Add the can of green chilis, the green chili enchilada sauce and the chicken.
5 ) Cook for 5-15 minutesuntil you're satisfied with the doneness of the vegetables and the and consistency of the sauce.
6 ) Serve with tortillas or over rice ( as shown in the photo ) ; add queso fresco as a topper/garnish.