Let me tell you a little bit about my love affair with Tex Mex food. I think we’re in a little too deep not to talk about it, after all. Of 165 posts on Natural Comfort Kitchen, 31 of those are Tex Mex or Mexican recipes! That’s about 1 in every 5 posts, but lately it feels like every other. Aside from today’s fiesta veggie enchiladas, the last two weeks alone have seen THREE more Mexican-inspired recipes…sheesh!
Watching Andrew Zimmern host an episode of Bizarre Foods about the Minnesota State Fair last night, I was reminded of my first 18 years of life, and not just of my experiences at “The Fair”. The manager of one particular vendor explained how Minnesotans don’t have very adventurous palates, and how being careful with the introduction of new fair foods is everything. Not too much spice, plenty of meat and potatoes, incorporating something familiar with something new. Story of my life. Aside from a natural affinity for cooking, I have my mom to thank for teaching me that homemade family dinner–every night–is a sacred institution. However, her repertoire of recipes hasn’t always been as extensive as it is these days. Now she throws together risotto like a pro, but my childhood was a steady stream of, to name a few, spaghetti and meat sauce, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, a few fish sticks, and taco night!
Taco night and Taco Bell, and eventually, Chipotle, were the extent of my Mexican food knowledge growing up. When we went out to eat, our favorites were Baker’s Square, Davanni’s, and T.G.I. Friday’s. We rarely even ventured into the chain “international” spots like Olive Garden or Chili’s. Why? Before it starts sounding resentful (it’s not), we were totally falling into the Minnesotan stereotype: creatures of habit. My mom had never tasted authentic Mexican food or real sushi or Pad Thai, so why would she take three young, occasionally picky eaters on a culinary adventure? I don’t have to tell you, but the late ’80’s and early ’90’s had no idea what was about to hit them when the foodie culture set in. Adventurous eating just wasn’t a hip or desirable thing, unless you had deep roots in a specific culture (besides German) or really futuristic parents.
So what changed? How did I become an enchilada-crazed “foodie”, an identity that still takes me aback? It wasn’t one specific moment. Throughout most of college, I still clung to my beloved (and cheap!) Chipotle habit. But then there was an independent Chipotle copycat on campus, and I tried their buffalo chicken burrito mashup. I had a couple boyfriends who were much much more adventurous eaters than I, the kind that grew up with those futuristic parents, and they led me to not only my first buffalo chicken experience, but also to Indian, Mexican, sushi, and Thai. Later, I had my first corporate internship, and some group lunch or other brought us to a little more authentic-than-Chipotle Mexican restaurant. I couldn’t tell you what I ordered…perhaps my first enchiladas? But I think it was the first restaurant I ever patronized where the chips and salsa were as standard and free as a bread basket. Big steps.
From there, things started, slowly, to get out of hand. A long-distance boyfriend and my new, bigtime accounting job led to more travel and more food exposure. Food Network seemed to be hitting its stride. And then. THEN. Came “the” enchiladas. Creamy chicken enchiladas. Long before I knew of the glory of Gourmet magazine, I stumbled across their creamy enchilada recipe posted on Food Network. I made my first pan of enchiladas, complete with gummy flour tortillas and cans of sodium-laden enchilada sauce and bags of pre-shredded cheese. And then I made them again. And again. And again. If I’m not mistaken, they became the first non-taco Mexican food to grace the Olson family table. And I…I was hooked.
So here we are, almost (gulp), 10 years later, and I’m an enchilada loving food blogger, sitting in Dallas waiting for my next dose of Tex Mex and writing in detail about my enchilada and general Mexican food obsession. At least now you know a little bit about how this crazy existence came to be. I’m sure there are some of you reading who are much more seasoned at this Tex Mex game, so please be so kind as to share your must have dishes and enchilada sauce recipes, because these days I’m reluctant to pick up a can of the manufactured stuff.
OMG. We forgot about the enchiladas.
Just kidding. I actually planned it this way (really). The pictures tell most of the story, but let me help you out a bit with the details. First off, these fiesta veggie enchiladas contain a slew of colorful veggies, which is the sole reason they are named “fiesta”. My good friend Deborah called them chayote enchiladas, but I knew I would scare off 99% of you if I went calling them that. Because who even knows what a chayote is??? My photographic memory of the grocery store tells me it’s that little butt-looking green thing that fits in the palm of your hand…bingo! That’s it. In my usual excitement about getting these enchiladas to my mouth, I missed the boat on photographing the chayote. As it turns out, I’m actually sitting outside of Whole Foods writing this, so I could easily go in and snap a pic of the chayote, but you know what? I don’t really want to be the weird girl taking selfies with the chayotes during the hot bar dinner rush. Not that girl.
So, here’s a useful and humorously tacky video to educate you. Despite the poor lighting and interesting host, it’s pretty much spot on. A major chayote DO is wearing gloves while you work with them raw. No, they will not singe the skin off your hands or anything, but they did make my skin kind of dry out and feel like alien skin for a couple hours after, like I needed to constantly put on lotion or something.
Anyway, the chayote is awesome and refreshing both raw and cooked, so Madison knew her stuff when she put together the original recipe. It tasted familiar to me: like I’ve unknowingly tasted it in restaurant veggie enchiladas before. Maybe you’ll agree.
Other than that, a bit of cheese gets added to the summery looking mix of veggies, then you get to rolling and saucing. You’re probably asking: what’s the deal with the parchment paper? In my quest for more photogenic enchiladas, the idea for grouping them into little packets of parchment paper came to me at some odd hour one night. It makes it easy to pull the enchiladas out of the pan without destroying their appearance, yes, but I also discovered that it looks absolutely adorable and rustic. Who doesn’t want to be served rustic, parchment-wrapped enchiladas??? Only those of us with zero inner hipster. Finally, the parchment serves one functional purpose. It helps to pack up the leftovers super fast into freezer bags, which I did before leaving for my current trip to Dallas. To serve them later, thaw in the parchment, transfer the whole thing to a pan, and bake in the same paper. Your enchiladas will still be looking Pinterest-y as ever (priorities), and you don’t have to mess with that deadly combo of cheese and foil, which only leads to my nightmare, wasted cheese.
What Else is on the Plate?
- My variation of Lindsay’s green rice, omitting the corn, using short grain brown rice, and tossing in a sad container of leftover black beans from my fridge.
- Roasted garlic guacamole
- Lots of cilantro!
- 3 T vegetable oil (plus more or spray for tortillas)
- 1 white onion, chopped small (about 2 C)
- 2 chayotes, diced ¼" (2½ C)
- 2 medium zucchini, diced ¼" (3½ C)
- 1½ C frozen corn kernels, thawed
- 1 large orange bell pepper, diced small
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 T finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- ¾ C finely grated Monterey jack cheese
- Kosher or sea salt
- 14 6-inch corn tortillas
- 2 C homemade or store bought red enchilada sauce
- Optional, for serving: crumbled cotija or feta cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and lime wedges
- Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large, deep skillet. When hot, add onion and chayote and cook until the onion is just starting to brown, about 7 minutes. Add zucchini, corn, and bell pepper, stir, and cook 7 to 8 minutes, until the zucchini is softened but still holds its shape. Turn off heat and stir in jalapeño, cilantro, and cheese, then season with salt to taste.
- To soften the tortillas for filling, heat the oven to 300 (F). Place 6 tortillas on a baking sheet in a single layer, and spray or brush both sides thinly with oil. Bake 3½ minutes in upper third of oven, until warm and pliable. Fill this batch of tortillas by rolling ¼ cup packed veggie filling in each and placing seam side down in a 9 by 13 inch pan (don't sauce the bottom of the pan; see notes for parchment packet instructions). Repeat the baking/filling process with all the tortillas (you may only be able to fit 12 in your pan). Turn oven up to 375 degrees.
- Spread sauce over all the tortillas. I sprinkled mine with a little extra crumbled feta I had on hand, which is completely optional. Bake about 20 minutes, until sauce is hot and bubbly.
As written, recipe is gluten free and vegetarian.
To bake the enchiladas in parchment"pockets", as shown, cut squares of parchment about 6 by 10 inches. Place two filled enchiladas seam side down in the center of each sheet (long edge of parchment parallel to length of enchilada) then place in the pan, keeping each successive serving snug against the last one. Bake as directed. I found it helpful to fold the paper ahead of time to form a "cup" for the enchiladas.
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