Make: Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas

Why order Mexican takeout when you can make your own spinach-loaded enchiladas at home?

Is it just me, or are there a lot of parallels between Italian and Mexican food? You basically have a grain (pasta or tortilla), a tomato-based sauce, veggies, meats, and a whole lot of cheese in every dish. Enchiladas are the Mexican equivalent of manicotti. The best part about both of these dishes is the vast opportunity for culinary originality. You can pretty much stuff anything inside a manicotti shell and bake it covered in cheese and sauce. The same goes for enchiladas.

The biggest tip I can give you when it comes to Mexican cooking is to avoid those prefab seasoning packets. For one, they’re usually loaded with sodium, and making your own concoctions at home allows you to control what goes into them. Plus, I’m a big believer in the fact that the confident use of spices and herbs can change a so-so cook into a great one. Once you identify the spices that typically go with certain kinds of foods, you can forget the packets and become a more original and care-free cook.

Enough soapboxing—back to the enchiladas. With shredded chicken, tons of spinach, low-fat cheeses and punchy (homespun!) spices, you can make a healthy, lower-sodium and super satisfying enchilada dish.

A quick word on tortillas: Whole wheat is better for you, this we know. It has more fiber and nutrients since the flour is ground from the whole grain (bran and germ), not just the fluffy white endosperm (which is like the “filling” of the grain). However, there are texture differences. A tortilla made with whole grain is less stretchy and tender than the white variety. For a week night dinner with the family, choose whole wheat. If you are cooking for company it might be worth it to use white (don’t kill me, nutritionists, we can’t be good all the time!).

Lastly, the  sauce. While you can certainly buy enchilada sauce in a can at the store, you can also make the version below. It ends up being cheaper, not to mention much more fresh. If you’re not a huge cilantro lover—hey, we can’t all love everything, right?—swap it for flat-leaf parsley instead.

Shredded Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas
Serves eight

For the sauce
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
½ c. (heaping) salsa (I like Pace, medium heat)
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 c. loosely packed cilantro leaves

For the filling
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 large white or yellow onion, diced
½ tsp. salt
10 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed
2½ c. cooked and shredded chicken or turkey
½ tsp. cumin
¾ tsp. chili powder
Pinch cayenne pepper (more or less depending on heat level you want)
1 c. salsa
3 oz. low-fat cream cheese
1/3 c. shredded cheddar cheese

For assembly
10 to 12 medium-size tortillas, white or whole wheat
1½ to 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

1. To make enchilada sauce, place tomatoes, salsa, salt, cumin, chili, cayenne pepper and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

2. Add oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion and salt and saute until soft, about 8 minutes.

3. Add spinach and saute until totally wilted and all of the excess water has evaporated off, about 10 minutes. Spinach contains a lot of water, and as it wilts it releases that liquid. You don’t want excess liquid in your enchiladas, so stir occasionally as it cooks and the water will evaporate.

4. Add cooked chicken or turkey and spices and stir until mixed.

5. Add salsa and stir to combine.

6. Add cream cheese and stir to combine.

7. Once cream cheese is combined, turn off heat and add cheddar cheese. Stir to combine.

8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large baking pan with nonstick spray. Fill each tortilla down the center with the filling and roll up; place in the pan, seam side down. Continue filling tortillas and fitting them snugly up against one another until filling and tortillas are all used up.

9. Top with as much enchilada sauce as you like (I recommend about 2 cups; you will have leftover sauce). Cover with cheese.

10. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes or until cheese is thoroughly melted.

11. Serve garnished with any leftover cilantro leaves and serve with a salad on the side. Since you will have leftover enchilada sauce, feel free to put it on the table, warmed.

*This sauce makes a great (and really low calorie) salad dressing or sauce for pretty much anything: chicken, pork, fish, roasted veggies. It will last in your fridge for at least a week or two.

Per serving: 471 calories, 16.3 fat grams (7.5 grams saturated fat), 83 milligrams cholesterol, 44 grams carbs, 7 grams dietary fiber, 35 grams protein.

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Becca Boyd is a wife and new mom who teaches culinary courses to students at Radnor High School. She creates healthy and delicious recipes in her West Chester kitchen and blogs about them on her website, Home Beccanomics.