The things people do with zucchini have a tendency to perplex me. While cauliflower has become a standard-bearer for the potential of vegetables to replace meat in a variety of dishes and kale is ubiquitous in everything from soups to salads to risottos to noodles and everything in between, zucchini is often relegated to being a less tasty addition to bread than bananas or – more tragically – standing in as an alternative to pasta (I refuse to use the abominable portmanteau) that is perhaps healthier for the body (though certainly not for the soul).
I find this all baffling because zucchini has so many strengths as a vegetable. It has a wonderful fresh flavor and delicate firmness that are both retained when cooked. It roasts wonderfully without needing gobs of oil (I’m looking your way, eggplant). Left raw and sliced thin, it can form a salad of itself with a light vinaigrette.
I could go on and on; really, I should just say that zucchini is a vegetable I frequently consider when replacing meat in recipes. And as a New World crop, it was a natural inclusion when I started working on a recipe for vegetarian enchiladas – something I had wanted for a long time, and something that can be difficult to find at restaurants.
That’s not to say that restaurants don’t have vegetarian enchilada options. If you go to a Mexican restaurant, usually (assuming it’s not an all-meat affair) you find up to two options for vegetarian enchilada options: cheese enchiladas and a somewhat nebulous garden enchilada. Both can be great, but both have their issues.
The cheese enchilada is smooth, heavy, and cheese-centric. If you want that, it’s a great option, but sometimes you want texture and a more complex flavor. The garden enchilada, meanwhile, usually refers to an enchilada containing a hodgepodge of ingredients, including spinach, onions, corn, squash, mushrooms, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it often comes across more as health food than something you want out of an enchilada (Emily took this a step further and said they often come across as being made of the frozen vegetable medley bag from the grocery store). They also tend to fall apart midway through eating.
In making these enchiladas, I wanted to pair a savory, earthy filling with a tangy, spicy enchilada sauce. I also wanted some melted cheese without overdoing it. It took a few tries, but I think I’ve put together a recipe that does zucchini justice.
Is the recipe perfect? It is a time-consuming recipe, and because it takes up lots of stovetop real estate, it can make it difficult to make a side of refried beans or Mexican rice. That being said, I think the effort is worth it, and you may not even need a side accompaniment. I also criticized garden enchiladas for falling apart when you eat them, and these zucchini enchiladas start falling apart before you even bake them, so they don’t address that problem. But considering how they taste, I’m pretty sure you’ll be scraping the plate anyway.