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I went more than 30 years without a bean & cheese enchilada. Until college, the Mexican food in my life was limited to the kit-in-a-box taco night, which I loved, and the occasional snack of chips and salsa. I discovered Mexican pizza at a small restaurant just off campus, never venturing bothering to try anything else on the menu, and cooked a fair number of chicken fajitas and ground beef tacos in our tiny college apartment. Then I learned about frozen burritos. So easy! So convenient! So bland and boring. I wasn’t a huge fan of beans to begin with, and those soggy, slimy things turned me off even trying any other dish involving beans and cheese. How funny, in hindsight, that an eater as adventurous as I tend to be was completely dissuaded by such a simple food, not to mention the fact that I judged an entire, arguably broad segment of a cuisine on one bad frozen burrito. For shame. I recently decided to try, try again and now am kicking myself for missing out on such goodness. There are times when a bean & cheese enchilada is the only correct answer.

To me, the key was learning to make the individual components, allowing me to control the textures and flavors I was put off by in pre-made products. (Isn’t that so often the case?) Though I don’t make tortillas (yet), I have perfected my enchilada sauce and learned how to pressure cook pinto and black beans in a way I am happy to eat. I remember, in high school, watching my friend J confidently make tacos without using a seasoning packet, which blew my mind at the time– how did she get all the flavor in there? The tacos tasted like the ones I knew from a box. Once I learned which spices and flavors to play with, the lightbulb was on. Though I still have so much to learn about recreating the complex layers of spice and seasoning in my favorite Mexican dishes, I am more comfortable using cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, epazote, cilantro, etc. to make my dishes tastier.

My husband loves bean & cheese burritos and enchiladas and was happy to test my attempts to find our favorite version. This recipe is the way we make them now. I pressure cook a pound or so of pinto or black beans at a time, portion them into 3 c. containers and freeze until I want to use them. You can certainly used canned beans, or cook them specifically for the recipe; if you’re doing the latter, this link has some good tips on soaking, quantities of dry beans to use and aromatics to add for extra flavor. Make sure to use a bean you like eating– cheese and enchilada sauce make these extra-special, but the majority of the recipe is still beans. As for tortillas, the same rule applies: though corn tortillas are more traditional, I use flour tortillas because we prefer the texture. Use what you like. Regardless of how you customize them, bean & cheese enchiladas are a crowd-pleaser. I plan to eat them fairly often to make up for lost years.

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Bean & Cheese Enchiladas

  • 1 tsp. canola or grapeseed oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped, white/light green and dark green pieces separated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 c. cooked beans, drained and rinsed if using canned
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin, preferably fresh-ground
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. shredded cheese (medium cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper jack or similar, or a mix of these), separated
  • 6-8 tortillas
  • 1 c. enchilada sauce, or more to taste
  • sour cream, black olives, diced avocado and/or cilantro to serve

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 2 qt. oval or rectangular casserole dish and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and then cook the white and light green parts of the onion and the garlic for 2-3 mins. until soft and fragrant. Add half of the cooked beans and use the back of a spoon to mash them into a thick paste. Gently stir in the rest of the beans with the chili powder, cumin and salt, just until combined and heated through; add a few tablespoons of water if your mixture is particularly thick. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half of the grated cheese.

Pour about 1/2 c. enchilada sauce into a pie plate or similar pan with shallow sides. Now get ready for some fun messiness: dip each tortilla into the sauce and flip to coat both sides, then shake or brush excess sauce off. Fill with 1/6 or 1/8 of the bean filling, depending on how many tortillas you’re using, then fold up one end of the tortilla over the middle and fold the sides across until you have an envelope. Place each enchilada seam-side down in the greased baking dish and continue the process, squeezing them in like sardines, until your filling has been used up. Add extra sauce to the pie plate as needed; pour any leftover plus the remainder of your original 1 c. sauce over the top of the filled enchiladas and spread evenly. Top with the remaining 1/2 c. shredded cheese; bake for 30 mins. until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Serve garnished with the dark green pieces of onion and your choice of toppings. These enchiladas are terrific the next day; reheat individually or as a lot.

Variations:
Greens, Bean & Cheese: Add 1 c. spinach, chard or kale to the pan after the onions & garlic have softened and allow it to wilt/cook slightly. Proceed with the rest of the recipe as usual.

Chorizo, Bean & Cheese: Add 1/4 lb. ground chorizo to the pan after the onions & garlic have softened and cook through. Proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Sloppy Bean’chiladas: A riff on Sloppy Joes– add 1/2 c. diced green pepper and 1/2 c. diced tomato to the pan after the onions & garlic have softened and cook for 3-5 mins. Proceed with the rest of the recipe.

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