- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wrapped foods hold a certain mystery. Even if you know what’s inside, there’s always an element of surprise accompanying the first few bites.

I like to make unusual fillings for homemade enchiladas, highlighting foods that may be common elsewhere but are unexpected on the inside of a soft corn tortilla. One such filling is a composition of diced, fairly firm avocado and pepitas.

Avocados are rarely served heated but are more commonly the cool accent, spooned alongside or dolloped on top. So, surprise: They’re on the interior this time, accompanied by their textural alter ego, crunchy roasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds).

All you need to complete these enchiladas is a red sauce, along with beans and rice, and your main plate is ready. A green salad with a simple oil and vinegar dressing goes along well. For dessert, fresh pineapple is the ticket, either plain or doused with rum or tequila.

To keep the ingredients tasting good, assemble the enchiladas at the last minute, using room-temperature filling and heated sauce. Then cover the pan and place it in the oven for about 10 minutes or less, just until everything is warm but not otherwise baked. Avocados turn bitter when cooked or overheated, so just cook and eat.

Avocados are full of nutrients and slow to digest, making them a terrific choice for “time-release” energy that continues to satisfy for hours. And they are a rich source of vitamin E, some B vitamins, potassium and other minerals, including phosphorus and magnesium.

When shopping, select avocados that are heavy for their size and not dinged up, keeping in mind that the Haas variety has natural bumps. Buy hard, unripe avocados, unless you plan to use them right away, and let them ripen at room temperature, watching over them carefully so they don’t get too ripe.

When ripe, they will yield ever so slightly to gentle finger pressure. Plan to use avocados soon thereafter. Like most tropical fruit, avocados don’t take well to refrigeration. For this recipe they need to be quite firm so they can hold their shape when diced.

In the first step of this recipe, a delicious mixture of pepitas and cumin seeds are sauteed in olive oil with a little salt. This will be used as an ingredient in the enchilada filling. However, it is so incredibly tasty on its own that you might want to consider making a double batch, one for the filling and the other for snacking.

For the snack version, add a few small dried, whole chilies for heat. But don’t eat them. They are for seasoning purposes only.

Avocado-pepita enchiladas

Prepare the sauce and the tortillas ahead of time. Assemble the filling and fill the enchiladas at the very last minute so the avocados will be fresh. They will require only about 10 minutes in the oven to heat through. This is a vegan recipe, for those of you who are interested.

1/4 cup olive oil, possibly more

1 cup pepitas

2 to 3 teaspoons cumin seeds

Up to 1 teaspoon salt

12 corn tortillas, free of preservatives, if possible

Mexican red sauce (recipe follows)

1/4 cup lemon juice

4 medium-sized avocados, ripe but still firm to the touch

cup minced red onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Cayenne

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, swirl to coat the pan and add the pepitas. Stir and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until turning golden. (Be careful not to burn them.) Add cumin seeds to taste and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute until aromatic, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer mixture to a bowl and return skillet to heat.

Add a little more oil (a teaspoon or so) and swirl to coat pan once again. Add a tortilla and cook for only about 10 seconds on each side, then transfer to a plate. Repeat with more oil and remaining tortillas, one at a time, stacking them on the plate. Cover with a tea towel.

Begin heating Mexican red sauce over medium-low heat. Place lemon juice in a bowl. Cut each avocado in half and scoop out the pit. Peel and cut avocado into -inch dice. Immediately transfer to lemon juice bowl to prevent avocado from turning brown. Add onion, garlic and pepita mixture and stir gently. Season to taste with salt and cayenne.

To assemble, place about 2 tablespoons (maybe a little more) filling on one side of each tortilla and roll up. Pour a small amount of heated sauce into a shallow baking dish (the equivalent of a 9- by 13-inch pan) and add enchiladas, seam side down, in a single layer. Pour remaining sauce over top and cover tightly with foil. Place in preheated 300-degree oven for up to 10 minutes (no longer) and serve hot or warm. Makes 6 servings.

MEXICAN RED SAUCE:

5 medium-sized ripe, red tomatoes, diced (no need to peel or seed)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 large red bell pepper, minced

1 poblano or Anaheim chili, minced (see note)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Cayenne, optional

Place tomatoes, salt, cumin, bell pepper, chili, garlic and cayenne to taste, if desired, in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, partially cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. You can leave it chunky or puree all or some in a food processor or blender or directly in the pot with an immersion blender. For extra smooth sauce, pass through a strainer or a sieve and discard the solids. Makes enough for 6 servings of enchiladas.

Note: If you don’t have access to fresh poblano or Anaheim chilies, you can use a 4-ounce can of green chilies.

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