Easy Chicken & Black Bean Enchiladas

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Fall is finally settling over Northern California. Mornings are cold enough to warrant a cozy robe, squash are showing up in abundance at the market, and the evening sun feels a little heavier and richer. I love the fall—it’s a time of golden light, flamboyantly colored leaves that crunch underfoot, warming spices, and extra time spent with a warm oven. Especially this year, after such a horrible fire season, I welcome Autumn with a sigh of relief.

A few weeks ago Jonji and I took a little trip up the coast, in lieu of our Hawaii trip that had to be cancelled due to COVID. We stopping in SF for a Tartine lunch with Dan and his girlfriend Tali, munching grilled cheese sandwiches and pastries on blankets in Dolores Park. From there we drove up to Mill Valley, where we stayed for two nights. We spent a lot of time playing cribbage, eating, and exploring. On the second day, we journeyed into Muir Woods, craning our necks to see the canopy of giant redwoods towering overhead. We initially went the opposite direction to what we’d planned, which meant we ended up doing two hikes. By the end of it, after huffing and puffing a lot harder than usual up the steep inclines, the air getting warmer with each step up from the valley floor, my feet felt like they were going to fall off. But the quiet redwood sentinels, light filtering in winking, shimmering curtains through proud branches, left us in awe and made the blisters worth it. In a world that often feels lost to turmoil, old, giant trees are humbling and steadying. If you stand still, it feels like the forest is breathing around you, like its done for centuries—a real comfort to feel like you’re part of a peaceful, ancient system.

We next stayed two nights in Point Reyes, at a lovely little hotel with a sweeping lawn in that back that boasted several lounge chairs perfect for reading in and soaking up the birdsong. Jonji spotted a couple of large crawdads in the creek, and we even saw a large male deer walk almost silently past us, 10 feet away, on his way to pick up apples that had fallen off the property’s tree.

We ate dinner both nights at the hotel’s sister restaurant, delighting in the baby kale salad with blue cheese, pecans, and apple, as well as their buttery salmon with scrumptious Brussels sprouts.

During our last day, we journeyed into Point Reyes Station, the tiny town on the way to Tomales Bay. We did some shopping in a little bookstore and then went to read on the bay, looking up every now and then at the birds swooping past over the gently lapping water.

It was a lovely little trip, and a good reminder that we live in a beautiful state, full of amazing places just a short car ride away.

Now, it’s Election Day. So far today (besides working), I’ve set my oil diffuser to a 3-hour cycle, baked sourdough bread, and made Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies, all in an attempt to stay calm. I can only hope that more positive vibes will prevail throughout today and tomorrow, and we will end this year in a better place, with a leader who actually respects humanity and legitimately cares about others’ needs. I hope that when this little girl, currently kicking away in my belly, comes into this world, I will be able to tell her that it’s all going to be ok, and mean it. I hope she can grow up in a country where a woman can hold the second highest office in the land (and hopefully one day soon, the highest—come on, people). I hope I can tell her that, as a nation, we’re taking big steps toward caring for this planet that she’s inheriting. I hope we choose love over anger, acceptance over rejection, and respect over disdain.

Tonight, I’m making these enchiladas. They’re actually attainable on a weeknight, and they make a great lunch the following day. It was the first full meal I made post-first-trimester-nausea, and I felt like I was coming alive again with each bite. They may not be the most picture-worthy dish, but they’re warm and comforting, with complex flavors accompanied by mounds of sour cream and soft squares of avocado. The recipe can easily be fit to your needs—take out the chicken to make them vegetarian, or take out that plus the sour cream and cheese (though you’ll probably want to find a good cheese substitute) to make them vegan.

Chicken & Black Bean Enchiladas

makes 10–12 enchiladas • adapted from Ali Slagle’s recipe in the New York Times

1 large boneless or bone in chicken breast (skin on if possible)
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 small bell peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 15oz can fire roasted tomatoes
1 chipotle in adobo (optional)
1 tsp ground cayenne (optional)
2 tbsp sour cream
salt and pepper
1 28oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained*
1 1/2 cups grated jack or cheddar cheese

10–12 corn tortillas
cooking spray or oil

chopped cilantro
sour cream
diced avocado

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place your chicken breast in a small baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt (about 1/2 tsp or more, depending on the size of the breast) and plenty of pepper. Pour 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the dish. Roast for 35-40 minutes, then set aside to cool. Shred into bite-sized pieces. (You can cook the chicken a day earlier, or do it in the morning so it’s cool enough to shred by the time you want to make the enchiladas.)

Heat a couple tbsp olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add your diced onions, bell peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables start to brown and soften, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt. Mix in the ground cumin and cook for one more minute, then turn off the heat.

Using a blender or an immersion blender, combine half of the cooked vegetable mixture, the can of tomatoes, the chipotle and cayenne (if using), 1/4 tsp salt, and a few cracks of black pepper. Blend until smooth, then add the 2 tbsp sour cream. Pour half of the sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Spread evenly.

Add the drained beans and half of the grated cheese to the remaining vegetable mixture, and stir to combine. Mix in the shredded chicken (you can, of course, skip the chicken to make this meal vegetarian).

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray (alternatively, oil the pan with your hands). Spread 4-5 tortillas on the pan, then spray (or oil) the tops of the tortillas lightly. Repeat with another layer or two of tortillas, making sure to overlap so each tortilla is a bit exposed, until you’ve used 10-12 tortillas. Place in the hot oven for 3 minutes, until the tortillas are soft and pliable. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. This makes the tortillas soft enough to roll without cracking (but be careful, they’ll be hot).

Spoon some of the vegetable, chicken, and cheese mixture into one tortilla (you’ll see how much you can fit depending on your tortilla, but I usually use about 1/2 cup per tortilla—you just want to be able to roll it so the filling doesn’t fall out). Roll the tortilla around the filling so there’s a little overlap, then carefully transfer the enchilada to the sauce-lined pan, seam side down. Push as close to the edge as possible—you’ll need all the room you can get. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling, fitting at least 10, but ideally 12, in the pan. You may have a little extra filling, which I sometimes sprinkle around the enchiladas or save for later.

Pour the rest of the sauce evenly over the top of the enchiladas. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over that. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese has completely melted.

Let the enchiladas rest a few minutes, then serve. Top with plenty of chopped avocado, cilantro, and sour cream. Enjoy!

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