Vegetarian Enchiladas

This is a story about Mexican food. Or rather, pseudo-Mexican food, as I’m pretty sure they aren’t hawking these on the streets of Oaxaca. But it’s darn tasty food, and hence I’m sharing it with you.

I’m a sucker for Mexican, and to be honest, after three years in Boston, I still haven’t found a place that I love. Masa is ok, but it’s more fusion than Mexican. Border Cafe doesn’t quite cut it, and Tu y Yo is rather inconsistent. If you have suggestions for good Mexican or TexMex, pretty please leave them below.

For the past three+ years, whenever I get a hankering for Mexican I end up making it myself. This has resulted in some kind of gross quesadillas with refried beans and also some pretty awesome huevos rancheros. Mostly, it’s been the former.

To me, good Mexican is all about the tortilla. And there is only one kind of tortilla: corn. Please, please don’t come at me with one of those tasteless flour things. (Side note: I have bought “corn tortillas” from Market Basket and found they were actually flour ones. Beware!) Corn, however, I am obsessed with. In the heat of the moment I’m not above grilling a tortilla on the stove and slathering it with butter or cream cheese, a charming trick I learned when living in Costa Rica.

Last month, my friend Maria and I decided to host a Cinco de Mayo party. Of course, we couldn’t get our act together and we had to have the party on May 14, but it was a good time nonetheless. On the menu: guacamole, chicken enchiladas, veggie enchiladas, rice and beans and a tres leches (recipe to come!). It doesn’t happen very often, but I was actually more excited about the veggie enchiladas, and in the end, I thought they came out better. So that is the recipe I’m sharing with you today.

The picture above is the only photographic proof I have of their existence… that was them in the pan on the left.

Rather than a traditional chili sauce, these enchiladas are smothered in a creamy corn sauce, spiked with garlic and chili. Because everything gets toasted before it’s put in, it’s nice and smokey with just a hint of spice. And despite copious amounts of cheese, the abundance of spinach, zucchini and mushrooms makes them almost seem good for you.

Vegetarian enchiladas with corn sauce (and optional pepita pesto)
(adapted from Eating Well)

For the corn sauce:
2 whole cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 10-ounce packages frozen corn, thawed
2 cups low-fat milk
1 small can green chiles
1 roasted jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped (add more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
1/2 teaspoon Cholula sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
3 drops liquid smoke (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

For the enchiladas:
8 ounces mushrooms, diced
10 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces cream cheese
24 corn tortillas
1 cup grated cheese (half cheddar, half jack)

For the pesto (optional):
1/3 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 jalapeños, quartered and seeded (adjust to taste)
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice

To prepare corn sauce: Roast garlic in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, shaking the pan often, until the skin is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add half the corn and roast, stirring often, until lightly toasted. Reserve the garlic; transfer the corn to a blender or food processor. Toast the remaining corn. Place all but 1/2 cup of the corn in the blender. Peel garlic and add to blender along with milk  and blend until smooth. Stir in reserved corn. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To prepare enchiladas: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat two 9-by-13-inch baking dishes with cooking spray.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onion, and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add zucchini and cook until softened, then finally add the spinach and cook until wilted. (You may have to do this in batches.) Drain off excess liquid. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Stir in cream cheese and mix until evenly combined.

Heat tortillas  in a toaster oven, the regular oven, or in a pan on the stove. Heating them will reduce breakage when you roll the enchiladas.

Sprinkle a scant tablespoon of cheese down the center of a warm tortilla and cover with roughly 1/4 cup of the veggie mixture. Fold one side of the tortilla over the filling, then roll up tightly, like a cigar. Place the enchilada seam-side down in the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese and veggie  mixture to create a single layer of enchiladas in each pan. Then, spoon corn sauce over the enchiladas, covering completely. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover baking dish with foil. Bake for 25 minutes, or until heated through. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more.

For the pesto: Toast pumpkin seeds in a heavy skillet or toaster oven until just slightly darkened. Place in a blender or food processor with jalapeños, cilantro, sour cream and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Season with salt.

Top the enchiladas with the pesto and serve. Makes enough to feed a crowd of 10. Or 6, if you want leftovers (they re-heat really well!).