Sunday, March 15, 2009

Enchilada Casserole, or Mexican Lasagna (the recipe that started it all...)

Enchilada Casserole, or Mexican Lasagna

The recipe that started it all!

For many years I had happily fooled my friends into thinking that I could not cook. This kept me from being asked to make EVERY meal for my culinary challenged friends, to whom the secrets of top ramen were a quite unsolvable mystery. For the few who knew how to cook (you all know who I’m talking about here), well pity was taken on me by those souls, and my kitchen was always full of wonderful delectable from their test kitchens.

I don’t really know where the rumor started that I couldn’t cook, but I never said I couldn’t cook, I just didn’t correct them when they showed up on my door with something tasty saying “since you can’t cook, I made you this…”. I mean, would you turn down free food?

Well, one day, I was craving good old fashioned enchilada’s, like mom used to make. Being allergic to onion, I was wary of traveling to the local Mexican restaurant, and the roommate was supposed to be out of town, so I was safe. I made up a big old heaping dish and just as I was sitting down to eat, in comes the roommate, with a few mutual friends. My secret was out!! Not only that, but after one bite, well the whole town knew I made enchilada’s, which quickly became a very much requested item at any function I went to.

Of course, I blame Shane for all of this. If he had shown up with some delectable morsel to feed me, I never would of risked cooking when people were still up and about! So one night of craving weakness, and I’ve been cooking for friends ever since, not that I mind. I am usually rewarded with something, be it a glamorous desert, or just a nice glass of wine. This forced servitude had sparked a joy for cooking, a simple pleasure of seeing the look when someone really likes my dish, so I have gone from thinking of cooking as a chore, to seeing it as a meditative private time, whose end result is to be shared amongst friends.

Remember, even the layered “easy” approach to enchilada’s is a labor of love and an investment of time. Don’t rush yourself, get your ingredients ready and give yourself plenty of time to prepare. I prefer to cook these while alone, with no one to interrupt, no one to interfere with the truly Zen like state enchilada making can bring. Like the


5 lbs boneless chicken breast
5-10 cloves of garlic
3 28 oz cans red enchilada sauce, mild or medium (we will be adding more spice to the sauce, so it can get HOT. I usually mix 2 cans medium and 1 can mild, something I forgot to do in this batch, and will be paying for later)
3 heaping tablespoons New Mexico Chili Powder
3 level tablespoons California Chili Powder
3 level tablespoons Hot Chili Powder
5 4.25 oz cans diced black olives
12 corn tortillas
8 oz shredded Cheddar Cheese
8 oz shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
8 oz shredded Queso Quesadilla Cheese
8 oz shredded Asadero Cheese
(You can get the big, 32 oz bag of “Fiesta” or “Mexican 4 Cheese” pre-shredded cheese mixes, or shred all the above cheeses fresh and mix yourself).
Cooking Oil (a lot of it, these are not “diet enchilada’s” after all. You can use your favorite cooking oil for blanching the tortillas, just keep I mind that they will take on some flavor of the oil)

Refried Garlic Black Beans

4 cans whole cooked black beans
8 cloves garlic

Avocado to garnish the plate (this takes some of the burn out of your mouth to, if they get too hot)

THE PREP WORK (you can do the steps in any order, just as long as you get everything prepped before assembly, otherwise you’ll drive yourself mad, like I have on many occasions!)

The Chicken

Cut the chicken breast to approximately ½ inch squares. The chicken was still just a little frozen and I rushed it into the grill with a great result, the moistest chicken I have ever had, and no ill effects.

Fill the grill pan with ½ an inch of cooking oil and start to heat on low heat.

Mince the garlic (5 large cloves or 10 small cloves) and divide into portions equal to how many “batches” you will grill your chicken in. My grill pan can’t hold 5 pounds of chicken, so I normally cook it in 3 batches.

Add one portion of garlic to the oil and brown, stirring constantly with a spatula so it doesn’t burn. Burnt garlic and browned garlic are NOT EQUAL!

Add the chicken and cover for about 5 minutes, uncovering to stir regularly.

As I said, my chicken was still a little a frozen, and the pan quickly filled with water.

With the lid on the grill pan, the chicken came out so moist! I stirred regularly to make sure the chicken browned evenly, so it didn’t have that “boiled” look. Even my roommate commented how good the chicken came out!!

This was only 1 of 3 batches, I don’t skimp on my chicken!!

The Sauce

Be very very careful when dealing with enchilada sauce, it will stain everything. Porcelain, counter tops, clothing, and skin!! I have gone around with red fingertips many times because the sauce just won’t come out, especially before its been cooked. Hair stylists could use this stuff for a really spicy and unique color!!

To each can of enchilada sauce, add 1 heaping tablespoon of New Mexico Chili Powder, 1 level tablespoon California Chili Powder and 1 level tablespoon Hot Chili Powder.

Stir very well. When you think you’re done stirring, stir some more. You don’t want any clumps or gritty particles, as this will give your sauce a “gritty” or “dirty” taste. Run the spoon around the bottom of the can, as this is where the clumps like to hide. I brought this spoon out of the bottom of the can, from the edges, after many minutes of stirring.

Make sure you don’t have any clumps!! And in case I haven’t said it enough, no clumps!!!

The Tortillas

Fill a fry pan with 1 to 1 1/2 inch oil and bring up to high temperature. Make sure to stay within the threshold for the oil you decided to use, we don’t want burnt oil. If it is smoking heavily, then you got it too hot and its time to start again!

Blanch the corn tortillas in the oil, one at a time, for 10 seconds on each side. Blanching will slightly cook the tortillas so they don’t have an “uncooked” taste, along with opening them up to absorb more and more of the sauce during baking.

Place the blanched tortillas aside, with a clean paper towel between each tortilla to absorb any excess oil. It may use up a lot of paper towels, but trust me, you will be happy you did. If you don’t, the tortillas can actually stick to one another, and then you have a bigger mess when you get to the assembly portion.

WARNING!! Blanching tortillas in hot oil is dangerous and HOT work! ALWAYS have something cold and refreshing to sip on to avoid overheating.

I used a nice Sauvignon Blanc, but a Pinot Grigio or even a Retzina would do! This is for your safety and to preserve your Zen moment! Nothing looses that Zen feeling like getting overheated!

The Cheese

If you didn’t buy the bagged pre mixed cheese, you can mix the cheese now.

Open the olives and drain any excess fluid. Fluff with a fork for easy sprinkling.

Alright, do we have everything??

Chicken, check.
Tortillas, check.
Cheese, check,
Olives, check.
Safety Wine, check, check and check!!!


Most of the hard work is done, and all the messy parts with hot oil and the risks of grease fires are long past, so feel free to really start finishing off that wine now. After all, you don’t want an open bottle lying around when your guests show up, and they will expect a fresh, new bottle.

**Disclaimer, to much wine could result in permanent enchilada sauce stains on your counters, floors, cupboards, ceiling, face, hands and hair. The author is in no way responsible for any added red freckles you may come up with during the making of this recipe, especially when wine is consumed in the cooking process. **

Take your 13 by 9 inch baking dish and lightly coat the bottom with enchilada sauce.

Cover bottom of pan with first 6 tortillas. They should only slightly overlap. Place a full tablespoon of sauce in the center of each tortilla.

Using the bottom of the spoon, spread the sauce to evenly coat the tortillas.

Add 1/2 of grilled chicken, spreading out evenly along the pan.
Sprinkle 1/3 of black olives over chicken.
Add enchilada sauce to cover chicken layer.

Add 1/3 of cheese.
Pouring back and forth over cheese, add enchilada sauce until it covers the top of the chicken layer.

You can see at the edge of the pan when you’ve added enough.


Getting close to done, go ahead and turn on the oven now and pre-heat to 350 degrees.

Repeat the process for layer two, coating the bottom of the tortillas with sauce this time.

After you have finished layer 2, you will have 1/3 of the cheese and olives left. Mound the leftover cheese on top.

Add the remaining olives, and going back and forth in the center of the cheese, add remaining enchilada sauce until the pan is almost full (rather discard a little sauce than risk spilling the whole thing onto yourself, remember, before baking, this sauce stains skin!!).

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the enchilada casserole is baking, you can make the garlic refried black beans! These are really, really yummy!! They were one of those “I’ll just throw this together and not care what it tastes like” kind of things that I ended up surprising myself with. I dug into them that first time and was in refried heaven!! So simple and oh so yummy!!

I use 2 cloves of garlic per can of black beans for this recipe.

Open and drain most of the liquid from the black beans, reserving the liquid.

Add minced garlic to top of beans.

Mash the beans with a potato masher until they are all completely mashed. If they look a little dry, ass some of the reserved liquid to bring them back to life.

Just like any refried beans, heat over medium heat until warm, stirring regularly to keep the bottom from burning and to thoroughly mix in the garlic.

When the beans start to bubble they are done. If they start looking dried up, add some more of the reserved liquid to bring them back, and re-heat.

The enchiladas should be done soon!!

Serve with a spatula, in portions equal to how you would serve lasagna. When you scoop out the portions you will notice a lot of excess, watery enchilada sauce.

Don’t worry too much about this, it will soak into the leftovers in the fridge and dry up on its own. This is one of those things that gets spicier and spicier the longer it sits in the fridge. If you think its hot now, wait till you go for leftovers in 3 days!!!

Serve with refried garlic black beans and avocado.