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How to Make Quick Easy Chicken Enchiladas

Audrey is a medical transcriptionist, instructor, writer, photographer, and dog trainer who writes on a variety of topics.

Chicken enchiladas

Chicken enchiladas

An Easy Variation on Chicken Enchiladas

As my profile states, I love recipes and I love to cook. However, for years, I've always thought of chicken enchiladas as a labor-intensive dish. I came across this chicken enchilada recipe in the magazine Cooking Light about three or four years ago when I was planning my husband's big birthday bash. Unlike many of my recipes, it did not become one of my notebook's "make it once, maybe think about it again" recipes. This recipe moved to the head of the class because it is so simple, so delicious, and can be tweaked so many different ways. It is now my gold standard for making enchiladas for a crowd.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you do not have to roll the individual enchiladas. There is no frying them or softening each one up first. This recipe can be altered in many ways and I will note the tweaks I've personally tried and found workable. This recipe also freezes very well. It doesn't become mushy; just reheating it in the microwave makes for a delicious meal. I freeze portions of it in lasagna-like cuts in flat plastic lidded containers, marked with the date, but you can also freeze in Ziploc freezer bags.

Serve with "rancho beans," a green salad, or Spanish rice alongside a beer, wine, or sangria, and you have a great meal without all the traditional prep of enchiladas.

Easy Chicken Enchilada Recipe


  • 2 cups of cooked shredded/skinned/boneless chicken
  • 2 (15.5 ounce) cans of small red beans, rinsed, drained
  • Cooking spray or 1 tablespoon oil (olive or canola)
  • 1 cup chopped onion (white or sweet)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 crushed/minced garlic clove
  • Dash of ground red pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions divided into 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup
  • 1/2 cup sliced ripe olives
  • 18 (6-inch) whole corn tortillas (divided into 3 layers in recipe)
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheese, divided into 3/4 cup, 3/4 cup and 1/2 cup
  • 1 cup 1% skim milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar red salsa
  • Reduced fat sour cream
  • Cilantro for decoration (optional)
  • Few tablespoons of sliced ripe olives for decoration (optional)
  • Pico de gallo (optional)
  • Guacamole or avocado slices (optional)
  • Extra red or green salsa (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside for enchiladas.
  3. Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray (or use 1 tablespoon oil).
  4. Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion and garlic.
  5. Cook for 3 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.
  6. Add cumin, chili powder, and pepper. Cook for about a minute.
  7. Add beans to skillet and cook for 2 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat. Add chicken, 1/2 cup green onions, and 1/2 cup sliced olives; stir well.
  9. Layer 6 tortillas on the bottom of the 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
  10. Spread out 2 cups of the chicken/bean combination over tortillas.
  11. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup cheese.
  12. Repeat these layers once. (Tortillas, chicken/bean mix, 3/4 cup cheese)
  13. Top with remaining 6 tortillas.
  14. In a large mixing bowl or large mixing cup, combine the milk, chopped cilantro, and salsa in a food processor (or blender) or beat with a mixer until smooth.
  15. Pour this liquid over the top of tortillas, pressing the tortillas on top down into the liquid. (It will look rather wet but that is correct)
  16. Cover with lid for pan or cooking-sprayed foil and bake at 350° for 35 minutes.
  17. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, remaining 1/2 cup green onions, and a few tablespoons of olives.
  18. Bake for 5 minutes or until cheese melts.
  19. Serve with sour cream and above optionals such as avocado slices, salsa, pico de gallo, etc. Garnish with little sprays of cilantro if desired.

This recipe easily feeds 10.

Some Substitutions I've Tried

All of these things worked really well when I substituted them. There any number of variations you can make to the recipe as long as you keep to the amounts required for the basic ingredients.

  • The original recipe in Cooking Light called for rotisserie chicken but I found that a bit dry and salty so have always used my own cooked chicken (poached) or even shredded turkey (But the rotisserie chicken worked great for when I had to make it away from home)
  • The original recipe also calls for 2 cans of Great Northern beans rinsed and drained. I like the small red beans personally as I thought they had more flavor
  • Substitute pinto beans, kidney beans or a combination if you have those on hand—always just rinse and drain before adding in
  • Substitute homemade pinto or kidney beans, Great Northern beans—sometimes if I'm making a soup or minestrone, I have beans that I've cooked on the stove or in the crock pot on hand and substitute those instead
  • Shallots can be substituted for the onions if you prefer the taste
  • You can leave off the garlic and use garlic salt—1/4 teaspoon but I prefer fresh garlic
  • I have substituted flour tortillas for the corn and they were great as well—I did heat those in the microwave for about 20 seconds but you can also wrap them in foil and heat in a 200 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes before using. Flour tortillas just seem to like a bit of cooking before adding to the recipe
  • The original recipe calls for 1% (low-fat) milk—I use skim for almost everything
  • You can use Mexican blend cheese instead of shredding your own cheese—or use Monterey Jack cheese—or any variety of Cheddar or a combination of hard cheese. I have even cheated a bit and added a bit of mozzarella when I did not have quite enough of the other kinds typically used. Blended together, you could not tell the difference
  • The original recipe calls for 1 (16-ounce) jar of green salsa. I prefer red salsa so that is what I generally use
  • For a really large crowd, double the recipe and make 1 recipe with green salsa and 1 recipe with red salsa
  • Substitute shredded beef or pork for the chicken and you have an entirely different enchilada that is equally delicious
  • I am working on a recipe substituting rice for part of the small red beans and adding vegetables such as carrots, zucchini and spinach—the vegetarian version