When I was growing up in West Texas, we went out for one of two types of food: steak or Mexican. For me, the latter always included enchiladas, those rolled and stuffed tortillas coated in a chili sauce. I made them myself from time to time once I got to college in Austin, and have ever since.
It wasn't until those college years that I first tasted their more easygoing cousin: enfrijoladas. Once you know that enchilada means something that's coated in chilies and that frijoles are beans, it's pretty easy to guess what these are. Unlike enchiladas, though, they're typically topped, not filled.
The key is to make the beans from scratch. Trust me on this. Yes, canned beans are better than many other vegetables, and I use them myself. But when the beans are showcased like this, the difference between warmed-from-a-can and cooked-from-dried is the difference between good and scrape-the-plate. That's because the precious cooking liquid that results from simmering dried beans to tenderness is the stock on which you base this sauce. After that, it comes together as easily as sauteing aromatic vegetables, sprinkling in spices and mashing those beans and their liquid. You dip the tortillas in the sauce to coat and soften them, and sprinkle on your favorite stuff: These days I'm liking avocados, chopped egg and onion.
Sure, it can take a little foresight to make the beans from scratch. But start with a pound some Friday when you get home from work, soak them overnight, then let them bubble away on Saturday while you putter around the house. Soon enough, you'll have enough for two batches of enfrijoladas: one that night and the second a few days later (or months, if you employ your freezer).
My love for the dish has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for a pan of enchiladas. But enchiladas are to enfrijoladas what lasagna is to a bowl of pasta. Which one do you make more often?
Enfrijoladas With Egg, Avocado and Onion
Start with dried beans, and here’s one of the best ways to use them: in a dish that enrobes corn tortillas in a bean “sauce,” topped with your favorite crunchy, salty, spicy ingredients. (Feel free to double the bean portion of this recipe, and reserve the remaining beans for another use.)
It calls for a combination of egg, avocado and white onion (milder than yellow), but other topping possibilities include pickled onions, chopped tomatoes, salsa, thinly sliced cabbage, toasted pumpkin seeds and nuts. Other beans may be substituted as well; black or pinto beans are the most traditional, but white beans, chickpeas and even black-eyed peas are good choices.
Make ahead: The beans ideally need to soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. The cooked beans can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 6 months. Defrost before cooking and mashing. The hard-cooked eggs can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Adapted from “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press, 2013).
8 ounces dried black beans (may substitute pinto or other beans)
2 medium white onions
6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional), plus more as needed
Eight 6-inch corn tortillas
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
Flesh of 1 avocado, cubed
4 hard-cooked eggs, cut into wedges or chopped
Rinse the beans, picking through them to remove any debris. Pour them into a bowl and add enough water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Soak for at least 6 hours and preferably overnight. (Alternatively, do a quick soak: Bring the beans and water to a boil, then turn off the heat and let them sit for 1 hour.)
Drain and rinse the beans. Place them in a medium pot set over medium heat. Add enough water to cover by about 2 inches. Cut one of the onions into 1-inch chunks. Peel and smash one of the garlic cloves; add that onion and garlic to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat low enough so the liquid is barely bubbling. Cover and cook the beans until four or five that you sample are creamy and tender, which could take as little as 45 minutes and as long as 2 hours or even longer, depending on the variety and age of the beans.
Stir in the salt; cook for 10 or 20 minutes, until well absorbed. Taste, and add salt as needed. Remove from the heat.
Finely chop the remaining onion and the remaining 5 garlic cloves. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the onion to use as a topping.
Pour the oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chopped onion (not including the 2 tablespoons) and garlic to the skillet; cook until the onion is translucent, 4 to 6 minutes. Sprinkle in the ancho chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper, if using; stir to incorporate. The spices should sizzle and become fragrant after a few seconds; stir in the beans and their liquid.
Once the liquid in the skillet starts to bubble at the edges, use a fork or potato masher to mash the beans, onion chunks and garlic. Taste, and add salt and/or cayenne pepper as needed. Cook until the mixture has slightly thickened into a fairly loose sauce (the texture of very thick soup), about 20 minutes.
Use tongs or a large fork to submerge the tortillas one at a time in the sauce, turning them to coat and soften. Take them out and quickly fold each softened, coated tortilla in half and then fold again, forming a kind of layered wedge.
Arrange two tortillas on each plate. Top with the reserved chopped onion, feta, avocado, egg and maybe a spoonful or two of any leftover sauce. Serve right away.
Per serving: 570 calories, 25 g protein, 67 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 230 mg cholesterol, 840 mg sodium, 21 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar