I am always excited to learn about the families joining us at a community dinner. I love hearing about what a harried parent cooks on a busy school night, or what a special celebration meal looks like. But before I can sit down and ask about favorite dishes or food memories, I’ve got to plan the community dinner menu.
As anyone who has ever planned a large meal knows, it’s not always possible to please everyone with a single dish. Cooking with 30 people is a lesson in customizing, for lack of a better word.
For The Family Dinner Project’s first community dinner at Cunniff Elementary in Watertown, we were planning for a relatively diverse group, so we chose to serve chicken enchiladas.
Enchiladas are great for large groups (or for families with picky eaters), because they are easily customized. One boy didn’t like corn—no problem. A teenage girl wanted a vegetarian dish, so she used black beans instead of chicken. Gluten free? Use corn tortillas instead of flour. We had a recipe (see below) with suggested proportions on each table, but the families chose how much sauce to drizzle on top of the rolled flour tortillas and how much cheese to sprinkle over it all. It was a lot of fun to pour the ingredients into the tortillas and roll them up tight—kids of all ages were helping prep the dish.
We ate salad with homemade dressing while the enchiladas cooked. We also used FDP’s “Kids Interview Parents” activity, which led to a lot of reminiscing about food! One mom took a bite of salad and remarked that it must be the same dressing her mom used to make when she was a kid. Another told her son a story about her grandmother, who cooked everything in a huge cast-iron pan.
Looking around the room, I saw a group of about 30 kids and adults laughing, talking and eating together. Not one plate was exactly the same. And why should it be? Each person’s food tastes are shaped by a mix of culture and experience. For me, hearing the stories that came out of the interview activity emphasized how different each of those experiences can be.
In the end, we all agreed that the enchiladas were delicious. Best of all, the recipe we used was simple. Try it out for yourself, and let us know how you customized your dish!
Quick & Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas
- 2 cups shredded roasted chicken. You can roast it yourself, or buy a rotisserie chicken from the store—either way, make extra so you can use the leftovers in salads, soups, sandwiches, etc.
- 1 cup thawed frozen corn
- 1 ½ cups grated cheese
- 8 small flour tortillas
- 1 cup enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso, because that’s what my mom always used)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
- Salt & pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400˚.
- In a large bowl, combine the chicken, corn, 1 cup of cheese, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Spoon the mixture into the tortillas & roll. Place them seam-side down into a baking dish.
- Top with enchilada sauce & remaining ½ cup of cheese.
- Bake 15-20 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.
- Sprinkle with cilantro and serve!