Cheater’s Enchiladas

You want to make fast and easy enchiladas for a quick dinner, but realize you have no sauce? Cheater’s Enchiladas to the rescue!


Baking Dish of Cheater's Enchiladas


In case you didn’t realize this from the title, I have not written a recipe for Authentic Mexican Enchiladas. Or a recipe for Authentic Tex-Mex enchiladas. It’s not even a recipe for standard American enchiladas…

But it’s a great recipe for “I need to get dinner on the table in less than half an hour, what’s in the pantry?” Which was, indeed, the inspiration…

Now, it does call for  Rotel, because now that I live in Raleigh and can get it easily, I tend to keep a can or two on a shelf somewhere. Let me be clear, this is not a sponsored post, neither Rotel nor any of their marketing agencies know that I exist. I’d never even heard of the stuff for much of my life  in  the New York City area- but when I started to join recipe and cooking groups online, people would refer to it. I asked, they explained, I thought it sounded useful – and on the rare occasions in NYC that I found it in a store, I’d get a few cans. And it is, indeed, useful…

That said – if you can’t get Rotel, or don’t have it around when you need it, you have options for fast enchiladas.  Use plain diced tomatoes and add a spoonful of chipotle in adobo puree. Add some chili powder. Add some red pepper flakes. Add sambal oelek, if that’s what you have… But add some kind of hot pepper to your own taste, since enchiladas, by definition, have chilies.  (Or skip the peppers and make entomatadas – yes, they’re a Thing!)  And of course, if you have real enchilada sauce, homemade – yum! – or in a jar, by all means use it! But my point is that you can make a decent dinner without it, if you need to.

Cheater's Enchiladas, ready to serve

Basically you need, per person,  two corn tortillas (and if they happen to be getting a tad stale, that’s OK…)  two to three ounces of cooked meat (I used shredded pork,) one ounce of cheese, and then one can of Rotel for two people. Well – the first time I did this (in a pinch) I only had one can of Rotel for the four of us, and it worked (but it was a bit dry) so that’s your minimum, but two cans for four people is much better. I am writing this up for four, but I think it could be easily altered for more or fewer servings.

I make a point of having some kind of cooked meat on hand – such a lifesaver! In this case, I’d cooked a pork shoulder in the slow cooker, without seasoning so I could use it wherever I wanted to, and frozen the meat in zip freezer bags. I often do the same with chicken, or I bake or roast a whole batch at one time. (Bake a whole sheet pan of chicken thighs one day, and freeze most of them – you’ll be glad you did…) Or I brown several pounds of ground beef (or chicken or turkey – more a mixture) with or without onion or seasoning…  I’ve talked about this before, in various discussions of Planning for Meals – I find this habit has saved many a dinner. And of course, if it makes more sense for you, you can buy a rotisserie chicken… (or use the leftovers from the one you bought yesterday) or even use a can of chicken.

You can also use a can of beans with the meat, or instead of some of it… Either just plain black or pinto beans, well rinsed, or a can of refried beans. Or you can mix a little cheese in with the meat. Or… make this work for you – what do you have on hand?

So far, this is pretty standard. Enchiladas are wonderfully flexible under all circumstances. I call it Cheater’s Enchiladas, though, because you don’t need traditional enchilada sauce…

Directions for Cheater’s Enchiladas

Grab Rotel and throw it in the blender. Blend it briefly so you keep some texture. And there is your sauce!

Mix a little of the sauce with the meat. My pork was frozen, so I tossed it all into a small fry pan and heated it up – you don’t want to put frozen meat in this in case it doesn’t heat through… You can skip heating it if it’s just from the fridge.

Grate your cheese. Or not… the first time I made it I was in such a tearing hurry that I just sliced it, and that works – but it’s not as pretty… I used a basic cheap cheddar I keep on hand for cooking – though you can certainly use better cheddar, or Monterrey Jack, or – here’s a concept – Mexican cheese! (Cotija, perhaps? It doesn’t particularly melt, but it does add a lot of flavor!) Or pregrated packaged cheese if you must – I’ve never been much impressed by the quality, but if you have it, use it. (I do sometimes grate a block and keep it on hand – it’s useful.)

Assembling Cheater's Enchiladas

Take a microwave safe pan (Yes, we’re going to microwave this, not bake it…) and pour some of the sauce into the bottom of it. Spread that around. Take your tortillas and microwave them just thirty seconds or so to soften them, and wrap them in a clean towel or napkin to hold the steam and keep them warm and pliable.

Put out your tortillas, your filling, and your dish. Place a tortilla in the dish, moisten it slightly with the sauce in the dish, and place filling in it, then roll and put the open side down. And if your tortillas break – indeed, if they are slightly stale – that’s fine… Continue until they are all filled. If you have extra filling, now distribute it on and around the filled tortillas.

Cheater's Enchiladas, ready to heat

Now pour the rest of the sauce around and over the filled enchiladas. You want to make sure you fully moisten all the tortillas to soften them. If a bit stays dry, it will dry out further in the microwave, and be unpleasant… Then sprinkle your cheese all over the top.

If you can, let it rest five to ten minutes, while you put the rest of the meal together. Make a salad, set the table, go ahead and put out beverages – you’re letting the tortillas absorb some of the sauce. If you don’t have time you can skip that step. (And if it makes sense to set it all up an hour before dinner – when you get home from work but before you race out to pick someone up – that works too. I’ve done that…)

When you are ready to call people to the table, pop the dish in the microwave. Let it go until the cheese is melted and the center is hot. Your timing will vary – how strong is your microwave? How warm was the filling? – but will probably be in the three to five minute range. And then serve at once – unlike some baked dishes this does not need a resting stage.

You want to make fast and easy enchiladas for a quick dinner, but realize you have no sauce? Cheater's Enchiladas to the rescue!


Special Diets

Rich’s parents enjoyed it. The Rotel has enough heat for them to really get the flavor, it’s both soft and moist, so easy to eat, but not mushy… I have started to do more Mexican cooking, which has some major advantages for us. They can taste the chilies, so that whets their appetites. (Loss of flavor is a real factor for many older people.) Many dishes are based on sauce, which makes them easier to eat, and many of those sauces are basically vegetables (often pureed) which is nutritionally terrific! The parents do enjoy vegetables, which does make cooking for them easier, but Barbara (who has the most issues with appetite) sometimes feels overwhelmed by a serving that looks bulky. Puree the same tomatoes and pour them on as sauce? Not too much at all…

For me, the great advantage of Mexican (or even vaguely Mexican inspired, like this) food is that so much of it is naturally gluten free. Now, some American enchilada sauces do use flour to thicken, so if you use a commercial one read the label… but the genuine Mexican ones I’ve seen, so far at least, don’t – and my little cheat here certainly does not. You can use beans, as suggested above, and/or tofu crumbles if you want a vegetarian meal.

You want to make fast and easy enchiladas for a quick dinner, but realize you have no sauce? Cheater's Enchiladas to the rescue!

You want to make fast and easy enchiladas for a quick dinner, but realize you have no sauce? Cheater's Enchiladas to the rescue!

Cheater’s Enchiladas

Anne Murphy
You want to make fast and easy enchiladas for a quick dinner, but realize you have no sauce? Cheater's Enchiladas to the rescue!
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 servings


  • 2 cans Rotel or other diced tomatoes with chilies added
  • 8-12 oz cooked shredded pork
  • 4 oz grated cheddar cheese
  • 8 corn tortillas


  • Put Rotel in a blender and blend briefly to make a sauce.
  • Moisten the meat with the tomatoes sauce. Grate cheese.
  • Pour some sauce in a microwave safe dish. Fill the tortillas with the meat mixture, and place in the dish. Pour the remaining sauce over them, making sure the tortillas are fully moistened.
  • (Optional)Let rest 5-10 minutes.
  • Microwave
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

11 thoughts on “Cheater’s Enchiladas”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.