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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 01/12/2011

Project Downscale: Spinach enchiladas

By Joe Yonan
blog-enchiladas-half.jpg Spinach Enchiladas With Tomatillo Salsa serve you tonight and tomorrow. (Joe Yonan/The Washington Post)

“The hardest type of food to scale HAS to be Mexican food,” Arlene Fletcher wrote me. “How can you just make two tacos?”

Arlene, as someone who not only makes two (OK, maybe three) tacos all the time but even showed that you can make a mere four tamales, I beg to differ. Tacos, in fact, are one of my favorite cooking-for-one standbys because tortillas last so long in the refrigerator and even longer in the freezer, and they freeze and thaw without any discernible harm to their quality. In case you doubt the power of the spell that tacos have cast on me, consider this: I devote an entire chapter to them in my book, “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One,” out at the end of March from Ten Speed Press.

But Arlene didn’t write me about tacos, really. The recipe the DC resident asked me to downscale is Tomatillo Enchiladas, and that’s what drew me in. Until I tried it on a lark for my book, I had in fact never made a CF1-appropriate portion of enchiladas. One of my favorite enchilada recipes, for Smoked Turkey Enchiladas With Mole Verde, serves 8, which is smaller than can often be the case with this dish. I did downscale that one for my book, too – by turning it into tacos.

Recipe Included

For Arlene, I was happy to take on the enchilada challenge again. Especially when I saw that she wasn’t asking me to take them down to serves-one territory, but was content with double that. “I’ve been noodling over this recipe for a long time because it looks so delicious and homey with that fresh-made salsa,” she wrote. “But all that work for a boatload of salsa … and there’s at least 20 enchiladas in that casserole dish! I’ll be eating leftovers for a week even if the boyfriend comes over to help. … I’d love to make this the perfect amount for two (one for dinner and the rest for lunch!) but still include the homemade salsa.”

Coming right up.

The first thing I did was cut that salsa recipe in half but no further, realizing that you might not want quart upon quart but knowing how great it would be to have some of the stuff around. You could serve it with chips to friends, thin it out with a little vinegar and oil to make a salad dressing, pour it over sautéed shrimp or pan-grilled chicken breasts, stir it into rice, or freeze it for more of the same down the road.

The rest of the recipe was a cinch, especially once I realized that instead of sauteeing aromatic veggies once for the salsa and again for the spinach filling, I could do that just once and split the results between uses. That sped things up considerably, and the scaled-down spinach filling, enough to make four enchiladas, came together quickly. Because the dish is rich and I’m trying to lose a little weight, I substituted non-fat Greek-style yogurt for the sour cream and trimmed the Monterey jack a little bit. I also dispensed with the oil-softening instructions, because I long ago switched to heating my tortillas directly on my gas burner to make them more pliable, which also cuts down on the greasiness factor. All in all, something satisfying and easy you could make and eat from tonight, with one meal left over.

Oh, and I changed the name. In my experience, you name the enchiladas first for what goes inside, and second for what goes on top. Whatever you call them, I hope you like them as much as I did.

Spinach Enchiladas With Tomatillo Salsa

2 servings

MAKE AHEAD: You will have about 4 cups of tomatillo salsa, or 3 cups more than you need for this recipe. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for several months. To reheat the enchiladas, bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, or microwave as needed. Adapted by Food editor Joe Yonan from a recipe on

12 large (1 1/2 pounds) tomatillos, husked, stemmed and rinsed
About 4 cups water, or more as needed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 poblano or Anaheim chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
Leaves from 1/2 small bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
Five 6-inch corn tortillas, softened (see NOTE)
Kosher or sea salt
8 ounces baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup nonfat Greek-style yogurt (may substitute whole or low-fat)
3 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated

blog-enchiladas-tortilla.jpg Make the corn tortillas more pliable by heating them directly on a gas burner.
blog-enchiladas-tomatillos.jpg Cook the tomatillos until they soften and turn from bright green to khaki.
blog-enchiladas-blender.jpg Combine them in a blender with some of the cooking water, the sauteed onion and chili pepper, and a torn-to-pieces tortilla.
blog-enchiladas-spinach.jpg After making the quick spinach filling, roll it up in each tortilla.
blog-enchiladas-finished.jpg Bake the enchiladas just until the cheese melts and the sauce bubbles. (Photos by Joe Yonan/The Washington Post)

Combine the tomatillos and water, adding more water if needed to cover, in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook until the tomatillos turn khaki-colored and soft, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the chili pepper, onion and garlic; cook until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Transfer the tomatillos with 1 cup of their cooking liquid to a blender. Discard the remaining cooking liquid.

Add half of the chili-pepper and onion mixture and 3 tablespoons of the cilantro. Tear one of the softened tortillas into small pieces and add to the blender, working in batches if the blender is more than half full. Remove the center cap from the blender lid and hold a folded dish towel over the opening; this will allow steam to escape. Carefully pulse to combine, then puree to form a smooth salsa. Season with salt to taste.

Heat the remaining half of the chili-pepper and onion mixture in the skillet over medium-high heat; add the spinach and stir-fry for 2 or 3 minutes, until it has wilted, then remove from the heat. Stir in the yogurt; season with salt to taste.

When you’re ready to make the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread about 1/4 cup of the salsa on the bottom of a small casserole or gratin dish.

Lay the 4 remaining softened tortillas on a work surface. Place one-quarter of the spinach mixture in the center of each one, then roll the tortillas to form enchiladas, arranging them seam side down in the dish as you work. Spoon 3/4 cup of the salsa on top, and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Refrigerate or freeze the remaining salsa.

Bake until the cheese on top has melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve yourself two of the enchiladas with rice and beans, sprinkling the enchiladas with the remaining cilantro before eating. Save the remaining two for another day.

NOTE: To soften corn tortillas, if you have a gas stove, heat a burner to medium-high heat. Place a tortilla directly on the burner for about 30 seconds per side, until slightly spotted; repeat as needed. (You can heat the tortillas on multiple burners simultaneously.) If you don’t have a gas stove, heat a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat; heat each tortilla for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.)

Per serving: 410 calories, 23 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar

By Joe Yonan  | January 12, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cooking for One  | Tags:  Joe Yonan, Project Downscale  
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