Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

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Light and fresh chicken enchiladas filled with tender, smoky chicken and cheddar cheese in a tangy tomatillo sauce.

My whole family loves these chicken enchiladas. They take a bit of time to make, but you can make the sauce and filling ahead of time, then assemble and bake the enchiladas another time for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Most chicken enchilada recipes call for dark meat because it stays moist. This is important because the chicken is cooked twice: once in preparing the filling and then again in heating the assembled dish. However, I like to use chicken tenderloins; they’re much easier to prep than dark meat and, unlike boneless breasts, they stay tender even if slightly overcooked. Plus, tenderloins are usually sold in convenient one-pound packs, which is exactly how much you’ll need.

tomatillos

The sauce for this dish is made with tomatillos. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they look like small green tomatoes covered by a papery husk. They’re related to tomatoes but have a distinctive tart flavor. (Note that they are not the same as green tomatoes, which are simply unripe tomatoes.) You can find them in most grocery stores.

jalapeno

Finally, this recipe calls for three jalapeño peppers, which I know seems like a lot. Don’t worry, as long as you remove the fiery ribs and seeds, the enchiladas won’t be spicy. When you taste the sauce on its own, it will have a little kick but once you put the dish together it will be mild enough even for young children. If you’d like more heat, throw in some of the seeds. (Always wear gloves and/or wash your hands very well after working with jalapeños, and keep your hands away from your eyes!)

How to make chicken enchiladas

Begin by making the tomatillo sauce. Cook the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft (no need to chop them too finely since it all gets puréed in the end).

cooking-onions-and-garlic

Add the tomatillos, jalapeños, sugar, salt, cumin and 1/3 cup water.

raw-tomatillo-sauce

Simmer until the tomatillos are soft.

cooked-tomatillos

Then, transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until completely smooth. Set the sauce aside and start the filling.

blended-sauce

Season the chicken with the cumin, smoked paprika and salt.

seasoning-chicken

Sauté the chicken in olive oil until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side, then set aside to cool.

cooking-chicken

Once cool, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Tenderloins all have a tough tendon running through them; just remove it.

shredded-chicken

In the same pan that you cooked the chicken in, cook the onions until soft.

cooked-onions

Remove the pan from the heat, then add the shredded chicken along with the cilantro and shredded cheese.

adding-cilantro

That’s your filling.

filling

You can make the dish ahead of time up to this point.

To assemble the enchiladas, begin by smearing 3/4 cup of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

spreading-sauce-in-baking-dish

Next, brush each tortilla on both sides with oil.

brushing-tortillas-with-oil

Stack them on a plate and microwave until hot and steamy, about 2 minutes. This makes them pliable; if you skip this step, they’ll shred to pieces when you roll them.

stacked-tortillas

Spoon the filling down the middle of each tortilla.

ready-to-roll

Then roll tightly with your hands.

rolling

Place the enchiladas side by side, seam side down, in the prepared baking dish. Pour the remaining sauce over top.

pouring-sauce-over-top

Spread the sauce evenly over the tortillas, then sprinkle with more grated cheese.

enchiladas-sprinkled-with-cheese

Bake until sauce is hot and bubbling and cheese is melted, 15-20 minutes.

baked-enchiladas

Sprinkle the enchiladas with smoked paprika — it makes them look pretty but also adds more delicious smoky flavor.

chicken-enchiladas-tomatillo-sauce

Serve immediately with shredded lettuce, sour cream, sliced avocado, and lime wedges. Enjoy!

chicken-enchiladas-with-tomatillo-sauce

Note: My starting point for this recipe was a similar version in Cook’s Illustrated. I made a lot of changes, but the tomatillo sauce is very similar to the original recipe.

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Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Light and fresh chicken enchiladas filled with tender, smoky chicken and cheddar cheese in a tangy tomatillo sauce.

Servings: 4
Total Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

For Tomatillo Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a chef's knife
  • 3/4 pound tomatillos, husks and stems removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 jalapeño chiles, seeded and roughly chopped (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

For the Filling

  • 1 pound chicken tenderloins
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

For the Tortillas and Toppings

  • 11 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces (3/4 cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Smoked paprika
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 small heart of romaine lettuce (or 5-6 leaves), shredded
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1 lime, sliced

Instructions

For the Tomatillo Sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatillos, jalapeños, sugar, salt, cumin and 1/3 cup water; bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until tomatillos are softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until completely smooth. Set aside.

For the Filling

  1. Place the chicken tenderloins in a medium bowl and sprinkle with the cumin, smoked paprika and salt. Toss with tongs until the chicken is evenly coated with the spice blend.
  2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick sauté pan until shimmering but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook until just done, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate to cool. Do not rinse the pan. Add the onions and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized pieces. (All tenderloins have a tough tendon running through them; just remove it.) Add the shredded chicken to the pan with the onions, along with the chopped cilantro and shredded cheese.

To Assemble

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread 3/4 cup of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
  3. Pour the oil into a small bowl or ramekin. Using a pastry brush (or your hands), brush both sides of each tortilla with oil, then stack them on a plate and microwave until hot and steamy, 1-1/2 - 2 minutes. This makes them pliable.
  4. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the filling down the center of each tortilla. Roll each tortilla tightly and place side by side in the baking dish, seam side down.
  5. Pour the remaining chili sauce over the top, and use the back of a spoon to spread evenly over each tortilla. Sprinkle the cheese down the center of the enchiladas. Bake until hot and bubbling, 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle the smoked paprika down the center of the enchiladas and serve immediately with sour cream, lettuce, avocado and lime wedges. (The nutritional information below does not include the sour cream, romaine lettuce or avocado used to top the enchiladas.)
  6. Note: If you touch the seeds of the jalapeño pepper, just be sure to wash your hands well and avoid touching your eyes.
  7. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cooked enchiladas can be frozen for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, defrost them in the refrigerator for 24 hours and then reheat, covered in foil, in a 325°F oven until hot.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Serving size: 2 3/4 enchiladas
  • Calories: 991
  • Fat: 66g
  • Saturated fat: 18g
  • Unsaturated fat: 1g
  • Carbohydrates: 61g
  • Sugar: 9g
  • Fiber: 9g
  • Protein: 41g
  • Sodium: 2070mg
  • Cholesterol: 126mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • These enchiladas were yummy! It’s worth the extra work of making the sauce and the chicken from scratch (rather than using a rotisserie chicken). I found that stacking too many oiled corn tortillas before microwaving makes the ones on the bottom stick together, so I stacked six at a time, filled and rolled them, then repeated with the rest.

    • — Linda on September 16, 2021
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  • I made the sauce and liked it but the tomatillos are tangy and I was bringing it to a family with young kids so I added 1/4 cup of sour cream and blended it in. It’s awesome that way! Also used a rotisserie chicken to make my life easier. Solid recipe!

    • — Danielle on July 13, 2021
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  • Absolutely delicious! Great Mexican flavor without being heavy or greasy.
    It’s bright & tangy with chicken, corn tortillas & cheese. What’s not to love?

    Family gobbled it down and this will go in the monthly rotation. Made no changes to the recipe, it was perfect as is.

    Thanks, Jenn, for another favorite ❤️

    • — Jen L on May 7, 2021
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  • I followed the recipe as written and it was delicious. The entire family loved it. Will definitely make again.

    • — Courtney on April 6, 2021
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  • I’ve moved to a new kitchen, and couldn’t find my copy of the original Cooks Illustrated recipe, so I found this one which looked similar but (as you mention) not quite the same. It came out great. I used shredded/cooked chicken thighs instead of the tenderloins – and I have to say the paprika was an excellent change. Speaking only for myself, I ended up with about 13 enchiladas rather than the 11; the tortillas broke a bit too easily when stuffed too full.

    • — Jon Richt on March 28, 2021
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  • Absolutely delicious! I made it exactly as directed, and it turned out perfectly. So good. Will definitely be adding it to my recipe rotation!

    • — Jill on March 10, 2021
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  • What are the make ahead suggestions? I’ll be making a batch for myself and one for my sisters family (she just had a baby)—Would you think I can prepare the dish up to a day ahead of time for her to just pop in the oven when ready to cook?

    • — Holly G on March 5, 2021
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    • Hi Holly, Congrats to your sis! While I think you could fully assemble them ahead, I think it’s best to prepare both the sauce and filling ahead, then assemble them right before baking. If you feel strongly about fully assembling them, I’d add the sauce to the top of the enchiladas before refrigerating them (because they can dry out, and tend to tear and fall apart). Hope that helps and that both you and your sister enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 6, 2021
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  • Hi Jenn,

    I’ve made both the chicken and beef enchiladas and I now love Mexican food. My DIL is a vegetarian and I wonder if you can suggest how I could make cheese enchiladas with either one of the recipes. I love the green sauce and the red sauce so whichever one you think would compliment, I would be grateful for your suggestions.

    • — Marilyn Segal on March 4, 2021
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    • Glad you like them! I haven’t tried it with either this recipe or the beef enchiladas, but you may be able to replace the beef with black or pinto beans or sliced and sauteed portobello mushrooms (as they would have a nice meaty texture). Please LMK how they turn out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on March 5, 2021
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    • I make mine with shredded zucchini and black beans- my family loves it.

      • — Lynda Stallings on August 22, 2021
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  • Like almost every other reviewer, I was a total novice to tomatillos and making Mexican dishes. I followed the recipe exactly, the chicken tenders cooked in exactly 4 minutes, the green sauce was a wonderful discovery that I’d never tried before. I only had 1 1/2 jalapeño peppers but they were a good size and I added half of a poblano and when I tasted the sauce it was plenty hot but on the enchiladas it was a perfect compliment. I had both white and yellow corn tortillas to use and I think yellow corn tortillas are tastier but that’s just a preference since the dish was outstanding. Great that the dish can be frozen but its so easy to prepare fresh that I will be making this again and again. As my Nana would say “this shaina maidel can cook” – the highest compliment for Jenn!

    • — Marilyn Segal on February 11, 2021
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    • 🙂

      • — Jenn on February 12, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this recipe for Super Bowl LV. My husband normally does all the cooking, but I was ok with preparing this recipe! I have never picked up a tomatillo before let alone a jalapeno – ha! It was fun to work with new ingredients and the end result was delicious! So glad I found your website and can’t wait to make this for friends and family after all of this is under control. Thanks and be safe everyone – Pura Vida! Denise

    • — Denise Graham on February 9, 2021
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  • I love love this recipe. The tomatillo salsa is to die for. This has been my family’s favorite Mexican dish ever.

    • — Jane on February 4, 2021
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  • This was my first time venturing out and making enchiladas and using tomatillos. The directions were really clear and easy to understand. The dish turned out so delicious and I just used rotisserie chicken because that’s what I had on hand. Thank you for another wonderful recipe and something different to add to the repertoire!

    • — Amy on February 3, 2021
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  • I love this recipe and have made it several times – and we’re always amazed at how much flavour it has. I have not yet been able to find tomatillos so I have only tried it with red tomatoes. And I have made it with both raw chicken (as written) and leftover cooked chicken that I needed to use up – works great. I also just use a few chopped up pickled jalapenos from a bottle in place of fresh – one less thing to buy! Definitely recommend this one but it does take a little time and there are a few steps involved. Very much worth the effort though!

    • — Karine on February 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • These were amazing. My family wants me to make them again and my college son asked me to make and freeze some that he can take back to college. Jenn’s step-by-step instructions with lots of pictures made it easy too!

    • — Steve on January 29, 2021
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  • I have made these many times ! everyone loves them. I use many of your recipes, and they never fail! thanks

    • — CAROL L DEFERO on January 29, 2021
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  • We love enchiladas suizas from our local cantina, and with COVID-19 restrictions I decided to try this recipe at home. This was my first time with tomatillos and the sauce is amazing with the lime spritz at the end! I simple “nuked” my package of tortillas for 60 seconds vented; they were pliable and easy to manage. The flavors work well together and this recipe gas been added to our cooking rotation! I am thinking about trying this recipe with a store bought roasted chicken that I season at home for when I want to cut down on time.

    • — Sussan K on January 28, 2021
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  • This is such a great recipe. The tomatillo sauce is fantastic on its own anywhere you might use salsa. If I have leftover chicken I sub that in the filling with good success. A family favorite.

    • — Evelyn on January 28, 2021
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  • An entire family favorite! I could drink the tomatillo sauce and the tip on heating the tortillas in the microwave is brilliant!!

    • — Amanda Kingsbury on January 28, 2021
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  • This looks like a lighter version of chicken enchiladas I have made over the years, and I can’t wait to do it your way!

    • — Ellen Shook on January 28, 2021
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  • I made these Monday night and they were a hit! We aren’t big on corn tortillas, so we used flour tortillas instead. This was the first time we’ve ever purchased tomatillos so the kids were intrigued! The only complaint my family has is that I never want to make the same thing twice because I want to try EVERYTHING you post! Next up….beef enchiladas!

    • — Kristie on January 28, 2021
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  • I’ve made this recipe now a couple of times and love it! The combination of the green tomatillo sauce with chicken and corn tortilla enchiladas are very reminiscent of the green enchiladas I grew up loving in El Paso, TX. All the recipe ingredients are available at my grocery here in CT, the preparation steps are easy to follow and also easy to improvise if neededwith different prepared salsas from the pantry. I especially liked Jen’s directions for brushing the corn tortillas with a bit of oil prior to warming up in the microwave to keep them pliable for rolling. Works every time!

    • — Celeste on January 28, 2021
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  • Until last year, I had never tasted anything made with tomatillos. One day, I picked up some takeout from a local Mexican restaurant. When I got home and opened the container, I realized a mistake had been made because my enchiladas were covered in a green sauce instead of my usual red sauce. Not wanting to go back to the restaurant I decided to keep what I had. It was a wonderful mistake because that green sauce was delicious!

    When I decided to look for a recipe, this was my first and only stop. The only thing I changed was to roast the tomatillos and the Jalapeños before adding them to the pan. This recipe made more than enough for two people so after chilling in the refrigerator I wrapped half in plastic wrap then aluminum foil. A month later, when I defrosted and reheated it was just as good.

    Thanks Jenn!

    • — Suzon on January 28, 2021
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  • I’ve made this many times. I try other recipes but always come back to this one. I do change it up a bit for our personal tastes but otherwise a true winner.

    • — Claudia on January 28, 2021
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  • Been looking for recipes to make my own enchiladas and this hits the mark. Reviews have me running to the store to make tonight. Thanks

    • — Andrea on January 28, 2021
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  • OK so I’ve made this recipe before when I was in the States but I wanted it sooooo bad here in Barcelona. I hunted everywhere for tomatillos. Alas, no fresh ones are grown here. So I bit the bullet and used canned. While the color is not as vibrant and not as good as the fresh, it still was one of the best recipes every. My husband kept saying, “these are really good.” He never says that. So thanks for helping to sate this craving. We’ll be making it again.

    • — Gail Carberry on January 28, 2021
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  • Soooo delicious! This dish will become a staple at my table!

    • — Marguerite Ford on January 28, 2021
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  • So glad I found this recipe! It was so delicious and flavorful. I was looking for a enchilada recipe which had a green sauce and it didn’t disappoint ! I highly recommend it if you are looking for a different version of enchiladas.

    • — Wendy Panozzo on January 28, 2021
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  • I’ve made this several times and have now put it into my recipe rotation. The only thing I change is to substitute flour tortillas cuz hubby doesn’t like corn. But the sauce is great and it’s my favorite enchilada recipe!

    • — Cindy on January 28, 2021
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  • Excellent! We did not have access to tomatillos so had to be a little creative with that part of the sauce. We agree that the chicken tender option is preferable; so easy to shred. This is a keeper! We just saw the beef enchiladas recipe posted today so will give this a try as well.

    • — LLogan on January 28, 2021
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  • Absolutely wonderful!
    Thank you!

    • — Trudy on January 13, 2021
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  • Hi jen- I am really excited to try some recipes from your website. I made the enchiladas today and I did not care for the tomatillo sauce. I should have realized that as I’m not a fan of them I probably would not like the sauce. In the past I have enjoyed some salsa verde’s and other green sauces. I would follow this recipe though but use tomatoes instead of tomatillo’s.

    • — Kate S on January 5, 2021
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  • I loved the filling recipe…..maybe a little more salt. I have made tomatillo (Salsa Verde) sauce in the past and although this recipe does call for cooking it on the stove top….my other recipe had you roasting the garlic, tomatillos and peppers. I think roasting them in the oven just gives them a little more depth. Will definitely make it again.

    • — Cindy Rotermund on December 31, 2020
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  • So delicious! This is a favorite. It’s my favorite tomatillo sauce too. If I wanted to make big batches of the stuff and can it, would I need to modify the recipe at all? Perhaps replacing the 1/3c water with vinegar?

    • — Jennifer Gauntt (yes, another Jenn. There are a lot of us) on October 25, 2020
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    • Glad you like it! I didn’t design this recipe with canning in mind so I’m not sure it would be safe to do that — I’m sorry!

      • — Jenn on October 26, 2020
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      • Thanks for the advice. I’ll steer clear. No point in surviving 2020 just to poison my family in 2021.

        • — Jen Gauntt on October 27, 2020
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        • LOL!

          • — Jenn on October 27, 2020
          • Reply
  • It took me a little longer to put this together, but it was a hit! I also thought it would be hard to make, but after reading the ingredients and preparation, I was ready to take it on. Not hard at all! Definitely will do again.

    • — Elean on October 13, 2020
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  • Fantastic!!! A new family staple. Thanks so much!

    • — Rhonda B. on September 17, 2020
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  • I just made and ate the tomatillo sauce with some baked chicken.
    Oh my!
    This salsa sauce is amazing! I could’ve eaten the whole thing with the spoon :))
    Thank you so much for the recipe! <3

    • — Ildiko on September 10, 2020
    • Reply
  • Whole family loves these! Do you think I could make a double batch of sauce and freeze it?

    • — Steph Y on August 24, 2020
    • Reply
    • Glad you like these! Yes, I do think the sauce would freeze nicely.

      • — Jenn on August 25, 2020
      • Reply
  • Wonderful recipe. Thank you!

    • — Natalie on August 8, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I’m hoping to serve these to my coworkers and I’ll be baking them in the morning before work. Would a quick minute in the microwave be okay before serving since they will likely cool down to room temperature by lunch time?
    Thanks!

    • — Joanna on July 31, 2020
    • Reply
  • I just made these tonight and they were a big hit! I made my own corn tortillas following Jenn’s terrific recipe and they held together beautifully and tasted fresh and tender. The green sauce was outstanding and cooked beautifully into the tortillas. the chicken remained tender and was seasoned just enough. At first I thought maybe the jalapeños might be too spicy (even though we love spicy) but they added just the right amount of heat, texture and flavor. I can’t wait to make these for company (when we can have company again!) Thanks Jenn for another amazing recipe!

    • — Denise on July 30, 2020
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  • We were not expecting much from this but since i had a lot of tomatillos from the garden, I decided to give it a go and so glad I did! It was SO GOOD!!! The 5 yr old ate all of hers and my husband really enjoyed it too! only diff i made was i used cheddar and mozarella in the filling and mozzarella and queso fresco to top it as i was running out of cheese.

    • — Alma on July 24, 2020
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  • Just tried this recipe. It was excellent. My family throughly enjoyed it.

    • — Laurel on July 14, 2020
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  • Absolutely delicious!! Blew my husband away with my mad cooking skills (thanks to Jenn!) and satisfied my pregnancy craving for Mexican food! Highly recommend!!

    • — Jennifer Sachs on July 8, 2020
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  • Super excited to try this, was wondering if there was a cup measurement for the chopped tomatillos? Or a general quantity, obvi size could play a part there too. Thank you! All of ur recipes so far have been simply wonderful!

    • — Martha Noll on June 17, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Martha, So glad you like the recipes! You’ll need 3/4 pound of the tomatillos so I’d recommend using a scale at the grocery store to measure. I haven’t measured them in cups but I’d guess it would be 2.5 to 3 cups. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

      • — Jenn on June 17, 2020
      • Reply

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