Monday, June 11, 2012


I used to hate corn tortillas. I can only attribute this to having grown up in the Midwest, because ever since I moved to Southern California, I’ve gradually grown to love them, which I assume is I because I’ve finally been exposed to fresh, handmade, tender tortillas instead of the dry, mealy ones of my memories. (I don’t mean to malign the Midwest; Minnesota actually has a large Mexican population and you can get excellent tortillas there now, but if they existed in the 1980s and 1990s, I didn’t encounter them or was too picky to try them.) I still don’t really bother with average mass-produced corn tortillas, but every now and then I make a pilgrimage to my favorite Mexican grocery for a warm stack of their housemade ones. The only problem is that the smallest package of these still contains dozens of tortillas (I’ve never counted, but I’d say at least 48), and with no preservatives in them, they only stay moist, soft, and taco-worthy for a few days. Granted, this heap of tortillas sets me back less than $2, but I hate to see them go to waste. The less-fresh ones are great for making quesadillas or tostadas or baking into chips to dip in salsa, and of course they’re delicious in soup, but even after all that I can still find myself with leftovers, so I’ve been on the lookout for other ideas.

When I spotted a recipe for enfrijoladas—basically, enchiladas made with a bean sauce instead of tomato sauce—at Tasty Kitchen, it seemed like the perfect solution. But at second glance, I was a bit put off by the fact that the sauce was made out of canned refried beans, thinned with broth. (Nothing especially wrong with canned refried beans, mind you, but I’m a recent convert to bean-loving, and in my bean-hating days, refried beans grossed me out the most.) Wouldn’t it make more sense to puree freshly cooked dry beans, or even canned beans, in their liquid? I hit the Internet to find out, and after a lot of searching I found what I was looking for at Pati’s Mexican Table: a series of recipes for frijolas de olla (cooked beans), pureed beans, frijoles colados (refried pureed beans), and finally enfrijoladas. Pati’s enfrijoladas were simpler and more authentic, with no cheese filling, no baking, and no toppings beyond queso fresco, avocado, and crema—lovely, I’m sure, but I liked the idea of filling and baking them and making some sort of salsa-like toppings, so I combined Pati’s many recipes for the bean mixture with the Tasty Kitchen method, then improvised my own topping out of various fresh southwesternish vegetables.

I feel a bit sheepish posting this here because I don’t think I’ve perfected it yet, but if I don’t get it written down I’m afraid I’ll forget it entirely. And my enfrijoladas were very good, even though I think my bean mixture was still a bit too thick overall and I probably used a bit too much of it (after the first few tortillas tore I thinned it further, but the end result was still on the clumpy, casserole-ish side, with the enfrijoladas completely breaking down when I tried to get them out of the pan). Luckily, they were so delicious that I didn’t really care what they looked like, and the colorful topping helped to mask my aesthetic sins. This may seem like a lot of work to go through for what is basically an inside-out bean and cheese enchilada, but none of the steps were especially hard and I think the end result was worth it.

You could basically put whatever you want inside these; plain cheese was sufficient for me, but to ease A’s suspicions about such a bean-heavy dish, I threw in a little cooked chicken from my stash in the freezer, and it did add some texture. You could also put whatever you want on top, but I must say I was very pleased with my version.

P.S. I really recommend refrying your beans in bacon fat. It adds a wonderful smoky flavor that makes all the difference, in my opinion.

1 pound dry pinto or black beans
1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
2–3 tablespoons canola oil or bacon fat
12–16 corn tortillas (you may want to have extras on hand in case some of them tear)
2 to 3 cups grated pepper Jack cheese
1 to 2 cups cooked cubed or shredded chicken (optional)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Cooked kernels from 1 ear of corn
2–4 green onions, sliced
Chopped cilantro to taste
Several radishes, sliced (optional)
1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
Juice of 1 large lime

1. Rinse the beans in cold water and drain. Place them in a large, heavy pot and cover with about 10 cups of water, or enough water to come up to at least 3 inches above the top of the beans. Add half of the onion (just the entire piece, no need to cut it up). Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer, partially covered, for about 1½ hours, or cover pot entirely and transfer to a preheated 250-degree oven for 75 to 90 minutes. When the beans are tender, add 1 tablespoon salt. Let them continue simmering for about another 15 minutes, or until the beans are so soft that they come apart if you hold one between your fingers. If the beans are not yet soft and the pot is drying out, add more water. When the beans are cooked, remove the onion with a slotted spoon and discard.

2. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Place the beans and 2 cups of the cooking liquid in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

3. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil or bacon fat and heat until hot but not smoking, about 1 to 2 minutes. Dice the other half of the onion, add it to the pan, and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until it is softened and translucent, and has started to slightly brown along the edges. Add the pureed beans a cupful at a time over the sautéed onion, and let the mixture season for 3 to 4 minutes.

4. Reduce heat to low. Gradually add more bean cooking liquid (you can also use chicken or vegetable broth) to thin the bean mixture to a soupy/saucelike consistency. For me, this was at least 2 cups, and I probably could have used more, but your mileage may vary—just experiment until you find the right consistency. If the sauce is too thick, the tortillas will tear when you dunk them in and try to lift them out again; if that happens, just add more liquid and try again with a new tortilla. (The torn bean-soaked tortillas make a good snack for the cook.) Season sauce with salt to taste. I also stirred in a little bit of salsa for additional flavor; I might do more of that next time.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

6. Heat your tortillas in the microwave until soft and pliable (or heat them briefly on a hot skillet on the stove). One by one, dip them into the bean mixture so that the tortilla is coated on both sides. Lay the tortilla in a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of grated cheese on one half of the tortilla and top with a little chicken, if desired. Fold the tortilla in half to cover the filling. Repeat with remaining tortillas until dish is full. Pour some of the remaining bean sauce over the tortillas in the baking dish (just do this to your taste; you don’t want to drown them, so you might not use it all—I probably could have used a little less). Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese, to taste.

7. Bake for about 10 or 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

8. Meanwhile, mix together tomatoes, corn, green onions, cilantro, radishes (if desired), and avocado in a medium bowl. Add the lime juice and salt to taste, and toss well.

9. Serve the enfrijoladas topped with the tomato mixture.

Serves: 4–8
Time: 3 hours
Leftover potential: Good, but store topping separately.

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