I find so many parallels between Italian and Mexican food. You basically have a grain (pasta or tortilla), a tomato based sauce, veggies, meats, and a whole lot of cheese in every dish. To me, enchiladas are the Italian equivalent of manicotti – I know, this is not rocket science, it’s fairly obvious.
The best part about both of these dishes is the vast opportunity for culinary originality. You can pretty much stuff anything inside a manicotti shell and bake it covered in cheese and sauce. Same goes for enchiladas! The typical enchilada is filled with ground beef (not a fan) and “taco seasoning”. Not knocking the seasoning packet, but I try to avoid them as much as possible.
With shredded chicken, TONS of spinach, lowfat cheeses and lots of spices, you can make a much healthier, lower sodium and equally satisfying (I would dare to say more satisfying) version.
Oh, enchilada sauce. You can buy that in cans at the store. You can also make the version below. It ends up being cheaper, not to mention much more fresh. Interesting tidbit about the cilantro – did you know that you are biologically determined to love it or abhor it? True story. If you’re a hater, then skip it or sub flat leaf parsley instead. Because you’re using the blender, the sauce comes together lickity-split and can be used for a second dinner later on – Second dinner: Go meatfree! Cook up some brown rice and mix in a drained and rinsed 14 oz. can of black or red beans. While it’s all in the saucepan, add your enchilada sauce and stir until heated through. Yum!
*If making this dish to travel, keep your sauce in tupperware and your cheese in a baggie. Just before baking, top with sauce and cheese. I made it around 10 am and brought it down the shore to eat that night – worked great!
Shredded Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 c. (heaping) salsa (I like Pace, medium heat)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 c. loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 large white or yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp. salt
10 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed
2 1/2 c. cooked and shredded chicken or turkey
1/2 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. chili powder
Big pinch cayenne (more or less depending on heat level you want)
1 c. salsa
3 oz. lowfat cream cheese
1/3 c. shredded cheddar cheese
10-12 medium sized tortillas, white or whole wheat
1 1/2 -2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1. To make enchilada sauce, place tomatoes, salsa, salt, cumin, chili, cayenne pepper and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
2. Add oil to a large skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add onion and salt and saute until soft, about 8 minutes.
3. Add spinach and saute until totally wilted and all of the excess water has evaporated off, about 10 minutes. Spinach is like 99% water so as it wilts it releases a lot of liquid. You don’t want that excess liquid in your enchiladas, so stir occasionally as it cooks and the water will evaporate.
4. Add cooked chicken or turkey and spices and stir until mixed. A great way to cook the meat for a dish like this is in the microwave (no, really). Just arrange the meat on a plate and microwave for several minutes. Rearrange so that the pinkest parts are facing the outside of the plate and microwave again for a minute. Continue this way until the meat is white all the way through. Shred with two forks – hold the meat with one fork and pull against the meat with the other one.
5. Add salsa and stir to combine.
6. Add cream cheese and stir to combine. A lot of recipes for enchiladas call for sour cream in the filling. I find that with just a little cream cheese instead, you can get the texture and flavor for a lot lower calories.
7. Once cream cheese is combined, turn off heat and add cheddar cheese. Stir to combine.
8. If you haven’t yet, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking pan with nonstick spray. Fill each tortilla down the center with the filling and roll up – place in pan, seam side down. Continue filling tortillas and fitting them snugly up against one another until filling and tortillas are all used up. Normally I would use whole wheat, but since a friend of mine would be eating it who openly discriminates against whole grain products, I used white.
9. Top with as much enchilada sauce as you like (I recommend about 2 c. – you will have leftover sauce). Cover with cheese.
10. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes or until cheese is thoroughly melted and perhaps has started to bubble.
11. Serve garnished with any leftover cilantro leaves and a salad on the side. Since you will have leftover enchilada sauce, feel free to put it out on the table,warmed.
*This sauce makes a great (and REALLY low calorie) salad dressing or sauce for pretty much anything – chicken/pork/fish as well as roasted veggies or plainly cooked grains. It will last in your fridge for at least a week or two.