A seasonal take on enchiladas
Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
As a savory salute to Latino Heritage Month, I am serving up my own seasonal take on enchiladas. Sweet corn, avocados and bell peppers are all currently in season in Southern California, which means many stores are sourcing locally. This enables you to buy fresher and more flavorful produce. Of course, purchasing seasonal produce from farmer’s market would be the best choice, but the nearby grocery store works as well.
Whether I am living at home or on my own, I frequently make enchiladas. They are easy to put together and reheat well if you make too many, which I often do. As versatile as they are tasty, you can fill them with almost any ingredient you wish to create your own recipe. Some of my best enchiladas have been products of “clean out the refrigerator” nights; tortillas are a staple in my house, so these feasts only required a can of sauce. Try this recipe for a taste of the end of summer wrapped in a tortilla and smothered in sultry red sauce. Since cooking is more flexible than baking, feel free to add or subtract ingredients as you see fit.
Chicken Enchiladas with Sweet Corn, Bell Pepper and Avocado
8-10 flour tortillas
2 chicken breasts, diced into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch of salt
Pinch of black pepper
4 ounces baby spinach; it usually comes in 6 ounce bags
1 red bell pepper, small diced; it can also be orange or yellow if you so desire
2 ears of sweet corn; frozen corn is also completely acceptable, but avoid canned for best flavor
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1 28-ounce can red enchilada sauce; see note below
1-2 avocados, sliced thin for garnish
The most important factor in this dish's success happens before you get to the kitchen. Buying the right kind of enchilada sauce will determine how your enchiladas taste, for better or worse. However, do not let this daunting task deter you — I come bearing knowledge.
If you shop at any standard grocery store such as Stater Bros. or Albertsons, you will inevitably find a can of La Victoria red enchilada sauce. Buy it. Whether you prefer mild or hot, each true to its labeling, this brand will help you on your way to delicious enchiladas.
If you go to Trader Joe's, another fabulous enchilada sauce awaits your purchase. Simply named, Trader Joe's Enchilada Sauce is not quite authentic, but its smoky flavor with a little kick of heat is worth straying for. I would call it mild, but I also have been frequently consuming hot sauce since childhood, so it might be more of a medium if you tend to be more sensitive to heat. It comes in 12-ounce bottles; buy two for this recipe. After putting the bottles of sauce in your cart, walk over to the tortillas and grab a package. Trader Joe's tortillas are the best I have found outside a tortilleria — most big-brand grocery store tortillas make me sad.
Now that you have the proper kind of sauce, you may preheat the oven to 325 F.
Place a frying pan on a burner set to medium heat. When the pan becomes hot add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, coating the pan evenly. Add the diced chicken, salt and black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so. Since the pieces are small, it will cook fairly quickly. When all the chicken appears to be cooked, check a piece by cutting it in half. The chicken will be done when it is white, with not even a hint of pink, all the way through. Try not to leave the chicken on the heat once it is finished; chicken becomes dry when overcooked. Pour the chicken into a bowl or plate and return the pan to the heat, set to medium-low. When the pan is hot again, coat the pan with 1 tablespoon of oil and add half the baby spinach. Cook just until it wilts and softens, turning a darker green. Pour into another bowl, add the last tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook the second half of the spinach in the same way.
If you have whole ears of corn, pull the husks off and discard them. Lay the ear down on a cutting board horizontally, not standing straight up, and cut the kernels off. To do this, start on the side of the ear on which you are holding your knife — right side of the ear if you are right-handed — and rotate the corn ear 90 degrees. Make the first cut about a half inch from the edge; you will see the bottoms of the other kernels after this and can easily judge where to cut next. Collect all the corn kernels into a bowl. If you have frozen corn, just pull the bag out of the freezer before beginning to cook; it will defrost as the enchiladas cook.
Cutting a bell pepper is very simple. Cut around the stem and remove it. Cut the pepper in half and cut away the middle membrane and seeds, which can be discarded as well. Cut the rest of the pepper into small squares, no bigger than half an inch.
In a 9x13-inch baking pan, which can be glass, metal or ceramic, pour just enough enchilada sauce to coat the bottom. This will prevent the enchiladas from sticking. Save the rest of the sauce.
In the middle of a tortilla place a little of each: chicken, spinach, corn, bell pepper and cheese. Wrap up tightly like a burrito. For those who find the latter instruction insufficient, please read on for Burrito Folding 101. Fold in the right and left sides of the tortilla about a quarter of the way towards the middle so that they cross the line of filling perpendicularly. Next, fold the side closest to you into the middle, covering the filling, pull the end back towards you to tighten the roll that will begin to form. Continue folding away from you until there is no more tortilla left to roll. Place in the pan and repeat until you run out of fillings or room in the pan; this should happen simultaneously if you do not over-fill the enchiladas. If it’s difficult to roll up without ripping the tortilla, it is overfilled. Reserve a handful or two of cheese for garnish.
Pour the remainder of the enchilada sauce slowly and evenly over the tops of the enchiladas once the pan is filled. You will use most, if not all, of your sauce. Just be sure that the sauce does not become dangerously close to spilling over the sides of the pan, since this may cause the sauce to spill over in the oven as it cooks. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top of the sauced enchiladas and put in the oven. Set the timer for 40 minutes.
The enchiladas are done when the sauce is bubbling all around the edges; it will appear to be a light simmer rather than a boil. Take the enchiladas out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
Cut the avocado by cutting into it at the top and cutting all around, back to where you started. Open and take out the pit with a spoon. Do not stab it with your knife please — one bad aim and you will be hunting for a bandage instead of enjoying enchiladas with avocado. Take the avocado half and slice long pieces from top to bottom. Remove from the skin with a spoon.
Serve up an enchilada, place as many slices of avocado as your heart desires on top, and dive in.