Eric Akis: The enchilada goes meatless with yams

Eric Akis

Many recipes I’ve created for this column in the past 20 years started out with a basic idea. For example, today, I wanted to offer a recipe for vegetable-based enchiladas. I wrote that down and my recipe-developing process was underway.

Step 2 was to decide what type of recipe it would be: something more authentically Mexican, or one that was Mexican-inspired in style, as that decision would guide me on what types of ingredients and method to use. I chose the latter approach.

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In Mexican food expert Diana Kennedy’s book The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, she writes that in that country, there are two main types of enchiladas: those where the fresh corn tortillas used to make them are fried, often in lard, then dipped into a cooked chili sauce, and those that are dipped into that sauce and then fried. In both cases, the tortilla is then filled and rolled. Kennedy says that in Mexico, there is an endless array of regional recipes for how to fill and flavour them.

In my recipe, though, I did not fry the tortillas, and because I wanted each of my enchiladas to be a single serving, I used larger, fresh flour tortillas to make them. I also decided to make a simple, chipotle-chili-powder-flavoured tomato sauce for my enchiladas, not a sauce where multiple Mexican-style chilies were used, as some of Kennedy’s recipe did.

Once those decisions were made, I had to decide how to fill my enchiladas and chose to layer ingredients that contrasted in flavour, colour and texture. I began by spreading my tortillas with refried black beans, sold in cans at most supermarkets. To offset the beans’ rich, black/purplish colour, I added a row of cooked, bright-orange yam slices and flavoured them with some of my chili-flavoured sauce. I then topped the yams with cooked onions and poblano peppers and some grated queso Dorado, a Oaxaca-style melting cheese.

The fresh, richly flavoured poblano pepper added an attractive deep-green colour to my enchilada filling, while the cheese contributed ooey-gooey goodness.

It was now time to roll up the enchiladas, set them on a baking sheet and top them with the rest of the sauce, cheese and, if desired, some sliced jalapeño pepper. They were then baked until the filling was piping hot and welcoming.

I served my enchiladas with red-hued, Mexican-style rice and other items that complemented their flavour.

I hope you enjoy this Canadian/Mexican-style creation, eh!


Yam, Bean and Poblano Pepper Enchiladas

This recipe yields four large enchiladas. Serve one per person with Mexican-style rice and other items, such as homemade or store-bought fresh salsa, sour cream, shredded lettuce, hot sauce and cubed avocado.


Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: One hour 45 minutes

Makes: four servings


2 medium yams (about 450 grams; see Note 1)

1 (680 mL) can tomato sauce

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder

1/2 tsp oregano

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 medium poblano pepper, thinly sliced (see Note 2)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can refried black beans

4 (10-inch) spinach-flavoured, whole wheat or regular flour tortillas

150 grams Queso Dorado or Monterey Jack cheese, grated (see Note 3)

1 large jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking dish with parchment paper. Prick yams a few times with a fork. Set in the baking dish and bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until tender. Cool yams 20 minutes.

While yams cool, combine the tomato sauce, cumin, chili powder and oregano in a bowl and set aside. Heat the oil in a skillet set over medium-high. Add the onion and poblano peppers and cook until just tender, about four minutes, then remove from the heat.

When yams have cooled 20 minutes, carefully peel the skin off them. Now cut each yam, widthwise, into 10 slices, each about 3/4-inch thick.

Preheat the oven to 375 F again. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a non-stick pan. Lay the tortillas flat on a work surface.

Spread an equal amount of refried beans down the centre of each tortilla.

Set a row of five, slightly overlapping slices of yam on top of the beans on each tortilla. Press lightly on the yams so they nestle into the beans.

Drizzle and top the yams on each tortilla with 1/4 cup of the tomato-sauce mixture. Now divide and top the yams with the onion/pepper mixture and half the cheese.

Roll each tortilla into a cylinder and place on the baking sheet, spacing each enchilada about two inches apart. Spoon the remaining tomato-sauce mixture evenly over the enchiladas. Sprinkle enchiladas with remaining cheese and top each one with a few jalapeño pepper slices, if using.

Bake enchiladas, uncovered, 25-30 minutes, or until the filling is very hot, and then serve.


Note 1: The yams I used were about seven inches long and two and half inches wide. Don’t use ones that are wider than that, or they won’t fit inside the enchiladas when rolled. The yams, instead of being baked, could also be cooked in the microwave. To do so, prick them a few times with a fork and set on a plate. Cook them in the microwave in two-minute spurts until tender. The total cooking time will be about 10 to 12 minute.

Note 2: Fresh poblano peppers are sold at many supermarkets. If you can’t find one, you could use a small green bell pepper in this recipe.

Note 3: Queso Dorado is a mild tasting, Oaxaca-style melting cheese sold in the deli section of some supermarkets. I bought it at Thrifty Foods.


Mexican-style Rice

This red-hued rice is enriched with stock, contains aromatic spices and is accented at the last minute with bright green cilantro.


Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: about 25 minutes

Makes: four servings


1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 cup long grain white rice

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

• pinch ground cayenne pepper

• salt to taste

1 3/4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2 to 3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Pour the oil in a medium-sized pot and set over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook two to three minutes. Add the rice, tomato paste, cumin, paprika, cayenne and salt and cook two minutes more.

Pour in the stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a rapid boil.

Cover the rice, reduce the heat to its lowest setting, and cook, undisturbed, for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

Fluff rice with a fork, mix in the cilantro, if using, and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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