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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Feeding the Muse: Living Well on a Writer’s Budget

Recipe • Low-Carb Enchiladas • by Karen Bethke

There are only so many times you can repurpose leftover baked chicken as chicken noodle soup before you start to wonder, “What else can I do with this?” The great part about this recipe is that while I usually make it with leftover chicken, it works just as well with leftover steak, leftover pork chops or pork tenderloin, or fresh ground beef or ground turkey, and the result is a great-tasting and inexpensive meal that gets a lot of stuff out of the fridge and averages about 15 grams of carbohydrates per enchilada. It does require significant prep time, though.

  • about a pound of some kind of meat
  • one large (1 lb.) can of enchilada sauce
  • one small (4 oz) can of diced green chiles
  • 2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheese
  • tortillas
  • one large sweet onion
  • options: black olives, cilantro, lettuce, green onions, bell peppers, sour cream, and/or guacamole, as your taste, budget, and pantry permit
The secret to keeping this a low-carb meal is in picking the right tortillas. I like the Low Carb Whole Wheat tortillas from La Tortilla Factory, as they’re just 11 grams of carbs per tortilla (less 8 grams for dietary fiber, which nets out to 3 grams apiece!), and yet they don’t taste like recycled cardboard, unlike pretty much every other low-carb tortilla we’ve tried. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry them, they are worth tracking down.

If you’re just full of energy you can grate any type of cheese you like, but I’m not, so I like to buy a bag of shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, “Mexican Blend,” or basically whatever is on sale this week. Lately I’ve taken a liking to Crystal Farms Shredded 3 Pepper Cheese, as it’s a mix of Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses along with Chipotle, Habanero, and jalapeño peppers. Very handy, and just the right mix of cheesy and peppery for us.

Prep work:
It all starts with the meat. If you’re using fresh ground beef or ground turkey, you must cook it through and drain it before doing anything else. If you’re working with leftovers, it helps to use the microwave to bring it up to room temperature before shredding it.

After you’ve shredded the meat, spoon a few ladles of the enchilada sauce into a large sauce pan, mix in the meat, the can of diced green chiles, and a quarter-cup of diced sweet onion, and sautée over a low flame until the onions are done. While this is going on, dice the sweet onion, green onions, bell pepper(s), cut the lettuce in whatever way amuses you, and chop up anything else needs rinsing, chopping, slicing, or whatever.

When the meat-onion-chile mix is done sautéeing, let it cool to a tolerable working temperature. Start pre-heating the oven to 350°, get out a largish baking dish, and get ready to start assembling enchiladas. It’s important to let the meat-onion-chile mix cool! First off, because you don’t want to burn yourself, and second, because if it’s too hot the cheese will melt, and that makes assembling the enchiladas a really sticky mess.

You may want to spritz the baking dish with a light coating of cooking spray to avoid sticking, especially if you’re using a metal pan, but I use glass baking dishes, so I don’t.

  1. Ladle a thin layer of enchilada sauce into the baking dish, just enough to coat the bottom.
  2. Set your stack of tortillas on the work surface in front of you.
  3. Are you sure the meat-onion-chile mix is cool enough to handle? Okay, then scoop up some of the meat-onion-chile mix and spread it in a line across the center of the tortilla. Add cheese and more diced onion to taste, fold over one side of the tortilla on top of the meat, and then roll the whole thing up like a big fat—er, hand-rolled cigarette. Lay it into the baking dish, seam-side down to keep it from unrolling, and roll the next one.
  4. When you’ve used up all the meat mix and filled the baking dish, ladle the remainder of the enchilada sauce over the top. Make sure you cover all the exposed tortillas, because you want them slightly crispy, not burned. Spread the rest of the shredded cheese over the top.
  1. Bake at 350° for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and everything is bubbling.
  2. Turn the heat up to 400° for last 5 minutes or so, to get things crispy around the edges. Alternately you can pop it into the broiler to get the same results, but be careful. This dish can go from tasty and crispy to smoking ruins very quickly.
  3. While it’s cooking, set the table, and then pour yourself a nice glass of wine. I recommend a tempranillo, although a zinfandel or Bordeaux will do.
When it’s done, put a trivet on the table and serve it right from the dish. Warn everyone that it’s going to be VERY HOT coming straight from the oven, so they should sit back, let it cool, and admire your handiwork before they bite into it. (Cutting the enchilada open helps it cool faster.) Garnish to taste with black olives, green onions, diced bell peppers, shredded lettuce, and sour cream. If you have guacamole on hand that makes a nice topping, but salsa or hot sauce is generally not needed.     

Karen Bethke is a wife, mother, grandmother, and 8-year cancer patient. The product of many generations of Italian family cooking, she’s now on a mission to create low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium, and just generally healthier meals that still taste great.

Karen’s sole publication credit is as co-author of “From Castle Dracule to Merlotte’s Bar & Grill” in A Taste of True Blood, but behind the scenes, she’s the real driving force behind Rampant Loon Press.

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