Last night, while I was thinking about the details of this no-frills recipe for delicious gluten-free beef enchiladas, I started to wonder about the history of enchiladas. I did a little research, and according to a History Today article, the earliest existing record of recognizable early versions of today’s enchiladas is in a meal served by Aztec ruler Moctezuma II to the Spanish conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo in 1519.
Tlaxcalli is the word for tortillas in the Aztec language of Nahuatl, and the Aztec’s word for enchiladas was chīllapīzzali (literally ‘chili-flute’). There are no results for the Google search “chīllapīzzali pronunciation”, so I don’t know if it rolls off the tongue, so to speak. But I’ll be thinking of these foods by the ancient names given to them by their original creators, rather than the Spanish words that became predominant after the destruction of the Aztec empire. I share this historical information in an effort to resist the erasure of Indigenous contributions to modern cuisine.
History aside, what makes this recipe for gluten-free beef enchiladas special?
Sauce: Siete’s Red Enchilada Sauce
Some commercially-available red enchilada sauce contains sugar, soybean oil, food coloring, and “natural flavor” (with the first ingredient being water)! I chose the Siete brand’s red enchilada sauce because its ingredients are: tomatoes, water, apple cider vinegar, chile powder, avocado oil, sea salt, dates, chia seed, flaxseed, porcini powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, and oregano powder.
Meat: Grass-Fed Beef
I think these enchiladas would also be delicious made with elk, pronghorn, or venison. Milder meats like chicken or turkey might be overwhelmed by the taste of the sauce. I chose 85% rather than a leaner ground beef because I wanted the richness of the fat to heighten the rest of the flavors of the dish. I also paid extra for grass-fed beef because the animal welfare and environmental benefits are worth the extra cost, in my opinion.
Tortillas: Gluten-Free Corn
While corn doesn’t naturally contain gluten, one thing to be aware of is that some grocery store tortilla brands have begun adding wheat flour to their corn tortillas, probably to make them more soft and pliable. If something contains wheat, it contains gluten, so if you’re hoping to avoid gluten then be sure to read the ingredients and make sure that the tortillas don’t contain wheat.
Cheese: White Cheddar
I used a white cheddar made from grass-fed cow’s milk that I shredded by hand (since store-bought pre-shredded cheese often contains things like anti-caking agents that I would prefer to avoid).
A harder cheese like cheddar is easier to shred than a softer cheese like mozzarella, and may naturally be low-lactose or lactose-free since lactose breaks down during the aging process. Something to keep in mind for my lactose-intolerant readers!
If you’d like to save a few minutes of prep time by using store-bought shredded cheese and you don’t have a kitchen scale to measure it by weight, you’ll need two to three cups.
Here’s what the enchiladas should look like immediately prior to 15 minutes in the preheated oven:
Then, after the oven! Delicious.
Lastly, if you’re looking for another recipe with similar flavors, be sure to check out my Easy BBQ Beef Nachos that are also gluten-free.
Heat three tablespoons of ghee in a large skillet over medium heat, add the diced onion and cauliflower and cook—stirring occasionally—until very soft and beginning to brown (approximately 10 – 15 minutes). Add the beef, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper, and salt, and cook until the beef is no longer pink, breaking it up with a spatula or cooking spoon as it browns. Then remove the skillet from the heat and add one cup of the shredded cheese. Stir to combine.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce into a 9″ x 9″ baking dish. Wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat them in the microwave for 1 minute, flipping them halfway through until they are warm and pliable.
Assemble the enchiladas by filling each tortilla evenly with the beef mixture. Roll the tortillas tightly to close and place in the baking dish seam-side down. Pour the remaining one cup of enchilada sauce over the tortillas, top with the remaining one cup of shredded cheese, and bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Serve immediately, garnished with desired toppings.