I do not remember a time when I didn’t love Mexican food. I’m sure there was such a time—I was raised by Midwestern parents with a taste for bland, starchy food—but I don’t remember it. Nor do I remember my first taste of cumin or coriander. I can only assume that my first brush with Mexican food came in the form of tacos served for hot lunch at school.
It’s just as well that I don’t remember that dark chapter of my personal history, because I adore Mexican food—and its cousin, Tex-Mex—so much that trying to imagine a life without it is just painful. One of the things I love most about living in Texas is that my grocery store makes fresh tortillas daily, and things that might be considered “specialty” foods elsewhere—things like piloncillo and queso fresco—are readily available. Being introduced to those ingredients opened up a whole new world of food that I couldn’t wait to try.
My kids are not quite so adventurous. My daughter will taste almost anything, unless it has a really strong smell. My son wants his food as simple as possible. He’s perfectly happy to eat a cheese quesadilla—but try to add pico de gallo, or some refried beans, and you’re in for a fight. I hate to make mealtime a battle, so I’m always trying to develop recipes that everyone will eat, if not enjoy.
This recipe for Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas, which I made for dinner tonight, comes pretty close to meeting that requirement—it satisfies my craving for Tex-Mex without a lot of the spice my son can’t stomach. He doesn’t care for beans, either, but it would be easy to leave them out (or make a few plain chicken enchiladas before adding beans to the filling mixture.) The beans add fiber and protein, and they help stretch the filling mixture further than it would go otherwise, but plain chicken enchiladas are tasty too. I add beans because their nutritional value helps me to justify the creamy sauce poured over these lovelies.
There are several ways to make this recipe less labor-intensive. You can buy a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat once you get home. At some grocery stores, you can buy your onions already chopped. And of course you can buy a bag of shredded cheese—although pre-shredded cheese is considerably drier than cheese shredded at home, and I find that it doesn’t melt as smoothly.
Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas
12 to 16 6-inch tortillas
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
1 can (15 oz.) black beans
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilies
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 tsp. coriander
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1 cup sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Over low heat, sauté onions and garlic with a smidge of butter until softened. Scrape them into a medium bowl; add the chicken, beans, green chilies, and ½ cup of the shredded cheese. Stir it all together and set the bowl aside.
In the same pan, again over low heat, melt the rest of the butter and whisk in the flour. Add the coriander, whisk again, and cook 2 or 3 minutes, until thick and bubbly. Add the chicken broth slowly, whisking to keep the mixture smooth. Bring the sauce back to a slow bubble and allow it to cook for 5 more minutes, whisking occasionally to keep everything thick and smooth. Move the pan off the heat. Now stir in 1 cup of the shredded cheese and the sour cream.
Keep the sauce off the heat while you assemble the enchiladas. It will cool, but that’s okay. Everything goes in the oven soon.
Lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray. Add ½ cup of the cheese sauce to your filling mixture and stir one more time to combine. Spread about ¼ cup of the filling mixture down the middle of a tortilla; roll each side over the filling and place in your prepared pan, seam side down. Repeat this process with the remaining tortillas and filling. You’ll want to place the enchiladas close to each other, so they don't unwrap during baking, but leave enough room for the sauce to get between them. Don’t worry about how many enchiladas you end up with, and don’t worry about their arrangement in the pan. As long as they’re relatively close to each other, you’re fine.
When you’re finished rolling the enchiladas, pour the sauce evenly over the pan and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup cheese. Bake them for 25 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and the sauce is bubbly.