Packed with ground chicken or turkey, plenty of veggies, and an easy homemade enchilada sauce, our Chicken Enchilada Casserole is the perfect way to get your enchilada fix in an easier form. Make a day in advance and pop in the oven when you’re ready to eat.
Chicken Enchilada Casserole
It’s no secret we’re a fan of enchiladas around here, and while our classic version will always reign supreme, sometimes it’s easier to throw everything in a casserole dish, layer it up, and call it a Chicken Enchilada Casserole. This easier version of our traditional enchiladas has many of the same flavors (same awesome tangy enchilada sauce), but we use ground chicken or turkey and throw in a hefty dose of veggies to up the health factor.
I also find it to be a little easier to prep ahead and serve to a crowd due to its more hearty makeup of filling and tortilla than traditional rolled enchiladas. In our family, sometimes one enchilada isn’t enough to fill everyone up, but with this Chicken Enchilada Casserole, one portion is more than significant enough for a single portion.
Ingredients in Enchilada Sauce
In case you need a refresher, here’s what you’ll need:
Olive oil. You can use any oil here. My go-to is always olive oil, so that’s what I use. Canola or vegetable oil will also work.
Garlic. Chop up the garlic as fine as possible so you don’ have big chunks of garlic in the sauce. I like to use two to three large cloves.
Tomato paste. This is what thickens our sauce and adds a nice tomato flavor. Don’t swap it out for tomato sauce or tomato puree.
Chicken stock. A lot of enchilada sauce recipes will use water, but I find you end up with a more flavorful end result using chicken stock. Make sure to use low-sodium so you control the amount of salt that goes into it.
Spices. A good amount of chili powder, garlic powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, and oregano.
Apple Cider Vinegar. This is an essential ingredient to giving our enchilada sauce a nice tang, don’t skip it! You can also use white wine vinegar.
Sugar. To balance out the acidity, I like to add a little pinch of sugar. If you like a sweeter enchilada sauce, add more.
Ingredients in Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Ground chicken or turkey. You can go either way here. I’ve used both lean ground chicken and lean ground turkey. Use whichever you prefer
Veggies. This time around we used a combination of bell peppers, onions, and corn. Zucchini, spinach or black beans would be great in there as well.
Spices. We mirror many of the same spices we use in the enchilada sauce so you don’t have to doubt up on ingredients. You’ll need ground cumin, ground coriander, and dried oregano.
Tortillas. I recommend using flour tortillas for our chicken enchiladas casserole, but from there you can use either white flour or whole wheat. Also, use what you have! We had a combination of fajita and soft taco-sized in the fridge, so that’s what we used. If you use fajita size, you’ll need about 15, if you use soft taco size, you’ll need 9-10.
Cheese. Co-jack! However, any good melting cheese will do.
Let’s make Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Make the enchilada sauce. Sweat the garlic in the oil and then add the tomato paste. Cook for a minute or two and then whisk in the chicken stock, spices, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer while you make the filling.
Brown the meat. Heat a little bit of oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken or turkey. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break the meat up.
Sauté the veggies. When the meat is almost cooked through, add all the veggies except for the garlic and corn. Continue to cook until the veggies soften a bit and then add the garlic and corn. Add in spices and water and cook for another few minutes until the veggies are completely softened.
Layer it up. Start by spooning a half a cup or so of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of the pan. Layer the tortillas on top. Spread half of the meat and veggies on the tortillas. Cover with 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover with tortillas followed by another 1/2 cup of the sauce. Layer the rest of the meat and veggies, another 1/2 cup of cheese and another layer of tortillas.
Finish with the rest of the enchilada sauce and remaining cheese.
Bake. Cover the baking dish with foil and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Take the foil off and continue cooking until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly and hot!
Rest. Let it rest for a few minutes before cutting into portions and serving.
How to lighten up our Chicken Enchilada Casserole
While I wouldn’t describe our chicken enchilada casserole as unhealthy, there is a good amount of cheese and white flour tortillas. To lighten it up, leave the cheese out of the first two layers of the casserole and only cover the top with one cup of cheese. You can also swap out the full-fat cheese for 2%, but whatever you do, don’t use fat free.
In addition to reducing the amount of cheese, you can also swap out the white flour tortillas for whole-wheat or low-carb.
I usually use lean ground chicken or turkey, but if you really want to cut calories and fat, you can use ground chicken or turkey breast.
Can I make this in advance?
Yes! You can fully assemble this up to one day in advance. I don’t recommend baking it off in advance as the cheese can get hard when reheating.
Assemble completely and cover with foil. 30 minutes prior to baking, pull the chicken enchilada casserole out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature while the oven preheats. Bake as instructed but note you may have to extend the cook time a touch.
How do I keep the foil from sticking?
Make sure to spray your foil with non-stick cooking spray before covering the casserole dish with foil. Otherwise, the cheese will stick to the top.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Spray the bottom of the pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Make sure your tortillas overlap so everything comes out in one cohesive piece.
- Always season to suit your taste. Add more salt, pepper, cumin, or oregano to the filling as necessary.
- Use whatever veggies you have on hand in place of bell peppers and corn.
- Just as you have to let lasagna sort of settle back into itself after baking, you also have to with this Chicken Enchilada Casserole. Be sure to let it rest for a solid five minutes before slicing and serving.
Other favorite takes on Chicken Enchiladas
- This Tex-Mex Pasta is basically chicken enchiladas in pasta form. It’s a huge hit with everyone and everything is made in one pan.
- Looking for something super healthy? Our Mexican Quinoa Bake is the perfect option. Plenty off hearty grains, protein and cheesy goodness
- These Verde Enchiladas are a nice departure from a typical chicken enchiladas.
- 1 batch enchilada sauce or store-bought
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb lean ground turkey or chicken
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 ear corn cut from the cob, approximately 1 cup (you can also use frozen corn)
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp coriander
- 15 fajita tortillas or 9 soft taco sized
- 2 cups shredded co-jack cheese
- saute pan
- Sauce pan
- Baking dish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x12 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Heat a large skillet to a medium high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the oil. Coat the pan. Add the ground chicken or turkey. Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Cook for 4-5 minutes until browned and almost all the way cooked through.
- Add the peppers, onion, and salt. Continue to cook until peppers and onions are slightly softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and corn. Stir and cook another minute. Add the water, cumin, oregano, and coriander. Stir to combine and scrape up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook another minute or two until veggies are completely softened. Season to taste wiith salt and pepper.
- Spoon 1/2 cup of sauce in the bottom of the pan. Cover with tortillas (5 fajita sized or 3 soft tortilla sized). Make sure tortillas are overlapping and covering the bottom. Cut or tear as necessary to fit in the pan. Cover with 1/2 of the meat and veggie mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover with another layer of tortillas. Spread the remaining meat and veggie filling on top of the tortillas. Spoon 3/4 cup of enchilada sauce on top. Sprinkle with another 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover with one last layer of tortillas. Pour remaining enchilada sauce on top. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
- Spray a big piece of tin foil with non-stick cooking spray. Tent over the casserole dish so it's not touching the cheese. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and casserole is hot.
- Rest for five minutes before cutting and serving.