How to Turn Almost Anything into Enchiladas
As long as you don’t get too hung up on authenticity, your leftovers can probably be enchilada-ed.
I have a confession to make: My enchiladas are delicious, but I suspect any person of Mexican heritage would be appalled. In Mexico, enchiladas are lightly-fried corn tortillas dipped in a chile sauce, then rolled around a filling and served. You’ll even find them as street food. But depending on where you live in this country, enchiladas often mean a casserole. You’re still filling and rolling tortillas, but before serving you place the tortilla cylinders snugly side-by-side in a casserole dish, douse with that chile sauce, top with cheese, and bake it up.
In my kitchen, that’s led to fillings made with leftover chicken or beef, of course, but also garlicky sautéed greens, roasted butternut squash, mashed sweet potato, stewed lentils, grilled vegetables, even bacon. I drew the line at some leftover pastrami, though.
These days, when we’re all trying to make our food supplies last as long as possible, I love knowing that I can vary the flavor of leftovers or basic pantry items this way. Canned beans will never bore me as long as I can turn them into enchiladas.
How to make enchiladas
No matter what kind of enchiladas you’re making, the basic technique doesn’t change (with the exception of a couple of layered choices that follow).
Prepare your filling.
Make (or open) your sauce.
Spread some sauce on the bottom of a baking dish.
Warm your tortillas.
Fill the center of each tortilla, then roll them and place seam-side down in the dish.
Pour remaining enchilada sauce on top, then sprinkle with cheese.
Eat. Oh yeah.
Enchilada sauce options
Let’s talk about the sauce for a minute, before we go any further. There are plenty of perfectly wonderful canned and jarred sauces out there, but if you have just a little bit of time, homemade enchilada sauce will make a huge difference in your results. Seriously, you can make complex-tasting, chipotle-laced red enchilada sauce in just 15 minutes. If you prefer a tomatillo-based green enchilada sauce, you can make it in 15 minutes, too. What’s that, you only have 5 minutes? No problem.
Now, let’s talk about the best enchilada recipes.
These are the old standbys, easier versions of enchiladas you might find on the menu at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant, ones that have starred at family dinners for decades, plus, to be fair — one option for a more authentic (and yes, more time-consuming) recipe from some Mexican home cooks. “Entry-level” depends on your perspective, after all. They’re all Mexican food classics in my book, and they’re all delicious.
Easy 5-Ingredient Chicken Enchiladas
Grab some canned enchilada sauce, rotisserie chicken, corn tortillas, and cheese (half goes in the filling and the remaining cheese goes on top), and you’re practically done. The fifth ingredient? That’s the garnish, fresh cilantro leaves. This is a great recipe if it's your first time making enchiladas.
Chicken Mole Enchiladas
Thick, rich mole sauce (store-bought is fine!) steals the spotlight here. The recipe takes a more traditional approach and skips the cheesy casserole part, so all you do is heat tortillas, dip them in mole sauce, and fill with shredded chicken. It really is that simple.
These have just a few more ingredients than the basic chicken version, but they’re still easy enough to make on your busiest day. Fill tortillas with cheese (the recipe calls for cheddar cheese, but Monterey jack or a Mexican cheese blend would also be great), cover in sauce, and bake. The toppings — shredded cabbage, diced tomato, salty cotija cheese (or feta), and sour cream make these feel special.
The tortillas here are filled with chicken, simple enough, but what happens next will knock your socks off. The baking dish gets doused with a creamy salsa verde, then blanketed with shredded cheese. If you like dairy, these are the enchiladas you’re looking for.
Bean and Beef Enchilada Casserole
The filling gets a little zip by browning ground beef over medium heat or medium-high heat along with chili powder, cumin, and onion, and then you stir in a can of green chiles and some pinto beans. But there’s no rolling — you just layer tortillas, the beef mixture, and seasoned sour cream with enchilada sauce in a dish coated with cooking spray and add cheese during the last few minutes of baking. It’s a time-honored enchilada short-cut, and the end result is hearty, substantial, and utterly satisfying. And it works as a make-ahead dish, too.
Vegan Black Bean Enchiladas
OK, you might not find these on the menu at an old-school Mexican restaurant. But there’s no law that says enchiladas must feature animal products. A simple, seasoned mixture of black beans, chiles, and vegetables fills corn tortillas, and the rolled-up enchiladas bake in sauce, just like the others. You won’t miss the cheese one bit.
Chipotle Shredded Pork Enchiladas
Just in case you do have some time on your hands and want to go the whole nine yards for authentic flavor, this recipe from some Mexican home cooks takes you step by step through making gorgeous stacked enchiladas. You’ll simmer shredded pork in beer in a slow-cooker, blend a smoky chipotle chili sauce with roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, fry tortillas to soften them, layer the works with cheese, and then bake. Muy bueno.
I wasn’t kidding when I said you can turn practically anything into an enchilada. These recipes all demonstrate that point beautifully.
Shredded Beef and Black Bean Enchiladas
Leftover beef from a roast — cooked in the oven, braised, slow-cooked, or pressure-cooked — meets up with canned black beans, cheddar, and enchilada sauce to form the filling for these generous enchiladas.
Overnight Taco Breakfast Enchiladas
If you just made old-school tacos with ground beef for dinner and have leftover seasoned meat, this recipe puts it to good use. Before you go to bed, fill flour tortillas with the leftover beef, place them in a baking dish, then pour an egg custard over the whole thing. Refrigerate it overnight, and in the morning just pop the dish into the oven. Add a little cheese to melt on top, and serve with salsa and a dollop of sour cream.
Let’s say you have leftover cooked chicken breast or thigh meat, but no tortillas. No worries! Long, thin slices of zucchini make a lovely (and low-carb) substitute. Aside from the nifty trick with the zucchini, these enchiladas couldn’t be simpler — just the seasoned chicken mixture, cheese, and sauce. You’ll make the zucchini strips using a Y-shaped vegetable peeler.
Maple Pulled Pork Enchiladas with Butternut Squash
Got a cup or so of leftover pulled pork? Use it to fill these luscious enchiladas. This recipe calls for leftovers from a maple-scented pork braise, but that particular pork isn’t strictly necessary. (You can add a teaspoon or so of maple syrup to your pork, if you like.) The enchilada itself is beautifully simple, with mashed chili-scented butternut squash supporting the pork in the filling. Once they’re rolled, simply pour enchilada sauce on top, sprinkle with cheese, and bake until bubbly.
Red Pulled Pork Enchiladas with Jalapeño Corn and Cheese Filling
This inventive recipe calls for two different kinds of leftovers, pulled pork and creamed corn with jalapeño. (You can always add some jalapeño or hot sauce to canned creamed corn, too.) Pork + spicy corn + cheese = your filling is ready. By now you know what comes next: fill, roll, sauce, cheese, bake, eat.
Leftovers don’t only come from meat-focused meals. Each of these recipes uses plant-based foods to form the filling.
“Leftover” Meatless Enchiladas
In this case, cooked brown rice gets supplemented with canned black beans, seasoning, and prepared salsa to form a filling for soft tortillas. The recipe is so versatile, you don’t even need enchilada sauce — more of that salsa will do the trick.
Cook Once, Eat Twice! Black Bean Soup & Enchiladas
Here you’ll find an ingenious idea. First comes a recipe for an extra-hearty black bean soup made with simple pantry ingredients. After you enjoy that, drain the leftovers in a colander and stow for the next day. You’ll have the perfect filling for vegetarian enchiladas. Gotta love two meals from one pantry dive.
Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas
Remember how I said authenticity might not be the primary objective here? This recipe proves that. The enchiladas themselves are more like a Mexican lasagna — you’re layering tortillas and filling, rather than rolling them up individually. And the filling will adapt to any leftover roasted vegetables you have on hand. Season them with a little chili powder before adding to the baking dish, and you’re there.
Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas
I don’t know about you, but I always wind up with extra roasted butternut squash. These vegan enchiladas add tender, caramelized cubes of squash to canned black beans and enchilada sauce before rolling it all up inside tortillas. The recipe has you roast the squash specifically for this, but I never do — skip to step 4. And if you want to use canned enchilada sauce instead of homemade, you can start at step 7! Don’t skip the creamy avocado on top, though.
Mashed Potato Enchiladas
I must admit, I don’t think it ever would’ve occurred to me to use mashed potatoes as an enchilada filling. But now that I see this wonder, I’m sold. To make them, you season those spuds with sautéed onion, jalapeño, and garlic and stir in some corn kernels. Roll ‘em up and top with a tomatillo-based green enchilada sauce. (There’s a recipe to make the sauce from scratch, but store-bought is also fine.)
Enchiladas With Sweet Potatoes And Peanut Butter?
For this last one we have strayed far, far from authenticity — in fact the inspiration was a West African peanut stew. The filling starts out simple with roasted sweet potatoes and cooked rice, but soon goes into more playful territory with crunchy peanuts and leafy kale. That playful attitude continues with the sauce, which turns a traditional enchilada sauce upside down with the addition of peanut butter and ginger. (You saute onion and garlic with olive oil, add tomato sauce, and then the other ingredients.) The end result is a vegan enchilada you’ll want to cook again and again.
Recipes for quarantine cooking
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