For me, a warm corn tortilla is one of the most comforting foods there is. My childhood babysitter was from Guatemala, and she got me hooked early on. I still remember her spreading corn tortillas with butter, sprinkling them with sugar, rolling them into loose cigars on a plate, and microwaving them for just a few seconds, until the outside was steamy-warm and the inside was gooey. For a small child, there was no better afternoon treat.
I still take a lot of solace in corn tortillas, whether they’re simply steamed naked or doused in sauce. For the most part, I prefer to get my fix outside my house, at a local Mexican/Salvadoran dive that makes the best enchiladas in town. But recently I stumbled across a recipe for a tortilla dish I’d never seen before, where the sharp-and-spicy chile sauce was replaced with a thick robe of rough-pureed beans. Enfrijoladas. The bones of the dish are the same–tortillas soaked in sauce, sometimes filled with protein, rolled or folded–but the impact is totally different. Each bite is hefty, creamy, almost peanut-butter-thick. This is stick-to-your ribs Mexican food, but without the accompanying lardiness we Americans are so used to.
There’s something almost meditative about making a dish like this. It’s the kind of thing that forces you to get your hands and dishes and stovetop messy, dipping tortillas in warm sauce and folding them over themselves, laying them on a plate and scattering over a coarse-crumbled handful of queso fresco. In this case, there’s no baking to worry about, just assembly, so that you can hand off the bean-soaked tortillas to be eaten as soon as they’re folded. I used a pair of tongs to manipulate the tortillas in and out of the sauce, but folded them by hand, licking the starchy-chunky sauce from my fingers as I went.
Honestly, a tortilla this heartily dressed doesn’t really need a filling. Just drenching the tortillas in bean sauce and folding them over themselves would be enough. But I was feeding Sam, too, and he had a craving for sausage. So I cooked up a mass of Mexican chorizo–the squishy pork kind–to spoon into the bellies of the tortillas. I had the leftover greens from a bunch of radishes hanging around, so I whacked at them a little with a knife and wilted them into the chorizo. It would have been far too aggressive a filling for an enchilada, but for the creamy-mild bean sauce, it turned out nicely: gooey and pungent and just a touch spicy, with the milky saltiness of the queso fresco to round everything out. With a vinegary chopped salad and a cold fizzy beverage, these tortillas made for one soul-soothing dinner.
Enfrijoladas with Chorizo and Greens (serves 6)
Inspired by Recipes for Health
Note: The bean sauce can be prepared ahead of time; it will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to a month. Make the filling and assemble the enfrijoladas right before serving.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch (6-8) scallions, thinly sliced
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded and minced
2 tsp ground cumin, or to taste
1 tsp chili powder, or to taste
1 tsp dried oregano, or to taste
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed OR 3 cups cooked black beans
2 cups water or bean cooking liquid
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
1 lb (16-20 oz) Mexican chorizo
3 cups fresh spinach, radish greens, or beet greens
12 corn tortillas
Crumbled queso fresco for garnish (optional)
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add about 3/4 of the scallions and a pinch of salt, and sweat for about 3 minutes, or until the scallions are translucent. Add garlic, jalapeno or serrano pepper, cumin, chili powder, and oregano, and cook, stirring frequently, for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until the mixture is fragrant. Add beans, water or cooking liquid, bay leaf, and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the beans are very soft and the liquid is richly flavored.
While the beans are simmering, wash, stem, and roughly chop the greens. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and the remaining scallions, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat into chunks (it may just flatten into a squishy mass, which is fine). Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, or until the chorizo is completely cooked through. Add greens, a handful at a time, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes, or until the greens are wilted and tender. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.
Once the beans are cooked, remove the bay leaf and discard. Transfer the mixture to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree until thick, creamy, and not quite smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and bring it back to a simmer over medium-low heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning; add water as needed to keep the sauce at a thick but still liquid consistency. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.
Place a serving platter or deep-sided dish next to the stove. Using a pair of tongs, dip one of the corn tortillas into the warm bean sauce, flipping gently to coat each side. Place the tortilla on the serving platter or dish, and place a spoonful of the chorizo mixture into the center. Fold the tortilla in half over the filling. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Once all of the tortillas are filled and folded, spoon any remaining bean sauce over the top. Garnish with queso fresco (if using). Serve immediately.