What’s cooking today: Chicken enchiladas

What’s cooking today: Chicken enchiladas
Chicken enchiladas made with homemade tortillas and enchilada sauce. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

I made flour tortillas on Sunday, and enchilada sauce, then cooked cubes of chicken breast with onion, chilli and black beans. The result: chicken enchiladas.

Chicken enchiladas is a dish of tortillas filled with chicken that’s cooked with onion, chilli and black beans, then covered with enchilada sauce and grated cheese, and baked. You can buy prepared tortillas at the supermarket, but making your own, it turns out, is rewarding and not very challenging. I thoroughly enjoyed the little learning curve. 

I also made my own enchilada sauce, which is also called Tex Mex chilli gravy, which describes exactly what it is. It’s as easy to make as a basic béchamel and should be ready within 15 minutes of starting to make it. This recipe requires one whole recipe of it. And there’s more chilli in the cooked chicken. It’s pretty hot stuff. 

It’s best to start with the tortillas, but first cut strips of parchment paper into squares to place between each cooked tortilla, to prevent them from sticking to one another. I had never made tortillas before, and it turns out it’s really easy. You do have to judge when the dough is right, but the instruction I found most useful in my manic googling of tortilla recipes was that when it’s been mixed you end up with a “shaggy ball” of dough. Perfect description. And that’s what you’re looking for.

I made flour tortillas. My mate Chris Pretorius in Chicago explains that they’re often made with masa harina, a corn meal flour. But many recipes for chicken enchiladas call for flour tortillas, so no sweat if you don’t happen to have masa harina to hand. 

The tortillas: 

Make little balls of tortilla dough. (Photo: Tony Jackman)


3 cups plain flour 

1 tsp baking powder 

1 tsp salt 

cup/ 4 Tbsp/ 80 ml canola oil or similar (olive oil is too strong)

1 cup/ 250 ml warm water 


Flatten the balls out with your palm. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Sift the flour into a bowl, and stir in the salt and baking powder. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the oil, then the warm water. 

Stir with a wooden spoon, in motions from the bottom of the bowl upwards, until it is well combined and forms a ragged, somewhat messy ball. 

Turn it onto a floured board and knead for two minutes until it is smooth. 

Cut it into two, then four, then eight, then 16 little pieces, as evenly as you can. 

Roll each of the 16 pieces into a neat ball between your palms. 

Place each ball on the floured board and flatten them with the palm of your hand. 

Cover with a clean towel and leave them for 20 minutes. 

Uncover them and roll each one into a rough circle about 7 cm in diameter; they need not be perfectly round. Don’t stack them on top of one another or you’ll risk them sticking together. I rolled two or three at a time, cooking them in between.

A cooked tortilla. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Heat a heavy, flat frying pan over a moderately high heat. You need no fat whatsoever; they cook dry. 

Place one thin round of tortilla dough into the hot pan and leave it to cook on that side for about 45 to 50 seconds. Lift an edge and you should see some brown spots underneath; that’s what you want. Turn and cook the other side for about 15 seconds. Place on a clean surface with a piece of parchment paper over it. Continue until they’re all cooked and stacked between parchment paper.

Note: you need to gauge the pan’s temperature with your first couple of tortillas. You need the temperature to be such that when cooking the first side, a few bubbles (or blisters if you like) appear on top (and those brown spots underneath). Once you see those blisters, you can be pretty sure they’re ready for turning. Keep the temperature at that heat for all the rest.

I also read this advice: stack cooked tortillas in a pot that fits them easily, placing them in it while still hot, and put the lid on. Apparently the steam they release keeps them soft for a fair while. I have not tested this. 

The enchilada sauce: 


2 Tbsp canola oil (or you can use avocado oil or coconut oil, but not olive)

2 Tbsp plain flour 

¼ cup/ 75 ml/ 4 Tbsp chilli powder (yes, it’s super hot, that’s the entire point) 

1 tsp garlic powder (note: most recipes call for ½ tsp each of onion powder and garlic powder, but I could not find the former in any of our supermarkets and extra garlic powder worked just fine) 

½ tsp ground cumin 

¼ tsp dried oregano 

1 cup/ 250 ml chicken stock 

1 cup/ 250 ml vegetable stock (OR use 500 ml beef stock instead of chicken and vegetable stock) 

Salt to taste 


Heat the oil in a saucepan, remove from the heat and whisk in the flour until it’s a smooth roux.

Add the chilli, garlic (and/ or onion) powder, cumin and oregano, and whisk until it’s smooth again. Season with salt to taste.

Whisk in the stock a little at a time and simmer on a low heat, stirring or whisking, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Keep the enchilada sauce aside while you cook the chicken filling. You can reheat it later. 

The chicken & black bean filling: 


3 Tbsp olive oil 

1 small onion, diced 

4 green or red chillies, sliced thinly 

4 chicken breasts, diced into 2 cm pieces 

1 x 400 g can of black beans, drained and rinsed under cold water

Salt and black pepper to taste 


Sauté the onion in the olive oil until softened, add the chillies and cook for a minute, then add the chicken pieces about a third of the quantity at a time, stirring so that they cook evenly all over (if you add it all at once the chicken may release juices and stew, rather than fry). Once the remaining chicken pieces are cooked, stir in the drained and rinsed black beans, season with salt and pepper and leave it to one side. 

Assembling the enchiladas: 


6 to 8 flour tortillas 

1 recipe of enchilada sauce (see above) 

1 recipe of chicken with chilli and black beans (see above) 

1 or 2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated (make it more or less cheesy, as you like)

1 small avocado, peeled and diced 

Juice of 1 lime (half for the avocado, the other half for the finished dish)

Coriander leaves, chopped 

A dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream 


Grease a suitable oven dish. Fill each tortilla with a line of chicken and black beans, spoon some enchilada sauce over, roll it up and place each filled tortilla in the dish, packed like sardines. 

Spoon all of the remaining enchilada sauce over the top. 

Cover with as much grated cheese as you like. 

Bake in a preheated 180oven until the cheese is golden brown, about
20 minutes. 

Sprinkle chopped coriander leaves over and squeeze the juice of the other lime half over the enchiladas. Serve with diced avocado tossed in lime juice, and a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream. DM/TGIFood 

To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected] 

Our Thank God It’s Food newsletter is sent to subscribers every Friday at 6pm, and published on the TGIFood platform on Daily Maverick. It’s all about great reads on the themes of food and life. Subscribe here.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options