Enchiladas are all about the sauce – which, if made right, is smokey, tangy, savory, slightly sweet and spicy. Just the perfect balance. But as much as I love enchiladas, I rarely ever get them at restaurants. Time after time, I’ve left disappointed by how plain and uninspiring restaurant enchiladas are – chicken, cheese, wrapped in a corn tortilla, doused with a thin tomato sauce and melted cheese. Not so tasty.
So I set off on a quest to make my ideal enchiladas at home. Don’t be intimidated by the super long recipe. It’s really quite straight-forward and easy to do! But definitely make these on a day when you have plenty of time around the house. The time-suck is really in making all the components of the filling. For this part, you can make it as simple or as complex as you want.
But for this recipe, I decided to go all out. The other reasons I never get enchiladas at a restaurant is because there’s just not that much to them. And if I’m going to waste good calories on a restaurant meal, there’s got to be a little more to them than chicken and cheese. Now, these enchiladas are not only really, really, tasty, they’re also pretty healthy and nutritious.
I’ve always shied away from making recipes that require you to toast and grind your own chile peppers because I always thought it was too much work. But take my word on this. It was so easy! And the fragrance of toasting really good dried chiles is unbelieveable. The key is to get really good quality dried chiles. This is one recipe where it’s to your advantage to find a good Hispanic market. I found a huge bag of dried guajillo chiles for $2! These were bulk packaged rather than commercially packaged. They were so fresh that some of the dried chiles were still a bit tacky at their center!
Also, if you’re going to go to the trouble of grinding fresh chile powder, it is imperative to find good corn tortillas. My favorite brand is El Milagro, which you can find in most Hispanic grocery stores. We have an El Milagro facility right here in Atlanta, so these tortillas are always super fresh! If you go early enough to catch the morning delivery, the tortillas are still warm! And they have an amazing toasty, deep corn flavor. Love! If you’ve ever had corn tortillas from a regular supermarket and just hated them, give El Milagro a try. If you can’t find El Milagro, La Providencia also makes a very tasty corn tortilla.
I picked up this fabulous handmade spicy beef-pork chorizo from a local charcuterie shop in Atlanta, The Spotted Trotter (they call it Salchicha del Diablo). It’s super flavorful and velvety. But I definitely didn’t want to make the filling entirely of chorizo. I combined the chorizo with fluffy quinoa, diced butternut squash, and arugula for my filling. It was so good that I couldn’t stop eating the filling! It’s a good thing the recipe makes more filling than you will need for the enchiladas. The filling makes a fantastic side dish as well.
If you go for a simpler filling, this could definitely be made on a weeknight – chop up some rotisserie chicken, handful of chopped up bagged spinach, drained canned black beans—ta dah! Simple. You could have dinner on the table in less than 1 hour.
Quinoa-Butternut Squash-Chorizo Enchiladas con Salsa Roja
adapted from Rick Bayless and Cook’s Illustrated
6 (about 1.5 ounce) dried Guajillo chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
1 1/2 T vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1.5 cups)
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
2.5 teaspoons whole coriander
2.5 teaspoons whole cumin
2 teaspoons sugar
salt, to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon, depends on saltiness of tomato sauce and stock)
28 ounces tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock
8 oz (1/2 lb) rotisserie chicken, chopped (or Spotted Trotter’s spicy beef and pork chorizo – Salchicha del Diablo)
1/2 cup dried quinoa, well-washed and drained
2 cups medium-diced butternut squash
large handful baby arugula (or spinach), very roughly chopped
1/4 cup tomato pulp (reserved from making the sauce)
small handful coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
8 oz quesadilla cheese (or monterey jack), grated (about 2 cups)
Tortillas and toppings
12 six-inch corn tortillas (El Milagro brand)
3 oz grated quesadilla cheese (or monterey jack) (3/4 cup)
avocado, diced medium
sweet onion, diced
Salsa Roja Preparation
Heat a large, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the stemmed and seeded Guajillo chiles to the dry pan and toast for about 15 seconds per side. If your chiles are especially fresh, this may take longer. The chiles will become slightly lighter in color and very fragrant. Be careful not to burn the chiles. Remove the chiles from the pan and allow it to cool enough to handle. Cooling them will also turn the once-leathery chiles to brittle-y and easy to crumble. Break the chiles into small pieces. In a spice grinder, grind the chiles, coriander, and cumin to a fine powder.
Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden brown, about five minutes.
Add garlic, chile powder mixture, salt, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce and stock and stir it into the onion-spice mixture. Bring sauce to a simmer and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally until the flavors have melded, about 8 minutes.
Pour mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on the solid mixture to extract as much sauce as possible. Reserve the pulp in the strainer for the filling. To the strained salsa, add additional stock or water to adjust the texture of the salsa. It should be similar to the thickness of the tomato sauce from the can and should pour off a spoon pretty smoothly. Set aside to cool.
For the filling
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the quinoa and boil, uncovered for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Drain the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and return the quinoa to the pot. Put the lid on and steam for about 5 minutes so that the excess water is absorbed by the quinoa. Fluff the quinoa and set aside.
Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet until hot, but not smoking. Add the diced butternut squash in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt, to season. Allow to brown for 3 minutes. Mix the squash and redistribute into a single layer. Allow to brown for 3 minutes. Continue mixing, distributing, and browning until the squash is cooked through to al dente. Add the cooked squash to the quinoa.
If using rotisserie chicken, add the chopped chicken to the quinoa and squash mixture. If using chorizo, brown it in the skillet until cooked through and crumbled. Add the chorizo and some of the spicy fat released by the sausage. Add roughly chopped arugula, cilantro, and about ¼ cup of the tomato paste pulp leftover from straining the salsa. Toss well. Add additional tomato pulp, to taste.
Preparing the enchiladas
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
On a baking sheet, assemble 6 corn tortillas, spray both sides with cooking spray. Lay another 6 on top of those and spray the tops of the tortillas. Warm in the oven until pliable, about 3 minutes. Remove the tortillas, stack them on top of each other to keep warm as you assemble the enchiladas.
Smear entire bottom of a 13×9-inch glass baking dish with 3/4 cup chile sauce.
Place a warm tortilla on your cutting board. Place a couple of tablespoons of filling down the center of the tortilla. Top with some shredded cheese. Roll each tortilla tightly by hand and place in baking dish, side by side, seam-side down. Pour enchilada salsa over top of enchiladas, covering each enchilada, but don’t flood the baking dish. Reserve the remainder of the enchilada salsa to serve. Sprinkle 3/4 cup grated cheese over the enchiladas.
Cover baking dish with foil. Bake enchiladas on the middle rack until heated through and cheese is melted, 20 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the cheese is bubbly and delicious looking, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Top with enchilada salsa, sour cream, avocado, diced raw sweet onion, cilantro, and lime wedges separately. Enjoy!