The ultimate Mexican comfort food casserole.
This zesty, deeply satisfying recipe for chicken and black bean enchiladas deserves a spot at your dinner table year ’round. Far from being the bogged-down food bomb so typical of enchiladas, this recipe delivers all the satisfaction of cheesy, saucy comfort food, but with lots of nourishing chicken, beans, and veggies.
If such a thing existed as the Comfort Food Olympics (can someone invent this, please?), enchiladas might take the gold medal. Up there with other casserole classics like mac and cheese and baked ziti, enchiladas combine a flavorful sauce, meat and beans, and a deeply satisfying layer of melty, gooey cheese — all wrapped up in soft tortillas.
What Are Enchiladas?
Enchiladas are made from corn tortillas rolled around a filling and smothered in a chili sauce. Enchiladas differ from their cousins, the burrito, primarily by a technicality.
Burritos use flour tortillas. Enchiladas use corn tortillas. A burrito smothered in sauce does not technically become an enchilada. It becomes a “wet burrito.” (Which does not sound particularly appetizing.)
That said, enchiladas have evolved into a more flexible definition. Now, enchiladas often mean a Mexican dish of rolled, filled tortillas, smothered in sauce and cheese, and baked until hot and melty.
Recipe Notes: Chicken Black Bean Enchiladas
This chicken and bean enchilada recipe takes a cue from all truly good comfort food casseroles. It combines hearty filling of chicken and black beans, a tomato and chili sauce, and a generous amount of cheese.
While not difficult, a few important recipe notes will ensure this classic Mexican casserole turns out great.
First, use full-sized tortillas, about 8 inches in diameter or larger. You want them to be easy to roll. Also, the enchiladas should reach the entire length of the casserole. Small tortillas will be harder to work with. If they feel stiff, simply microwave them, covered with another plate, for about 15 to 20 seconds.
Again, corn tortillas are the proper choice. I love the flavor of the corn tortillas with the enchilada sauce and filling, and their thickness prevents the tortillas from getting gummy. That said, many people do not like the flavor of corn tortillas. So if you want to use flour tortillas, go for it. Flour tortillas tend to go very soft (even gummy) in the sauce, but not in a bad way.
Definitely make homemade enchilada sauce! You can skip that step and just make the filling, but homemade enchilada sauce takes only a few minutes and is made from pantry ingredients, so why not?
Like enchiladas? Here’s more Mexican and bean goodness you’ll love:
Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas
For the Filling
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 12 turns fresh-cracked black pepper
- 6 ounces baby spinach leaves
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
For the Enchilada Sauce
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons corn flour
- 4 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 4-ounce can diced Mexican green chiles
- 1/2 jalepeño pepper, minced (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 6 to 8 large (6" or 7") corn tortillas (can substitute flour tortillas)
- 2 cups grated Mexican blend or jack cheese
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- sour cream, sliced avocado, and lime wedges, to serve (optional)
For the Chicken
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the chicken breasts on a lined sheet pan. Drizzle with a tablespoon of the olive oil and generously sprinkle with some of the salt and pepper.
- Roast the chicken breasts for 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat into pieces with a fork.
For the Enchilada Sauce
- While the chicken is baking in the oven, place the 1/4 cup olive oil, corn flour, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk. When hot, add the tomato paste, chopped green chiles, and minced jalepeño (if using) and whisk constantly until smooth and darkened in color. TIP: Be careful not to burn the mixture once the tomato paste and chiles go in the pan. It will form a paste and cook quickly. You want the color to darken, but not burn.
- Whisk in the chicken stock in several additions, along with the lime juice. Simmer, stirring frequently, until lightly thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning.
For the Filling
- Heat the remaining olive oil (from the 1/4 cup less 1 tablespoon from the chicken) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the black beans and diced onion and cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water about halfway if the pan starts to look dry. The black beans should break down a little with the onions.
- Add the pulled chicken, spinach, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and the black pepper to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach has fully cooked, the ingredients are well mixed, and most -- but not all -- of the spinach water has evaporated. If the mixture looks too dry, add a couple tablespoons of water or broth. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Lower the oven to 375°F and grease a 9" x 13" casserole dish. Spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the casserole.
- Fill each tortilla with a 1/2 cup (or so) of chicken and black bean filling and sprinkle with some of the grated cheese. Roll, and place seam-side down in the casserole. Repeat until you have a nice, full row of tortillas.
- Smother the tortillas with the remaining enchilada sauce and cover with the rest of the cheese and half of the scallions. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until hot.
- Serve hot with a side of sour cream, sliced avocado, and the remaining scallions.