These vegetarian cheese and onion enchiladas are rich and decadent with a blend of cheeses, beans, and caramelized onions. Easy to put together for a weeknight meal and impressive enough for a potluck.
Many years ago, my mom and I went to a Mexican restaurant called Chichi's. Do you remember it? My favorite meal at Chichi's was their cheese and onion enchiladas. They were rich and gooey and full of flavor.
With those enchiladas in mind, I messed around until I found the perfect blend of vegetarian ingredients, enough beans to pack a protein punch, enough caramelized onions to add a sweet note, and enough cheese to fill the tortillas with a mess of stringy goodness.
Caramelizing onions takes a bit of time, about 15 minutes. I suppose you could use raw onions, finely minced, if you're in a crunch, but the enchiladas won't taste as good. Caramelizing the onions gives them a sweet and rich flavor that you really can't beat in the finished dish. Take the time for this step. You won't regret it.
What you'll need to make the best cheese and onion enchiladas
See printable recipe card at the bottom of the page for all measurements and nutritional information.
- Large skillet - This is to caramelize the onions and cook the beans.
- Deep 9x13 pan - This is to bake the enchiladas.
- Unsalted butter - I normally only use unsalted butter, but if you have salted, use it. There's only about one teaspoon of salt in a whole pound of salted butter, so it's not really enough to worry about.
- Large onions - I use sweet vidalia but you can use whatever onion you like. You'll want to slice them and separate the slices into rings.
- Fresh garlic - You'll want to press or mince this.
- Diced green chilies - I love the flavor that these give to the onion mixture. They're a tiny bit sweet which complements the onions, but also have the mildest heat to round out the flavor.
- Pinto beans - No, Chichi's cheese and onion enchiladas did not have beans in them. They were only cheese and onions. However, I wanted to make my enchiladas a little heartier and more filling, so I added a vegetarian protein source.
- Black beans - See above.
- Taco seasoning
- Tomato sauce - Be careful that this is plain tomato sauce and not preflavored.
- Enchilada sauce - Make this yourself. It just takes a couple of minutes and makes such a huge difference in the flavor.
- Mexican blend shredded cheese - Any shredded cheese will be great. I often use straight cheddar, colby jack, or monterey jack cheese.
- Crumbled feta cheese - This was also not in Chichi's cheese and onion enchiladas, and I bet it sounds really weird to you, but feta in Mexican food is amazing. Trust me.
- Flour tortillas - You can use corn or gluten-free tortillas as needed.
- Salsa - I have used pineapple & peach salsa; it really added a lot to the flavors at the end.
- Sour cream - Optional, for garnish.
How to make cheese and onion enchiladas
- Make the enchilada sauce. That's a link to my homemade enchilada sauce recipe - it's amazing, very quick and easy to prepare, and beats canned sauce hands down! It only takes about 10 minutes to prepare, so you really have no excuse not to make it. It can cook while the onions cook in step two.
- Prepare the onions. Slice them and caramelize by sautéing in two tablespoons of melted butter over very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. It's easy to burn caramelized onions, so make sure your heat is low, the skillet is covered, and you stir them frequently. When they are fully soft and turning brown with a sweet syrupy look, remove from the heat, move to a bowl, and set aside.
- Prepare the beans. In the same skillet, unwashed, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Drain and rinse the beans and then pour them into the skillet. Mash with a fork or potato masher right in the skillet and then add the garlic, green chilies, taco seasoning and half of the tomato sauce. Cook over medium heat until warmed through.
- Prepare the baking dish. Mix the enchilada sauce with the remaining tomato sauce and pour about ½ cup into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Spread it around to cover the bottom.
- Roll the enchiladas. Mix together the mashed beans, caramelized onions, 2 cups of shredded cheese, and feta. Spoon about two heaping tablespoons of this mixture into the center of each tortilla. Roll and place the enchiladas seam side down in the prepared baking dish. Top the finished enchiladas with a bit of the remaining enchilada sauce and all the remaining cheese.
- Bake in a 350ºF oven for 30 minutes, until the edges of the tortillas are brown and crispy and the sauce and cheese are bubbly. If the tortillas get too dark, cover the dish with foil to prevent them from burning.
Oh. my. goodness. These enchiladas are so very good, and they are very filling. I can't imagine that anyone would be able to eat more than two of them, so the recipe will serve five people.
Cheese & onion enchiladas variations
I was a vegetarian for ten years, and I still have a special place in my heart for vegetarian foods. I like that this recipe is completely meatless. However, if you do eat meat and want to make the enchiladas heartier, you could certainly add some shredded chicken or cooked ground beef to the filling mixture before stuffing the tortillas.
Some fresh cilantro or diced green onion tops sprinkled over the enchiladas just before serving would be delicious.
If you like black olives, you could add a handful of sliced black olives to the bean mixture.
You could serve these enchiladas alongside refried beans and Mexican rice for a complete protein.
Store leftover enchiladas in an airtight container or zippered plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
You can also freeze enchiladas, either baked or unbaked. To freeze raw enchiladas, roll and place in a zippered freezer bag, remove the air, and freeze for up to 2 months. To cook, move to the fridge overnight, then make the enchilada sauce, spread it in the baking dish, arrange the enchiladas, top with sauce and cheese, and bake as directed. You may need to add 5-10 minutes since they will be cold from the fridge.
To freeze baked enchiladas, place in a zippered freezer bag and freeze for up to 2 months. To serve, defrost in the fridge overnight and then place in a baking dish and reheat at 350º for 10-15 minutes. You may want to top with some additional enchilada sauce and cheese to keep them from getting dry.