Saturday, November 23, 2013


I was craving chili with all the fixings. A pointed out that it was over 90 degrees outside (this was back in September), hardly the ideal weather for simmering a hot pot for several hours on the stove. A countered with a request for beef tacos. I pointed out that I needed leftovers to take to work, and tacos are very annoying to transport because I have to store each component in a separate container and assemble them all at my desk. We needed a compromise, something spicy and beefy but not overly heavy, something compact and portable. Enchiladas were the perfect solution.

It turns out that I’m such a rube of a northern Midwesterner that I didn’t know authentic enchilada sauce doesn’t have tomatoes in it. I guess I always assumed that’s what made it red—and in Minnesota in the 1980s, that may have been the case. (My enchilada experience is not vast, since I avoided them for most of my youth because they were usually made with corn tortillas, which I hated.) Poking around online for enchilada recipes, however, I soon learned from Homesick Texan that genuine Tex-Mex sauce is essentially a gravy that starts with a roux, spiked with plenty of chili powder and thinned it with broth. Easy done. I wasn’t sure I liked it when I tasted it on its own, but it was awesome when baked into the enchiladas, deep and dark and smoky. (I vaguely recall adding some chipotle chili powder into the mix to enhance the smokiness.) Even if the filling I used here doesn’t sound good to you, you should still try this sauce and swap it into the enchilada recipe of your choice—it’s one of those amazing kitchen tricks that goes from “I’m not sure this is going to work…” to “I can’t believe I made that!” in a few minutes flat.

I chose a recipe from Confections of a Foodie Bride that combined the chili gravy with a straightforward spiced-beef filling, but cut the meatiness with some beans. Refried beans aren’t my favorite (although they’re growing on me), but they melt into the background here and create a wonderful creamy, saucy consistency. It was my first time buying canned ones, but it turns out Trader Joe’s fat-free refried beans are pretty darn good, at least for this purpose.

Still thinking of chili and tacos, and wanting to make things a bit healthier and more colorful since it was still technically summer, I topped the enchiladas generously with shredded lettuce and a pico-de-gallo-type salad made of cherry tomatoes, avocado, green onions, cilantro and lime juice. Probably not authentic, but excellent all the same.

Not surprisingly, the enchiladas were delicious and are destined to become a repeat favorite. Apparently A and I need to disagree about what to eat more often, if it results in this type of tasty compromise.

Chili gravy:
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups chicken broth
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
½ medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 14 ounce-can refried beans
16-20 small flour tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded

1. To make the chili gravy, heat the ¼ cup oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes until the roux is light brown.

2. Add the pepper, salt, garlic, cumin, oregano, and chili powder and continue to cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

3. Add broth slowly, stirring while the sauce thickens.

4. Turn heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes while you make the enchilada filling.

5. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef to the pan, breaking up with a spoon, and cook thoroughly. Drain excess grease from the meat and set the meat aside.

6. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet and add onions, cooking until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

7. Return cooked beef to the pan and stir in chili powder and cumin. Stir in the refried beans and ½ can of water. Stir until smooth and cook until bubbly.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While it heats, put ½ cup of chili gravy into a 9x13 baking pan and spread it evenly.

9. Add ¼ to ⅓ cup beef mixture to the center of a tortilla and top with a pinch of cheese. Roll up and place seam side down in the pan. Repeat until all the beef mixture is used. Pour remaining chili gravy over the enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.

10. Bake 12-15 minutes in the oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve unadorned or with garnishes of your choice (e.g., cilantro, green onions, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado).

Serves: 8-10 (2 enchiladas each)
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great.

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