Casserole Project, Take Three: Tex-Mex Casserole

by moderndomestic on September 23, 2009

Mexican Casserole - 1

A Tex-Mex casserole, topped with crispy tortillas.

Sometimes I’m mystified when I see techniques repeated in recipe after recipe that I know don’t work. Did I just not make this right, I wonder? Or did the recipe writers really not test this recipe?

Case in point is the Mexican casserole recipe I used for this week’s installment of my monthly baking/cooking project. I was inspired to make a tex-mex style casserole because I had a bad experience making a tortilla pie early in the summer, and I wanted to see if I could correct my past mistakes.

The tortilla pie didn’t “work” because the filling never cooked through, even after baking the pie an extra 15 minutes. The recipe called for mixing a bunch of uncooked ingredients together for the filling – canned beans, corn, bell peppers, and onions – and then letting them cook in the oven. But, even after a diligent 25 minutes in the oven, the filling was still underdone – the corn was unpleasantly crispy, the onions tasted raw, and the beans were tough.

When I started doing some recipe research for this week’s casserole, I was surprised to see that many other casserole recipes used the same technique. The Parade recipe I ended up using also calls for mixing a bunch of uncooked ingredients together and letting them bake in the oven. It makes me wonder – is there something different about the canned beans I’m using? Did I not chop my onions finely enough? Or did the good folks at Parade not really test this recipe before printing it? I guess, we’ll never know – especially on that final count.

For my casserole, I made some changes, cutting back on the cheese (I do not need 12 ounces of cheese in my casserole, thank you very much) and sauteing the onion, bell pepper, and garlic before adding them to the filling. But I didn’t take it far enough. The beans really could have done with some simmering over the stove, rather than adding them straight from the can. In the finished casserole, they were firm – and not in a good way. The corn (I used defrosted frozen corn, rather than the canned corn the recipe calls for) also tasted underdone and unpleasantly crunchy.

There are very obvious changes I can make if I make this again – sauté the corn with the other vegetables, and cook the beans until tender over the stove before adding them to the casserole.

But I am loathe to offer these suggestions because, honestly, I just don’t know if this casserole is good enough to call for the extra hassle. Given that I had to roast and shred the chicken, sauté the vegetables, mix the filling in a bowl, coat the tortillas in olive oil in another bowl, and then put it all into a casserole dish, this casserole was already a big production. And the finished result was okay, flavor-wise, but I can’t shake the feeling that it tasted too much like one of Amy’s Organic Bean Bowls to be worth the extra effort.

Perhaps this is why the original recipe calls for 12 ounces of cheese.

Mexican Casserole - 2

So, honestly, those crispy tortillas were the best part of the dish.

Recipe: Tex-Mex Casserole

Ingredients
1 pound chicken legs or thighs
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 green bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (15 1/2 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained
1 can (15 1/2 ounces) kidney beans, drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup prepared salsa
6 small corn tortillas, torn into 1 inch pieces
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place chicken in a baking dish or on a baking sheet, and lightly rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 1/2 hour or so, until chicken is cooked through. Remove to a plate and let cool before removing meat from the bone and shredding with a knife and fork, or your fingers.

Lower heat to 350°F.

In a large saucepan, cook bell peppers and onion over medium low heat, until beginning to soften (10 minutes or so). Add garlic and cook until garlic softens – around 5 minutes more.

Remove from heat and place vegetables in a large bowl. Add the beans, corn, cilantro, tomato sauce, salsa, and chicken and mix until combined. Season, if necessary.

In a small bowl, lightly toss the tortilla pieces with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, until coated (this will keep them from burning).

Grease a 13 by 9 inch baking dish. Place half the filling evenly in the baking dish. Cover with the cheese. Top with the rest of the filling. Cover with tortilla pieces.

Bake 1/2 an hour, until the filling is bubbling at the edges and the chips are nicely browned (if they brown too quickly, you can always lightly tent casserole with some aluminum foil). Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Note – this is what I did, but I recommend that you simmer the beans in a little tomato sauce until tender before adding to the filling, and that you add the corn with the garlic to the rest of the vegetables to let it cook slightly. I think the finished result will be much better.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bonnie September 24, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I think I remember why I’ve never been a casserole person. Way too much work!

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