Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas

Feb 17th

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. Food makes me philosophical.

The best part about both of these dishes is the vast opportunity for 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.

Finally, 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

Enchilada Sauce

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

Filling

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

For assembly

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.

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, cream cheese and cheddar and stir to combine.

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6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with nonstick spray. Spoon 1 c. enchilada sauce into pan and spread to coat pan.

7. 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.

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8. Top with as much enchilada sauce as you like (I recommend about 2 c. – you will have leftover sauce). Cover with cheese.

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9. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until cheese is thoroughly melted and perhaps has started to bubble.

10. Serve garnished with any leftover cilantro leaves.

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