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9 Must-Know Tips for the Next Time You Cook Enchiladas

Streamline your next make-ahead, reduced-fat, or Tex-Mex enchilada recipe using some of our best recipe discoveries.

By Cook's Country | April 09, 2018

CINCO DE MAYO SHARES the same stage as National Enchilada Day. So it’s only fair that we give you some streamlined tips on how you can turn enchiladas into an easy weeknight meal rather than a once-a-year indulgence. No matter what type of recipe you’re cooking up—make-ahead, low-fat, or traditional Tex-Mex—these tips will help you make the very best version.

How to Make the Best Make-Ahead Enchiladas

With a little bit of advance preparation, this make-ahead enchiladas recipe is ready to eat just 30 minutes after you walk through your front door. That’s a luxury you won’t get with most enchilada recipes after a long work day. Our streamlined recipe includes several tricks for preventing the enchiladas from sogging out after baking. Here are three tips you should use next time you make enchiladas in advance.

1. Use Cooking Spray To Coat the Tortillas: Spray the tortillas with a light coating of cooking spray and bake them for a couple minutes in a moderate oven before assembling and freezing the enchiladas. In addition to preventing sogginess, this softens them enough so that they're pliant enough to roll easily.

2. Freeze the Sauce and Tortillas Separately: The tortillas survive the freezing process only if they are left completely unsauced. Wrap the filled enchiladas in bundles, well protected with plastic wrap and foil, and freeze the sauce separately.

3. Bake the Enchiladas Straight From the Freezer: Don't thaw the enchiladas before baking. Thawing allows the enchiladas to absorb moisture as they soften. Putting the enchiladas into the oven stone-cold frozen prevents them from getting mushy. 

MAKE-AHEAD ENCHILADAS

Freezer Chicken Enchiladas

Most enchilada recipes you'll come across are too time-consuming — our recipe gives you the opportunity to make them in advance. This time when your "lazy-cooking" day rolls around, you'll have dinner ready in 30 minutes. 

How to Make the Best Reduced-Fat Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Dishes like this are often off-limits for health-minded eaters due to common wisdom that says you can look, but you can’t eat. But the thing about common wisdom, we’ve found, is this: it’s always ripe for revision. Here are some ways to lighten up your next enchilada recipe.

1. Don't Be Afraid of Lower-Fat Cheese: We understand that lower-fat cheese doesn’t have the same flavor profile of full-fat cheese. But we were happy to find that after tasting Monterey Jack, Colby Jack, American, and cheddar, recipe tasters declared the flavor and meltiness of low-fat cheddar to be a worthy substitute for its full-fat version.

2. Replace Chicken Thighs for Breasts: Many enchilada recipes call for flavorful (and relatively fatty) chicken thighs, but opting for chicken breasts saves some calories. To make up for any flavor loss, we flavored the chicken with minced chipotle and garlicky adobo sauce. This gave our enchiladas muscle and depth without setting off fire alarms.

3. Be Liberal with Spices and Herbs: Add ground cumin in the sauce and a toss of cilantro at the end for freshness. This will give the enchiladas vibrant and exciting flavors without any additional calories.

LOW-FAT DONE RIGHT

Reduced-Fat Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Traditional chicken enchilada recipes contain 560 calories. With our recipe, you'll cut back on 220 calories without sacrificing the flavor. Talk about a win-win. 

How to Make the Best Tex-Mex Enchiladas

Enchiladas are an important dish in Tex-Mex cuisine, which is a fusion of Mexican and American cooking. One of our test cooks, originally from Texas, describes this style of enchiladas as oozing with cheese (usually yellow, often processed), wrapped in corn tortillas—never flour—and topped with brown chile gravy and onion. At least that’s how she last had them at Dart Bowl, a bowling alley in Austin. This version of enchiladas should be relatively simple—but after preparing a few recipes, we found simplicity of flavor doesn’t always mean “simple to prepare.” Here are some tips on how to make your next Mexican-American enchilada recipe quicker and better.  

1. Start with the Chile Gravy: Chile gravy is a cross between Mexican enchilada sauce and traditional Anglo brown gravy made from roux-thickened broth (see “What is Chile Gravy?”). A lot of the recipes call for a number of fussy, time-consuming methods to achieve the rich, smoky, but mellow flavor. To make this sauce quicker we found that two toasted chiles ground with a combination of garlic powder, cumin seeds, oregano, salt, pepper, and a few teaspoons of vinegar gave this sauce a smoky, slight fruity flavor with just an edge of bitterness.

2. Forget the Processed Cheese: For devotees that argue Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas must feature runny melted cheese that pools in the chile gravy, our foolproof recipe proves that it doesn’t have to come from processed cheese often used in restaurant enchiladas. A mix of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack gives the right meeting point between good flavor and good meltability.

3. Microwave—Don’t Fry—the Tortillas: Traditional recipes call for frying the corn tortillas in a few inches of oil to soften them and to keep them from getting soggy during baking. Instead, brush the tortillas with oil and microwave them for 30 seconds. This alternative solution will help you save time with the same outcome.

TEXAN-STYLE

Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas

We eliminated the processed cheese and deep frying and still produced a recipe that will make any Texan proud.

What are some shortcuts you’ve discovered for making enchiladas? Let us know in the comments! And if you’re looking for more enchilada-inspired dishes, check out these recipes:

 

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