Best ever tofu and spinach enchiladas

January 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm (A minus, Dark leafy greens, Derek's faves, Farm recipes, frozen tofu, Mexican & S. American, Mom’s recipes, Tofu, Vegetable dishes)


Most tofu enchiladas are awful.  Normal tofu just doesn’t have the right texture for enchiladas.  My mom’s enchiladas are different, however.  They’re based on a recipe they used to make on the Farm, which uses frozen, marinated, and baked tofu that has a chewy texture and deep, umame flavor.  When I was a kid and my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday dinner, I invariably requested tofu enchiladas. The enchiladas were simple, American-style enchiladas, made from flour tortillas filled with savory tofu chunks and then covered in a tomato, chili gravy and baked in the oven.    They were simple, but amazingly delicious.  More recently my mom has started adding vegetables to her enchiladas, and I’ve followed suit.   I usually add some combination of spinach, corn,  peppers, and onions, but I’m sure other veggies would also be good. (Last updated Jan 1, 2014.)

The recipe

These enchiladas are not exactly difficult to make, but the recipe involves many components and thus it is quite time consuming. So before I actually give the recipe, here’s a high-level overview:

The game plan

  1. At least 24 hours or up to several months in advance:  Freeze 2 blocks (14-16 ounces) of medium-firm tofu.  If it’s water-packed tofu, you can freeze it in the package, or you can take it out and freeze the blocks together in a large tupperware.  You can freeze the tofu as far ahead as you like, but you’ll need to freeze it at least 24 hours in advance so that it has time to freeze and defrost.
  2. The night before you want to make the enchiladas (or even that morning), remove the tofu from the freezer and leave it out to defrost.
  3. Make the enchilada sauce.  (Note:  You have to make this first because you need the enchilada sauce for the tofu’s marinade and the veggie’s seasoning.)
  4. While the sauce simmers, prepare the veggies.
  5. When the sauce is done, make the tofu.
  6. Assemble and bake the enchiladas.

You can make the enchilada sauce and/or the tofu one to two days ahead of time.  You can make the veggie mixture the day before.  You might even be able to assemble the enchiladas the day before (leaving off the sauce to avoid sogginess), but I haven’t tried this.  I also haven’t tried freezing the pre-baked or baked enchiladas.  But maybe my Mom has.  Mom?

Enchilada sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion (about 8 ounces)
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 20 oz tomato sauce (about 567g)
  • 2 3/4 – 3 cups water
  • 3 – 4 Tbs. chili powder (depends on the brand—start with 3 and then taste)
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder (optional, you can always just use more fresh garlic)
  • 1 tsp. sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder (optional)

Instructions: In a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, sauté the onion in the oil.  When the onions are transparent, add the garlic, and after about a minute add the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.  The sauce should thicken but the final consistency should be quite a bit thinner than a tomato sauce. If it gets too thick add some more water.

Note that this recipe makes more sauce than you’ll need for the enchiladas. I usually put the extra out on the table for people who want more sauce, or throw the leftovers into a pot of pinto beans.  If you want you can make extra enchilada sauce (1.75x the recipe should be enough for two batches of enchiladas). You can freeze leftover sauce, but be warned—when you defrost it it looks a bit strange, with cloudy particles floating in reddish water, but it seems to work fine in the enchiladas. 

Tofu

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbs. oil (for greasing the cookie sheet)
  • 4 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 -4 Tbs. natural peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 cup enchilada sauce (see above)
  • 40-42 ounces of tofu, frozen and then defrosted (i.e., freeze 2.5 1-pound blocks or three 14-ounce blocks)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Oil a cookie sheet with the 1 Tbs. of oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients to form the marinade.
  3. Squeeze the tofu dry, and then tear into bite sized pieces.  Use a rubber spatula or your hands to gently mix the tofu into the marinade, making sure all the pieces ends up evenly colored.
  4. Pour the tofu pieces onto the cookie sheet, distributing them evenly.  (Do not wash out the bowl.)  Bake for 20 minutes, flip, then bake another 10-15 minutes.  The tofu should be crisp on the outside but still moist on the inside. Transfer the tofu back to the large bowl.

Vegetables

Below is the vegetable mix I made tonight.  There are a lot of ingredients, but they’re not all necessary.  I was just trying to use up various things that were in the fridge. In the parentheses I put the amounts I used on another attempt. The vegetable mix is pretty flexible. Feel free to just use what you have. Just taste it and make sure it tastes good! Other veggies like zucchini, mushrooms, or winter squash could also be good, just make sure you cook the water out so the enchiladas don’t end up too soggy.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced red onion (or 2 small red onions sliced)
  • 1/2 Tbs. minced jalepeno (or 1 jalapeno with seeds)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced (or 1.5 Tbs. chopped)
  • 1 long pale, not-too-spicy, yellow-green pepper (banana pepper?), sliced (or 4 long light-green peppers)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (omit if adding olives or artichoke hearts or other salty veggies)
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 canned chipotle chili, minced
  • 450 grams frozen, chopped spinach
  • 1/4 cup Frontera Grill salsa verde or other salsa
  • 1/2 cup enchilada sauce (see above)
  • 1 cup frozen corn (or up to 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. When hot add the onion and saute until slightly softened.  Add the jalepeno, chipotle chili, garlic, yellow pepper and saute briefly.  Add the cumin and salt and saute for 30 seconds more.  Add in the frozen spinach, and cook until defrosted and any extra water has evaporated.
  2. Remove from heat, and add to the large bowl that the tofu is in.  Add in the salsa verde, enchilada sauce, sliced scallions, and frozen corn.  Stir to mix.

Assembling and serving the enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 9 to 15 small (i.e., 8- to 10-inch) flour tortillas or 30? corn tortillas (exact number depends on the diameter of the tortillas and how full you make them)
  • tofu/vegetable mix
  • 100g kalamata olives, pitted and sliced (optional)
  • 8 ounces grated cheese of your choice (omit for vegan enchiladas)
  • garnishes like sliced avocado, shredded lettuce, minced onions, diced tomatoes, or pico de gallo (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Smear bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking dish with 3/4 cup  enchilada sauce.
  3. Fill your enchiladas:  Place a tortilla on a plate and spread 1/3 cup filling (for corn tortillas) or 1/2 – 1 cup filling (for flour tortillas) down the center of each tortilla.  Roll each tortilla tightly and place in the baking dish, seam-side down.
  4. Top your enchiladas: Pour another 1-2? cups enchilada sauce over the top of the enchiladas.  Use the back of a spoon to spread the sauce so that it coats the top of each tortilla.   If using cheese, sprinkle over the top of enchiladas. If using the olives, spread over the top of the enchiladas.
  5. Bake for about 25 minutes, until cheese is melted or tops start to look a little dry.
  6. Serve immediately, with whatever garnishes you like, and extra sauce.

Note: If you’re using corn tortillas, and they’re not 100% fresh, you might want to soften them in the oven or microwave before rolling the enchiladas.  Place the tortillas on 2 baking sheets. Spray both sides of tortillas lightly with cooking spray. Bake until tortillas are soft and pliable, 2 to 4 minutes.  Or stack the tortillas on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave for 40-60 seconds until soft and pliable.  I think you’ll need to somehow cover the tortillas to keep them from getting dried out and cracking.

My notes

My notes on the tofu:

A variant of the Farm recipe has been published in Louise Hagler’s cookbook Tofu Cookery.  Hagler calls for 3 pounds tofu, 6 Tbs. soy sauce, only 2 Tbs. peanut butter, 4 tsp. onion powder, 2 tsp. cumin, and no enchilada sauce or tomato paste.  And she uses twice as much oil on her cookie sheet.

My mom’s recipe (as I have it written down) actually specifies that the marinade listed above is for four blocks of tofu.  I used the marinade ingredients above (with 2 Tbs. of peanut butter), but for 3 pounds of tofu rather than four.  After mixing the tofu into the marinade, it seemed like plenty of marinade for all 3 blocks of tofu.  All the pieces were uniformly light pinkish brown. I tasted the raw tofu, and it tasted extremely salty, which is how it’s supposed to taste.  After baking, however, it didn’t taste that great.  Normally the tofu is irresistible when it comes out of the oven, but this time it was bland.   Next time I’d use the same amount of marinade with only 2 blocks of tofu. On another attempt I used 3 blocks of tofu with the marinade recipe as written, except I used 70g of peanut butter (slightly over 4 Tbs.) and the tofu came out very tasty. It fit on the pan fine. It was perhaps less salty than normal, but the final enchiladas were plenty salty.

My notes on the enchilada sauce:

Here’s my mom’s original recipe:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 30 oz tomato sauce
  • 5 cups water
  • 5 Tbs. chili powder
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

My mom’s sauce recipe tastes pretty good to me–not quite authentic Mexican, but tasty.  It could probably use a little tweaking, however.  Next time I’ll use fresh garlic, CI’s amounts of cumin and chili powder, and try it with a little less water, maybe 4 cups. Also, my mom’s sauce recipe always makes too much for one batch of enchiladas.  I think it should be cut in half or at least 2/3rds.

I compared my mom’s sauce recipe to one from Cook’s Illustrated, in their recipe for “lighter enchiladas”.  This is their recipe, doubled:

2 medium onions , chopped fine
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
6 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
6 tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons sugar
32 ounces tomato sauce
2 cups water

Their instructions:  Combine the onion, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the onions have softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and sugar, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and water, bring to a simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

This recipe uses less oil, and thus “sweats” the onions with the salt in a covered pan.  It uses slightly less salt, but a little more chili powder and cumin, and lots of fresh garlic instead of garlic powder.  It uses significantly less water.  The final difference is that CI adds sugar to their sauce.  I’m not sure why.

Update March 25:

I changed up the enchilada sauce a bit, so that it made less (about 2/3) and to try a few of the ideas from the CI recipe. I used 8 ounces of onion (just under 2 cups chopped) cooked with 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 Tbs. olive oil.  I added fresh garlic (2 tsp. chopped) but also kept the 1 tsp. garlic powder.  I added 4 Tbs. of chili powder and 2 tsp. of cumin, and 1 tsp. of sugar (although I’m not sure this added much).  I reduced the tomato sauce just a tad to 17.5 ounces (500 grams). I tried just adding 2 cups of water, but the sauce tasted like pasta sauce not enchilada sauce.  With another 1/2 cup water it improved substantially, but still didn’t taste *quite* as enchilada-y as my mom’s recipe.  I think 3 cups might be better. Here’s what I did followed but what I would have done if I had done a straight 2/3 version of my mom’s recipe (followed by 2/3 version of Hagler’s recipe, followed by 1 1/3 of the CI recipe for “lighter enchiladas”):

  • me | mom | Hagler | CI
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil | 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. olive oil | same | 2/3 tsp. oil
  • 8 ounces onion, just under 2 cups chopped | 2/3 large onion | same | 1 1/3 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 17.5 ounces (500 grams) tomato sauce | 20 oz tomato sauce | same | 21 ounces tomato sauce
  • 2 1/2 cups water | 3 1/3 cups water | 1 1/3 cups water | 1 1/3 cups water
  • 4 Tbs. chili powder | 3 1/3 Tbs. chili powder | 2 – 4 Tbs. chili powder | 4 Tbs. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin | same | same |  2 2/3 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt | same | 2/3 tsp. | 2/3 tsp.
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder + 2 tsp. minced garlic | 1 tsp. garlic powder | 2 garlic cloves | 4 garlic cloves pressed, about 2 tsp.
  • 1 tsp. sugar | – | – | 2 1/3 tsp. sugar

My notes on the veggies

The last few times I’ve made enchiladas I’ve used frozen spinach.  It’s easy, tasty, and nutritious.  You can also use fresh spinach, but make sure to clean it well and chop it up well–long stringy strands of spinach are quite unpleasant.  Chard or beet greens, which are very similar to spinach, would also probably work well.  I’ve never tried heartier greens like collards or kale.

I used to put mushrooms in my enchiladas, but Derek always complained that they ended up rubbery.  He says I don’t know how to cook mushrooms so I stopped putting them in.  Probably if I minced them up really fine, though, they wouldn’t be noticeable.

I’ve don’t usually put artichoke hearts in my enchiladas, but I know my dad and brother always ask for my mom to put them in.  I tried them once and thought they were fine.  They added some textural variety, which was nice, but most of the time you didn’t really taste them.  Also, they’re quite salty, so if you use them reduce the salt somewhere.

I really like corn in the enchiladas.   They add a touch of sweetness that contrasted nicely with all the salty, savory flavors. Also, they add that nice “pop” when you bite into one.

I only had a little bit of salsa verde left, but I think the sourness helped balance the flavors out.  My mom often adds Pace picante sauce, which has a vinegary bite, and probably plays a similar role.

When my mom came to Saarbruecken last Spring, she made us enchiladas using a big bag of long yellow/green peppers she bought at the Turkish market.  They were delicious.  I only had one of those peppers this time, but if you have more by all means throw them in.  Poblano peppers are also really good, if you can get them.  (Sadly, they don’t exist in Saarbruecken.)  Plain green bell peppers are okay, but I prefer them in smaller quantities, not as the main veggie in the enchiladas.

Other veggies that might be good but I haven’t tried:  winter squash, sweet potatoes, zucchini or yellow squash

My notes on the whole enchilada

Our enchiladas ended up a bit soggy.  I’m not sure if I added too much sauce, or maybe these Turkish tortillas just aren’t heavy-duty enough.  The enchiladas were still tasty, but I wished the tortillas ended up a bit more al dente.

We topped our enchiladas with a mix of aged cheddar and pecorino. (We didn’t measure that carefully, but I think Derek added about 8 ounces of cheese in total.) The cheese gives the dish a very rich mouthfeel.

I found the enchiladas a bit too salty today.  Derek didn’t add any salt to his, so that means they must have been way too salty!  Maybe next time I’d cut the salt in the vegetables to 1/4 tsp.

I ended up making 14 enchiladas, but I had a little extra filling.  If I had had more tortillas, I probably could have made another 1-2 enchiladas.

I don’t currently have an 13- by 9-inch pan, so I made two batches:  one in a casserole pan that’s probably about 6- by 11-inches, and the other in a 9- by 9-inch square pan.  I probably could have fit two more enchiladas in if I had had more tortillas. Another time we stuffed the enchiladas with more filling (about 1 cup each) and used a 15×10 inch pan (4.8 quart). We fit in 9 enchiladas with only a few spoonfuls of filling leftover.

I think one enchilada is really a serving, but most people like them so much they end up eating 1.5 or 2 at dinner. When we made them with more filling, however, everyone was stuffed after just one.

Derek says (about the enchiladas with cheese)  “These are delicious.  Perfect.  A”.  He thought they were actually less soggy than normal.  Derek said the artichoke hearts were good when he got one, but you couldn’t taste them most of the time (unless you happened to bite into one).  He said they added some nice variety.

Oh, I forgot–I had a little ground up almonds leftover from Nikki’s healthy cookies and I threw it in with the spinach.  It was maybe 2 Tbs. of ground almonds.

Update March 25th:

I made tofu enchiladas using about 2.5 blocks of my tofu here (which is usually around 400-450 grams per block).  I made the marinade as specified above and cooked the tofu on one cookie sheet–it came out well.

I tried a new sauce recipe (see above).  The biggest differences were the fresh garlic, the extra chili powder, and the reduced water.  I let the sauce cook a bit, and it ended up a nice consistency–not too thick, not too thin.

For the filling I cooked 2 small red onions and 4 long light green banana? peppers in 1/2 Tbs. olive oil.  I also added 1 Tbs. chopped jalepeno (with seeds), which just about killed me.  The heat got into my lungs and they were burning for about an hour!  Those were some hot jalepenos!  For more heat I added 1 chopped canned chipotle chile and 1.5 Tbs. chopped garlic.  Finally, I added 300 grams frozen spinach, about 1.6 cups frozen corn, and about 100 grams kalamata olives (weighed with pits).  I didn’t add any salt to the vegetables this time, but I did add some enchilada sauce and some leftover tomato-based Frontera salsa.

The filling would have made about 15 enchiladas, but I could only squeeze 14 into my two pans.  I had only about 1 cup of sauce leftover in the end.  Not bad!  I topped the enchiladas with a mix of grated gruyere and parmesan.  The enchiladas came out really well this time.  They weren’t overly salty like last time, but still Derek *loved* them.  He said they were significantly better than the last batch.  I’m not sure what the difference was–the new sauce recipe, a little less spinach, kalamata olives?? In any case, we had no trouble finishing off both pans of enchiladas (with help from friends) over the next few days.

I served the enchiladas with the southwestern millet salad from Modern Vegetarian Kitchen (with millet, tomatoes, corn, avocado, etc.), and the combination was nice.  The salad was more fresh and acidic tasting, but still Mexican themed.  Hagler says to serve the enchiladas with refries, spanish rice, and a tossed salad.

Update August 2011:

I made enchiladas for dinner with (not quite) 3 full blocks of frozen tofu and lots of veggies.  I made only 2/3 of the sauce recipe and found it perhaps just a tad too thick and tomato-y with only 2.5 cups of water.  Also I didn’t have any sauce leftover to serve at the table.  Next time I think I’ll try it with 2 full cups of onions and 3 full cups of water.  The tofu and the enchilada sauce were both very salty (a bit too much so) so I didn’t add any salt to the veggies.  I used my largest pyrex pan (15×10) and made the enchiladas fat, and ended up with about 11 enchiladas.  With salad, salsa, and one-avocado of guacamole, the four of us ate about half the pan for dinner.  I used an awful lot of pans to make this dish.  I wonder there’s some way to reduce the number of dirty dishes.  This was almost as much work as making a lasagne! (Note: In Dec 2013 I filled the same pan with only 9 enchiladas, but they were very fat, about 550 calories each. If I had more filling I probably could have squeezed in two more. I liked that there was less tortilla to filling, but the problem with the fat enchiladas is it seems stingy to give people only 1/2 an enchilada, but a whole one is really quite a lot, and leaves no room for people to get seconds.)

Helpful hint: If you accidentally leave your freezer door open and everything defrosts, enchiladas are a good thing to make. In Dec 2012 I decided to make enchiladas for New Year’s dinner because of my freezer fiasco–I needed to use up three blocks of no-longer-frozen tofu, a big tupperware of enchilada sauce, small containers of chipotle chilis and minced jalepeno, and boxes of no-longer-frozen corn and spinach.

Nutritional Information

I calculated the nutrition information assuming 2 blocks of Nasoya firm tofu that’s made with all the marinade, only half the enchilada sauce is used, the tortillas are made from flour and contain 150 calories each, only 1/4 tsp. salt was added to the veggies, the tomato sauce for the sauce was low-salt, and the following were added to the tofu to make the filling: 1 pound spinach, 1 cup frozen corn, 1/2 cup green bell pepper, 1 hot green chile,  3 large cloves garlic, 1/4 cup Pace picante sauce, 1 cup mushrooms, and 20 small green olives.  Clearly, however, the nutritional information is going to depend a lot on which specific tortillas, tofu, tomato sauce, soy sauce, etc. you choose to use, and whether or not you add cheese.

Macronutrient breakdown: 32% fat, 50% carbs, 18% protein.

Serving Size: 1 enchilada
Amount Per Serving
Calories 308
Total Fat 11g
Saturated Fat 1.4g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 982mg
Carbohydrate 38.1g
Dietary Fiber 4.3g
Sugars 4.5g
Protein 13.5g
Vitamin A 34% Vitamin C 34%
Calcium    19% Iron 21%

The main problem with this recipe is that the salt level is through the roof. Clearly that’s something I need to work on. Other than the salt, however, the enchiladas seem reasonably healthy. (At least, before any cheese is added.) The fat is a little high and the fiber is a bit low, but that would be ameliorated by serving the enchiladas with a side of lowfat “refried” beans and a salad (or more fresh garnishes).  If you can get jicama, a salad of jicama, cucumber, and pineapple would go nicely.  Or you could make a more typical chopped salad with tomato, cucumber, bell peppers, and radishes.

7 Comments

  1. austingardener said,

    I never made these on the farm. It is really my recipe.
    We didn’t have a freezer on the Farm.

  2. austingardener said,

    That is one long post!
    The tofu actually is better if you freeze it for at least 72 hours.
    Once you assemble the enchiladas they must be cooked right away. One time I let them sit for an hour before I baked them and they were a mushy mess.
    And I guess you could freeze them, but who ever has many leftovers?
    I don’t bake my tofu, I pan fry it in a cast iron pan.
    I think your tofu marinade should have less soy sauce. I would use 2 Tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 of apple cider vinegar I think. I would skip the tomato paste altogether.The enchilada sauce should suffice- and that is for 2 lbs. of tofu.
    I also cook them covered for the first 20 minutes and then uncover for the last 10 or they get too dry.
    And about the saltiness. I would not add any salt to the veggies becuase there is salt in the sauce and soysauce in the tofu mixture.
    Hope some of this is helpful.

  3. Mexican recipes said,

    A great combination of tofu with enchilada sauce !! Its a high protein enchilada as it contains spinach and tofu both. Thanks a lot of yummy and healthy enchilada treat.

  4. ParisLove said,

    I was looking for a tofu enchilada filling, and this is perfect! I wouldn’t have thought of baking the tofu after marinading, but that sounds like the perfect idea for enchilada filling.

    I will probably skip most of the other ingredients and keep the filling simple, limiting it to maybe bell pepper, onion and corn.

    To prevent your enchiladas from becoming soggy, don’t place the enchilada sauce on until you are ready to put it in the oven. This can help you save time as a make-ahead dish.

  5. austingardener said,

    iIam freezing spinach from the garden tonight and checked out your enchilada ingredient amounts to see whether to freeze the spinach in 2 cup or 4 cup bags. Since 500 grams is about 2 cups, I decided to freeze the spinach in 2 cup bags, pints.
    Thanks for helping Rose.

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