Though it’s sometimes hard to decipher exactly what elevates a recipe from “maybe I’ll make that one day” status to “I’m sprinting to the kitchen right now” material (chipotle? squash? cheese?), I can pinpoint a few elements from the ingredient list or cooking instructions that’ll catapult the recipe over to the “no way am I ever making that” list, and the first one reads like this: “peel and cube the butternut squash.”
Have you ever peeled and cubed a butternut squash? If you’re lucky, the worst problem you’ll encounter during the process is your knife getting stuck in the stiff flesh no matter how recently its blade was sharpened. More likely you’ll also find the skin of your hands peeling off much more easily than the squash’s, thanks to butternut squash-induced contact dermatitis, which is a real thing.
And so I was intent on avoiding that instruction when I wanted to cook vegetarian enchiladas one Sunday and a butternut squash materialized in the produce aisle, the only appealing vegetable there. Of course, I wanted the squash in cubes eventually, so I could fill my all-veg enchiladas with something tasty and hearty. Instead of dealing with peeling and chopping, I solved the problem with a single cut through the middle of my squash before roasting the two halves until soft. Only then did I venture to remove the skin and chop the vegetable. I highly recommend this technique for any squash recipe that permits it. My filling got seasoned with lime juice, fresh garlic, and smoky chipotle in adobo, and I actually enjoyed cooking with squash for once.
The rest of the enchilada dish comes together as a healthful vegetarian main posing as something gooey and decadent. I love how the tomato and jalapeño sauce develops in the blender; onions, garlic, and oil conspire to emulsify the tomatoes and make them almost creamy. As for the cheese, use as much or as little as strikes you as right: you could scatter a mere 1/2 cup if you’re playing January on the light side, and these would be delicious.
Or, rev the measurement up to 1 1/2 or even 2 (!) cups, if this veggie main is meant to serve, I don’t know, carnivores watching the Super Bowl?
Cheesy Butternut Squash Enchiladas
These are a fantastic candidate for making on Sunday and eating later in the week. If that’s your plan, make the enchiladas all the way through the end but only bake for 15 to 20 minutes the first time. Reheat the whole pan in a 400°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes when you’re ready to eat. Also, note that these can be a bit messy to serve: you might wind up scooping them out rather than neatly lifting each individual enchilada from baking dish to plate. I really love these served beside homemade refried beans.
For the filling:
1 butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out
2 small yellow onions, trimmed and cut into eighths
1/2 chipotle pepper from a can of chipotles in adobo, chopped (1 tablespoon), plus 1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce from the can
1 clove garlic, minced or run through a microplane
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons safflower or other neutral oil
1 onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, left whole
1 jalapeño, halved and seeds scooped out (you can leave in the seeds if you like a lot of spice)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste
12 small corn tortillas
1 cup (about 8 ounces) mild cheddar or aged mozzarella (like the kind that comes in plastic at the supermarket)
2 scallions, green parts chopped, for garnish
Refried beans, for serving (optional)
Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the butternut halves in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish and brush with lots of oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until soft but not too soft. In a second baking dish, toss the 2 onions with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 20 minutes, until soft but not too dark. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. When the onions are ready, toss with the chipotle mixture. When the squash is ready, let cool for a few minutes until you can touch it. Cut the peel off the roasted squash and roughly cube it. Add that to the mixing bowl and toss to combine. Taste for salt and add more as needed–you’ll want the filling to be very well seasoned to make the final dish sing.
While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce: In a wide saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the vegetables to soften and get a little brown around the edges. When the veggies are soft, add the tomatoes and simmer, partly covered, for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and even browned around the edges. Let the sauce cool for a few minutes, then transfer to the blender and blend til emulsified and smooth. The sauce will lighten in color to a pretty pink. Pour back into the saucepan you simmered the sauce in.
Toast the tortillas: heat a cast iron or other heavy pan over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until very hot. Toast a tortilla for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side, until slightly golden and crisp. Set aside on a plate and repeat with the rest of the tortillas (this step allows the tortillas to absorb tons more enchilada sauce, which means more flavor).
Assemble the enchiladas: Spoon a little sauce into the bottom of the pan in which you roasted the squash. Take a toasted tortilla and immerse it in the sauce. (Use tongs or your clean hands.) Set the dipped tortilla on a plate or cutting board and spoon some of the squash filling into a line along the middle. Roll up the tortilla and place your enchilada in the prepared pan. Repeat until you’ve used up all the filling and all the tortillas. If possible, squeeze them all into the casserole pan, but use two pans if you need! Spoon the rest of the sauce on top, then sprinkle on the cheese. Bake at 400°F for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the edges of the enchiladas have gotten crispy. Garnish with the scallion greens and eat with refried beans.
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