Food Scoop: Squash enchiladas

When I cook for my friends, I try not to limit them to my vegetarian tendencies. I have no compunction about asking them to grill up some lamb or slice raw chicken to small pieces because I am quite likely to burn everything.

Eating out is generally easy, but I rarely ask people to eat at vegetarian restaurants. One exception is Seva in Ann Arbor, where plenty of non-vegetarian friends have been happy to join me. They have a variety of dishes I enjoy, including their excellent squash enchiladas. I liked these enough that I was inspired to try something similar at home.

It starts with butternut squash. Butternut squash is problematic for me. A single squash is huge. I could cut it in half and bake each half with a different flavor, like butter with brown sugar on one side and seasoning salt on the other half. Still, there’s a huge amount of squash.

Squash is smooth and almost melts on the tongue. I think one of the reasons it is offered as a side dish but not as a main course is simply because there is nothing to chew. Because of this, I can’t eat much in one sitting and I can never finish a single squash alone.

But when I encountered Seva’s wonderful squash enchiladas, I found a solution. I could incorporate that enchanting flavor of squash – buttery, smooth and sweet – into a dish that offered more structure. It was also Mexican-influenced, a type of dish that I had never associated with squash.

I should mention that my homemade dish was inspired by Seva, but it is not meant to be an exact replication. I was struck by how they took something that I love but somehow can’t eat much of and made it a vital part of an entrée of Mexican flavors. Matching the sweetness of the squash with the salty flavor of cheese and the spice of salsa creates a wonderful contrast. Along with that, the variety of textures, from the creamy squash to the chunky salsa, is refreshing.

My venture into my home-style squash enchiladas wasn’t planned. Last summer, my family grew several varieties of squash in the backyard. Most of them have been waiting patiently in a dry, dark corner of the basement. While they keep very well, its been a few months, and now is the time to use them before they go bad. So when I came home to find that the counters were full of squash to be cooked and eaten, it seemed like a good time to start trying new things.

I made the enchiladas with leftover baked squash. My primary aim was to add texture, so I did something I often do. I sautéed some onion. Onion, once its raw flavor has been cooked off, goes very well with squash. I plopped the onion and squash mixture on some tortillas, covered them with salsa and cheese and baked them until they were warmed through. With a little bit of Mexican rice and fresh avocado on the side, I felt like I achieved something I could serve to my non-vegetarian friends.

Home-style Squash Enchiladas

1 butternut squash, baked

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

1 tablespoon oil

1 onion, minced

1 package tortillas

2 cups salsa

2 cups cheese, or to personal preference

Before you begin: To bake a squash, slice it lengthwise and lay it in a baking pan with a little oil or butter. Bake at 38 for about an hour, or until it is cooked through. You can test this with a fork: If it goes in easily, the squash is done. If you don’t have time to bake a squash, I believe about two and a half cups of canned squash might also suffice.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat the cream cheese. Mix it in with the squash, as well as the cinnamon and ginger. If you aren’t using powdered ginger, sauté it instead with the onion.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Sauté the onion (and ginger if you are using fresh) until it has become translucent, about 10 minutes. Mix the onion into the squash mixture.
In a large casserole dish, spread about half the salsa.

On the tortillas, spread the squash mixture in a thick layer. Roll them up and lay them in the casserole dish on top of the salsa. Continue to do this until you have either filled the casserole dish or are satisfied with the number of squash rolls. In my experience, using all of the squash and tortillas might take more than one casserole dish. Like so many things about cooking, however, it is up to your preferences.

Once the casserole dish is full, spread the remaining salsa over the squash rolls. Sprinkle cheese on top. Place in oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the dish is heated through, between 10 and 20 minutes depending on how warm your squash is.

Eat while hot.

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