Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce . $4.16

An old school Chicken (or turkey) Enchilada, the tortilla wrapped around a creamy filling, napped in an easy Ranchero Sauce. Finished with just a sprinkle of cheese (after all, there is cheese in the filling) these are truly delicious. The sauce, flavorful (but not hot) gives a sharp contrast to the enchilada, itself. It’s a beautiful thing.

Chicken Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce
Chicken Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce

While by no means a “diet” or “healthy food, this type of sauce on an enchilada is a bit more authentic and shaves hundreds of calories per serving over the white, sour cream and green chili enchiladas that are so popular today. Purists would argue for days over this ingredient or that in the sauce, perhaps, especially over the use of bell peppers and the chili powder…

I’m going to answer ahead of time: It’s delicious, it’s fast and it’s easy. And I don’t care. *smiles and takes another bite…* So this isn’t a mail order your chiles, toast them, fry them, blend them and fry them again recipe – this is simply a delicious enchilada that I hope your family loves as much as ours!

As far as cost, all these ingredients regularly go on sale (with the exception, perhaps, of the Mexican cheese) and the Mexican items on go on a deep sale around Cinco de Mayo. Shop well, and use grocery store cheese and your price will be lower.

Think about, though, the fact that more flavorful cheeses will allow you more “bang for your buck,” a bit more flavor for a smidge more cost. The enchiladas ran $4.16. so there’s a bit of budget left for garnishes and such, but not much, to qualify as a $5.00 more or less meal – the saving grace? This is a huge casserole, and there may be left overs.

As for sides, Refried Beans on sale are about 80 cents to a dollar and a traditional Mexican Rice? Around 70 cents. For a fresher take, add a gorgeous salad. Perhaps Avocado Orange Salad with a Honey Citrus Vinaigrette. My very favorite Aji Salsa complements these Enchiladas beautifully. The sweet/sour taste picks up on the bit of vinegar in the Ranchero Sauce.

Recipe:  Chicken (or Turkey) Enchiladas, makes 12

Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (the other half goes inside the enchilada)
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped, or use poblano, charred, skinned and chopped, or a small can or two of green chile peppers
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, saute onion and peppers (no need to saute Poblanos or the canned chiles, just add them when the onions are done) in oil until softened. Slowly stir in the tomato sauce, stock and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes until slightly thickened, stirring now and then. This sauce should still be quite loose because the tortillas will be dipped in them.

Note on Sauce: Many Ranchero sauces contain just a touch of vinegar which lends a slightly sweet/sour vibe. If you’d like, add about 1/2 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar when adding the sauce, stock and spices. Increase sugar to 2 teaspoons.

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of milk, half and half or cream
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened or a soft Mexican cheese such as a Queso Fresca
  • 4 ounces jack or cheddar cheese, or a mix (Colby Jack is fine, just not as flavorful)
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded turkey or chicken (about 15 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional depending on the saltiness of the broth and cheese)

Place all cheeses (room temperature) in a bowl. Gradually add liquid, blending. Add onion and stir in. Add shredded poultry and mix together well, breaking up the poultry as it is mixed. (If the poultry is warm, this may be easier.) Taste, add the salt if desired.

Note: The onions inside the enchilada are not cooked, so don’t go overboard on them; if there are too many, they will overwhelm the filling. Other than that, all these ingredients can be played around with a bit – add more cheese or not as you desire. Changing the volume may change the amount of filling in each enchilada.

Assembly:

  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons (or so) of oil
  • 1/2 cup (or more) shredded cheddar cheese, or cheese of your choice. Preferred would be a crumbled Queso Fresca, Cojita or a mild Feta.

Prepare a 9 x 13″ casserole by coating with cooking spray and covering the bottom with about 1/2 cup of sauce.

Heat about a quarter inch of oil over medium high heat in a skillet just large enough to hold tortilla. Test for readiness by dipping an edge of the tortilla in the oil. If small bubbles form around the tortilla, the oil is hot enough. Lay out a large plate to place the tortillas on after their dipping and prior to being rolled. (If there is enough room in the kitchen, it is nice to have an “assembly line” of the oil, the sauce, the large plate and then the casserole.

(see photo, below, on color and texture of tortilla when it should be removed from oil)

Working with six tortillas at a time, and using tongs if possible, lightly fry each tortilla in a skillet with oil (about 1/4 inch deep) until it just begins to crisp and takes on a bit of a golden color, but doesn’t become totally crisp: place tortilla in oil, immediately turn it over and fry for a few seconds. When the edge begins to firm up and the tortilla shows a few bubbles, turn again and fry for a few seconds more. Tortilla should only have a slight crispness and still be quite flexible.

Immediately lay the tortilla in the skillet with the sauce and turn over, making certain both sides are coated in sauce, without a lot of excess. Remove and lay the tortilla on a plate. Repeat with the next five tortillas, stacking each on top of the previous one. With tongs, gently turn the tortilla stack over. (You will repeat, shortly with the next six, after these are rolled.)

Place a scant 1/3 cup of filling on the top tortilla in the stack, roll and place in the casserole, seam side down, overlapping slightly. Repeat with the next five tortillas. If tortilla begins to crack, try rolling from a different edge, keeping the crack to the inside of the roll. Repeat process with the next six tortillas.

There should be enough room in the casserole dish for a row of 10 and two tortillas in the space on the side. When pan is filled, cover with what sauce remains, making sure that the edges have a bit of sauce on them. (While a spoon works, it is often easier to resort to clean hands.)

Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until hot and warmed through. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese and bake three to five minutes longer. If not using cheese, uncover and let tortillas crisp up a bit, about the same amount of time.

Depending on the type of cheese used, it may be sprinkled on when serving, instead. (The photo, above, shows about 3/4 cup of cheese on the top of the enchiladas, which, in retrospect was probably quite a bit more than I normally use.) Placing cheese in a strip down the middle always makes it seem like “more.”

Garnish as desired.

This tortilla is just right - a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.
This tortilla is just right – a bit of golden color, the edges are firm and it has a few bubbles, but it is still flexible.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Chicken or Turkey:  I buy at sale prices of 69 to 99 cents a pound for the turkey, and 89 to 99 cents a pound for chicken breasts.  You may be able to pick up chicken legs or thighs for even cheaper.  Use your leftovers wisely – they can be stored, cooked for short term, a month or two – after that they’ll deteriorate quickly. Two cups is about 10 ounces, on the low end, $.43, on the high, 62 cents.
  • Tortillas:  Always look for great deals around Cinco de Mayo bargain, I picked up a package of 36 for $1.19, divided in to portions and froze the remainder, well wrapped in plastic and foil. They’ll keep for a month or two with no discernible difference, but after that, they’ll lose quality. I always look for the local brands. If I can’t find a rock bottom deal like above, look for packages of 12 – 18 for a buck. Cost for this recipe, 12 tortillas, 40 to 66 cents.
  • Cream Cheese:  Regularly drops to a $1.00 on sale in my area, and even lower around Holidays, although these lower prices are often limited to one or two packages - get to know your rock bottom price and pick up multiple packages. They last for weeks in the fridge.  Cost for this recipe: $.50.
  • Tomato Sauce:  I buy large cans (29 to 30 ounces) of tomatoes, often with coupons or Catalinas (buy so many, get money off your next shopping trip.)  I just throw a can in the blender, and put what I don’t use, labeled in the freezer. You can use bits or juice in meatloaf and soups. I never pay more than a dollar, but quite frequently pick them up for 50 cents or even free. I’ll split the difference here, and call the cost:  25 cents.
  • Chicken Stock:  If you read me regularly, I make my own with scraps of vegetables and bones – here’s the basic recipe I use for Best Turkey or Chicken Stock - it’s not particular and though it simmers for a long time, the burner is barely on – I just count it as free.
  • Half & Half:  I generally buy cream instead of half and half since I don’t drink coffee and I find the cream much more versatile to use.  For a small amount like this, don’t buy – just use a bit of milk to thin the cream cheese. Cost of milk, about 2 cents.
  • Onion:  Buy onions whenever you see them drop in price and store in a cool, dark place away from any potatoes.  If you have an Aldi’s nearby, I generally find the best pricing there. Cost for the onion: 33 cents a pound, an onion is 10 cents.
  • Bell Peppers:   These can vary in pricing depending on the color, and of course, are always cheapest in the summer.  There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper.  I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find.  The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too.  A really good price in our area is about a dollar a pepper for the red, yellow or orange ones, and 50 to 75 cents for the green bell.  I usually try to stretch them when I can.  They really do add an important flavor ingredient to a lot of dishes.  Last bought a green bell for 69 cents.
  • Olive Oil: I have a little strategy for buying olive oil – using coupons and sales to lower the price, so click on the link. I think it’s important to use olive oil as opposed to many others – the health benefits outweigh a bit more extra cost, and it can be had at a very reasonable price. I also like the fact that Olive oil contains no hidden trans fats like Canola or Vegetable oil. Cost for this recipe: 32 cents.
  • Cheese: Cheese is an item that I almost always buy on sale. Often with store specials, coupons and special offers from the producers I can get cheese very cheaply, and sometimes at no cost. I’ll stock up then – if it’s not open, it keeps forever. If I have to freeze, I will sometimes do this – it’s ok when used in a casserole, but not very good for eating. I look for a price of a dollar (or less) for an eight ounce block of store cheese. $1.00.
  • Mexican Cheese: unless you’re not on a strict budget, it’s unlikely that in many places you’ll find great deals on any Mexican cheeses unless it’s around Cinco de Mayo – at least in my area. I priced out with regular grocery store cheese. Feta is a different story, see near deli cheese, below.
  • Near Deli Cheese: This is my term for the grocery store “fancier” cheeses often found near the deli – Of course, if your budget allows, buy the best cheeses you can afford, but those on a budget shouldn’t shy away from dishes that need a little more punch from their cheese for monetary or taste reasons. While one may not wish to put a grocery store cheese out for a tasting, for instance, most are just fine in dishes or sprinkled on top, and can be bought for very little money by watching sales and using coupons.
  • Pick the coupons up (generally on hang tags near the cheese) when you see them, not when you want to buy them. Sales seldom seem to happen at the same time the coupons are out, but most of the coupons have very long expiration dates. Hang on to them and use them when sales pop up. Watch your coupon matching sites, too – they’ll let you know when the sale is and if the producer has any coupons on their websites. I’ve often gotten things like goat cheese, tubs of ricotta or balls of mozzarella, etc., for no cost or just pennies. Cost for Cost for Feta with a great sale: about 50 cents.

Nutrition:

Per Serving: 271 Calories; 16g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 61mg Cholesterol; 950mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 Grain (Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

When using cheese to top a casserole, use a better, stronger cheese. Then rather than sprinkling it over the top, try adding it judiciously. Here in this casserole, I left the edges “nude” and sprinkled all the cheese down the middle. That means a lot less cheese is used but there still is that melty, stringing cheese goodness we all love – only a lot less of it. The same amount would have been “lost” had it been evenly sprinkled over the top of the whole casserole.

Put Your Own Spin on It:

Vary the cheeses in this – jack would be good, or if you have access to some great Mexican cheeses, by all means use them. Serve with refried beans.

My Pay Off:

This makes 12 enchiladas – if your family is smaller, you could certainly freeze and then reheat 1/2 of them – since they keep so well in the fridge, we generally have part in the beginning of the week, and the rest for a second meal later.

Recipe originally priced November 2011 for $5.46, repriced March 2014 for $4.16 – the difference? I’ve gotten much better at recognizing and shopping good sales on cheese!

Comments and discussion always welcome - tell me what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s