Black Bean Enchiladas

black-bean-enchiladasYes, I’m well aware that you don’t need me to tell you how to make enchiladas. There are plenty of people who are far more versed in Mexican food than I. If you Google “enchiladas” you’ll get about eleventy billion hits before this one shows up. But that’s all good, because I’m not really here to tell you how to make enchiladas. I’m not here to sell you on a 30-minute “quick & easy” version, a 7-hour “authentic” version, the best ever bean enchiladas!!!, or a “skinny” version that tastes “just as good as the real thing!” I am here to tell you that random leftovers and a well-stocked pantry can make for a damn fine enchilada.

You see that plate up there? Every element on it was made from scratch: the blue corn tortillas, the lime & cumin black beans (cooked from dry!), the red enchilada sauce (with home-canned fire-roasted tomatoes!), even the fermented chile sauce. If you look below, at the long list of ingredients and the equally long set of instructions, it seems intimidating, ridiculous even, for something as simple as an enchilada. But you know, I had blue corn tortillas in the freezer, leftover from the Christmas party. I had black beans in the fridge that I’d cooked yesterday. I even thought I might just crack a jar of something in the pantry for a makeshift red sauce: roasted tomato & ancho maybe, or just a smoky salsa + a pint of crushed tomatoes. In the end, I expended a bit more effort on the red sauce because I wanted to: I wanted to take a break from the research I was doing, I wanted to relax. I wanted to cook.

There are a million people telling you that cooking is super-easy & super-quick. There are a million people (cough… corporations… cough) telling you that cooking is too hard, too time-consuming, too frustrating, too anti-feminist(!). In red/blue, white/black, conservative/liberal America there can be only two stories: cooking will either save your life, your health, your family, your relationships, your marriage, your dog, your pocketbook, and the planet, or it will turn you into a miserable drudge, chained to the stove covered in biscuit batter ’til the end of days. You decide!

As usual, the real story is the 95% that is in-between: cooking is easy. Cooking is hard. Cooking is frustrating and time-consuming. Cooking is relaxing and empowering. Sometimes, cooking is awesome. Sometimes, cooking sucks. Am I masterful in a debate or what? My real point is: if you like to cook (and if you don’t, why are you here? You should probably go check out Benedict Cumbercats instead.) take advantage of the times when you feel like cooking to really stock the pantry: with tortillas and flatbreads, with great sauces and stocks, with soup base and pickles and salsa galore. Then, on those days when you are harried or rushed or just feeling lazy, don’t hesitate to call upon those pantry soldiers to whip together an easy meal. No chains nor drudgery required.

black-bean-enchiladasBlack Bean Enchiladas


Lime & Cumin Black Beans

  • 1 tbsp bacon grease or neutral vegetable oil
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced, dark green part separated
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 ½ cups cooked black beans, or 1, 15-oz can, rinsed & drained
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 medium lime
  • large pinch sea salt

Red Enchilada Sauce

  • 1 dried ancho chile, stemmed and coarsely chopped, with seeds
  • 1 dried guajillo chile, stemmed and coarsely chopped, with seeds
  • 1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed and coarsely chopped (or ½ tsp ground)
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • about 5 mildy spicy pickled chile peppers, stems removed (I used mostly jalapeños)
  • 1 tbsp bacon grease or neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 pint crushed tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
  • ½ tsp sea salt, or to taste


  • 1 tbsp neutral vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
  • about 12 corn tortillas
  • about 5 oz cheddar, jack or other melting cheese, grated
  • lime & cumin black beans (above)
  • enchilada sauce (above)
  • dark green scallion, sliced, for garnish
  • fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish


  1. Make black beans. In a medium skillet, melt bacon grease over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add white & light green scallions, reduce heat to medium-low, and sauté, stirring, until slightly softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add cumin and fry, stirring, for 1 minute. Add black beans, cilantro, and lime juice. Bring to a lively simmer over medium heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until flavors blend, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Make red sauce. In a small, heat-safe bowl, combine chopped ancho, guajillo and chipotle peppers. Cover with boiling water and allow to sit until fully softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer chiles and soaking water to the bowl of a food processor. Add pickled peppers. Process for several minutes until chiles form a fine paste.
  3. In a medium saucepan, heat bacon grease over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and garlic; reduce heat and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and garlic is fragrant, about 5 – 8 minutes. Add oregano and fry for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, chile paste, and salt. Simmer over lowest heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly reduced and flavors blend. Taste and adjust salt or spice (with seeds reserved from the dried chiles or ground chipotle or other chile powder).
  4. Assemble & cook enchiladas. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the vegetable oil over the bottom of a 9″ X 13″ baking dish. Warm the tortillas in the preheating oven, or wrapped in a damp towel in the microwave for 1 minute. Keeping the tortillas wrapped to stay warm, assemble enchiladas one at a time: spread about 2 tbsp of black beans in a line in the middle of a tortilla, sprinkle lightly with grated cheese, and roll up tightly, resisting the urge to over-stuff. Place seam side down in the prepared baking dish. Repeat until all tortillas are filled, packing rolled tortillas into the baking dish snugly, side by side. If there are any black beans leftover, sprinkle over the top of the tortillas, or place alongside to be covered with sauce. Cover tortillas entirely with red sauce, making sure no tortilla is peeking out (else it will dry out). Sprinkle the top with the remaining grated cheese. Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with chopped green scallion and cilantro. Serve hot.

Serves 6.


  1. I know some people prefer flour tortillas, but I find that they get too soggy.
  2. Enchiladas are a great way to use up leftovers, especially those that won’t make up a whole meal. A half cup cooked beans, some Spanish rice, shredded chicken, pulled pork. There’s no reason you can’t make several varieties, or even round out the pan with a few simple cheese enchiladas. Use it as a “clean out the fridge” recipe and you’ll soon find yourself wishing for leftovers.


Refrigerated for up to 5 days. Reheat in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.


Winter, or year round.


  1. What an inspiring and inspired dish! Making things from über-scratch is one of the most satisfying ways to cook. It’s been a while since I made tortillas, but I think I’ll put it on my to-do list once I’ve gotten my couple planned fermentation projects underway.

  2. I love this post and I love making tortillas! I’m surprised (and dismayed) with many people I know who don’t even think to cook anything from scratch. I grew up with 6 nights a week of a home-made scratch dinner and 1 night of restaurant or take-out food. Many of my friends at work have the opposite experience – 6 nights of takeout and one night of home-made food…and unfortunately they are teaching their kids the same thing. Not sure how to break through that. Posts like yours are an inspiration. Thank you!

  3. Lovely post – Like your recipe and that you used blue corn tortillas. Incidentally I too made black bean enchiladas just yesterday which turned our great as well – much better than even the restaurant ones since they were not as loaded with cheese! Also I am with you on the cooking part and using up whatever is in your pantry! 🙂

  4. “pantry soldiers” LOVE IT! Totally going to use it 🙂 I also hate diet businesses like Jenny Craig that try to convince people only their prepared foods will help them with weight loss. It works to sever that personal relationship people should have with food. We lose ownership of what we feed our bodies.

    • What has always irked me about the Jenny Craig model is that you HAVE to buy their food to stay in the program, whether you want to or not (and whether you are eating it or not). My roommate did Jenny Craig way back in my college days, and she had stacks of meals in her closet that we would only resort to when we were desperate – they were so bad that starving college students didn’t want them!

    • Thanks, Lydia! Honestly these photos are a bit rough, as the very low winter light makes for some tough shadows (and my massive Christmas tree is still blocking the picture window where I normally shoot). Mostly, I’d give you the same tips that everyone else does: use natural light, and pay attention to where the light falls, to shadows, etc. Try to shoot in bright light that is screened or filtered: in front of a big window is often ideal. Lastly, try to focus on making the food look irresistible: all the stripey straws and baking twine in the world doesn’t help if the food itself doesn’t look appetizing. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Highlights: Beans and Lentils

  6. jenet12

    You made the whole thing from scratch?! That’s impressive. It’s always best to do that since who knows what goes into our food now-a-days. I try making some things on my own but it is time consuming. Question about the ingredients: Isn’t using bacon grease not vegetarian? I found this in the vegetarian section so I was just curious.

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