Enchiladas make for decadent comfort food, but this lighter version is just a packed with flavor and creamy texture. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Lighter Latin recipes: Healthier chicken enchiladas

There are so many reasons to love a good Mexican enchilada—from those stuffed, fried corn tortillas to the layers of melted cheese to the rich and heavy sauce the whole thing is smothered in. And while there’s nothing wrong with diving into a delicious casserole of these every once in a while, doing so on a regular basis isn’t exactly good for the waistline. (Or the heart.)

So today I’m giving the classic enchilada a healthy and simple makeover, great for weeknight meals. While traditional recipes often call for juicy, flavorful fillings like pork or beef or dark meat chicken, for my take I kept things lean with chicken breast. But I seriously amped up its flavor by first poaching the breasts in a tasty chicken broth. Next, I relied on an old school Mexican technique to deepen the flavor of the sauce: I broiled its ingredients in the oven, pureed them in a blender, then “fried” the sauce with a tiny amount of olive oil. Sure it takes a little longer than just opening a can of tomato sauce or a jar of something processed, but the flavor is incomparable, and there’s no sodium, sugars or other chemicals to worry about.  (Plus if you have extra, you can save it and slather it onto just about anything you’re whipping up later in the week.)

Lastly, to make sure there was cheesiness throughout (hello, just because we’re trying to be healthy doesn’t mean we don’t crave a little decadence!) rather than using all of the cheese on top of the enchiladas half of it went into the chicken filling so that every bite would be jam packed with creamy goodness. A few other tips: add a dollop of plain Greek yogurt to the sauce once it’s cooled down for an extra luscious (but guilt-free) texture; swap out the classic corn tortillas for whole wheat ones to get an extra dose of cholesterol-fighting fiber;  make sure to microwave them for just a few seconds to make them pliable so they don’t  tear when cooking in the oven; and don’t skip the chopped cilantro. It gives the whole dish a pop of freshness.

Healthier chicken enchiladas

Healthier chicken enchiladas4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 lb chicken boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 lb fresh tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, not peeled
1 white onion, 1/2 cut into four large chunks, the other half very finely diced
1  Serrano chile
1 T olive oil
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt (optional)
8 whole wheat tortillas
1 cup Low-fat or light Mexican cheese blend
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Pour the chicken broth into a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until just about to boil. Add the chicken breasts and simmer them in the liquid until fully cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the breasts from the liquid, set aside and allow to cool. Discard the used chicken broth, reserving 1/4 cup.

2. Pre-heat the oven broiler to high, placing the oven rack in highest position closest to heating element. Line a baking sheet with foil paper. Place the whole tomatoes, the garlic cloves and large chunks of onion and the whole Serrano chile on the baking sheet and broil the vegetables until they are charred on all sides, using tongs to turn, about 10 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside to cool.

3. Once the vegetables are cooled, remove the tomato’s core and cut into large chunks. Place in blender. Peel the garlic and add to the blender. Core and seed the Serrano chile and add to blender. Add the onion and the reserved 1/4 cup of chicken broth. Puree until smooth.

4. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until just before smoke point. Add the pureed sauce and cook for about 10 minutes, until it’s color darkens and the sauce reduces and thickened slightly. Season with salt to taste. Set aside. When the sauce cools, whisk in the Greek yogurt.

5. Using two forks, or your fingers, finely shred the cooled down chicken. Add 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce to the chicken, plus 1/2 cup of shredded Mexican cheese, the finely diced onion and the chopped cilantro. Mix to combine.

6. To assemble the enchiladas, heat the tortillas in the microwave for 30 seconds to make them pliable. Place about 1/3 cup of chicken mixture across the middle of the tortilla. Loosely roll up the filled tortillas and set them side by side in an ovenproof dish.

7. Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Heat in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the cheese has fully melted and the enchiladas is hot throughout. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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