Tuesday, July 20, 2010

mexican lasagna, complete with sub-par photos

******Insecure blogger's disclaimer:  I read some blogs with gorgeous pictures of food.  This is not one of those blogs.  I don't have a fancy camera.  I don't know how to make lighting work for me.  But I can point and shoot, and I think it was an interesting experience anyway.  And a delightful and delicious result.  And one more thing I learned:  remembering to stop and take a photo between each step is difficult.  I didn't capture it all, but you get the idea.*****

I skipped over photographing the sauce-making, but you'll see the end result later.  These first few steps were mostly inspired by this recipe with my own alterations.  I started by browning a pound of ground beef and sauteing diced onions.  No measurement on the onions.  I added a packet of taco seasoning and followed the directions there (Pastor Ryan makes his own taco seasoning, but McCormick works for me).  I put that aside and started on the sauce . . . only to suddenly realize that I had neglected to buy enchilada sauce.  I made my grocery list from three different recipes, and I wrote down enchilada sauce even though I don't really like it.  When I was at Kroger, I thought I remembered how it was used in the recipes and decided I didn't need it, completely overlooking the fact that it was a key ingredient in the sauce I did plan to make.  So  I sauteed more onions and added some minced garlic and a can of black beans--which I drained but couldn't be bothered to rinse.  To this I added a can of Rotel (the recipe called for a 15 oz can, but I've never seen Rotel in anything but a 10 oz) and since I was without enchilada sauce, I added a can of diced tomatoes and a can of green chiles (I would have just used more Rotel, but I didn't have that either).  I supposed the sauce was both chunkier and runnier than it should have been, so I let it cook down more than I might have otherwise.  When I removed it from heat, I added the sour cream as instructed, and then I was ready to assemble:

I set up at the dining room table because I have a rule about no laptops in the kitchen.  This is the cast of characters:  tortillas, cheese, taco meat mixed with corn (I forgot to mention that I mixed the corn in after the meat was cooked and seasoned), the tomato and black bean sauce and salsa verde (that part came from Pastor Ryan as did the corn--I probably should have just reduced the portions from his huge recipe and made it, but it had rice in it, and I don't like rice in my Mexican food).

A few of the recipes I read said to spray the pan and others suggested starting with a thin layer of whatever sauce was being used.  PR used salsa verde, and told me that if I'd never tried salsa verde, I needed to immediately.  I believed him.

Next came a layer of torn-up tortillas.  The tortillas I used were burrito-sized and required a lot of tearing.  I think soft-taco size would be fine here. 

The taco meat/corn layer came next.  Logically the next step for me was the sauce and then cheese, but my primary inspiration said cheese then sauce, so that's the order in which I did it--and I forgot to photograph the cheese layer either time, but you know what shredded cheese looks like, right?

After the cheese came sauce.  I didn't say this up there, but you only use half of the meat and the sauce for each layer.  Halving them was the hardest part--which is probably why I forgot to photograph the sauce layer the first time around.  I caught it on the second round though.

After the sauce, I did another layer of torn tortillas, and a bit more salsa verde.  Then I started over with the remaining half of meat/corn, another layer of cheese, and the last of the tomato/bean sauce.  Finally I did a third torn tortilla layer, slapped on the remainder of the salsa verde and topped the whole thing with cheese (final count:  3 thin layers of salsa verde [one small can], 3 layers of torn tortillas [probably about five or six of the giant ones I was using], 3 layers of shredded Mexican blend cheese [it was a four cup package, and the cheese layers were pretty substantial], 2 layers of the taco mean/corn mixture, and 2 layers of the tomato/black bean/sour cream sauce.

In all its unbaked glory

A terribly unhelpful look at the layers.

I didn't bake mine until the next day so it spent the night in the fridge.  It was supposed to bake for 15 or 20 minutes at 350, but since mine was coming from a refrigerated state rather than the mostly warm state in which it was assembled and since I had a staff meeting in the hour leading up to serving time, I heated it (covered with foil) at a low temp for about 40 minutes and then kicked it up to 350 for the last 20 minutes or so.  Frankly if I hadn't had the starving masses waiting on me, I would have let it go another few minutes to get bubblier.  Let me also warn you that I have no idea how accurate or inaccurate the temperature settings are for the oven in our staff lounge, so cooking times could vary quite a bit from that.  If you were assembling, baking, and serving this all in one day, I think the fifteen minutes would be just dandy, as everything but the cheese is already cooked and warm.  Mine was certainly not too runny--in fact, I think I could have let the sauce be saucier with excellent results.  It cut into squares beautifully and kept its shape like lasagna should. 

I forgot the after picture until after we'd started to dig in, but this shows the layers off better anyway.

It's everything I love about Mexican food in a big, jumbled, layery mess.  Yum.

One of the thousands of recipes I read suggested sour cream as a garnish, and I couldn't pass up that opportunity either.  PR suggested freshly chopped cilantro too, which would have been perfect, but there was none to be had at Kroger on Sunday afternoon, though.  I was disappointed in the extreme, though I was also intrigued by the existence of a tube of cilantro paste I discovered--just not intrigued enough to buy it.  But even without cilantro, I still managed to eat two helpings at lunch yesterday (second helping pictured here), and I'm not ashamed to admit that.  I also had it for dinner last night and tonight.  I kinda liked it.

During the creating process I got a little concerned that it might be too spicy, but it definitely isn't.  In fact, I could definitely stand to heat it up more, but not if I were making it for tiny babies or my moma.

If I were a real food blogger, I'd have worked harder at making a useful, easy-to-follow recipe for you, dear imaginary readers, but I'm not.  I really don't think it needs a recipe.  Just gather up your favorite Mexican ingredients and get to layering with the variations that most appeal to you.  You could switch up your beans, go for corn tortillas, use that enchilada sauce that I didn't, add in your favorite salsa, nix the corn, substitute chicken for beef or go vegetarian, try it with rice, chop up fresh jalepenos, garnish with some guacamole.  The possibilities are endless, and as long as you have enough of everything to make a layer or two, you're good to go.  Several of the recipes I read called for actual lasagna noodles instead of tortillas, but that seemed weird to me--and I think tortillas are a thousand times better than noodles anyway.  So you could make that substitution, but I'd judge you for it.

But I'm a judging judger like that.


  1. Love it! I can't wait to try my hand at making this recipe. Also, I was making a bean, corn, chicken deal that needed cilantro, and since I despise chopping herbs, I decided to try the cilantro that came in a tube. It worked out very well, and I ended up using it again in guacamole. I'll just come out and say it: I'm in love with the tube of cilantro. However, it might not be pretty used as a garnish. Good decision there.

  2. recipe collector, but not necessarily followerJuly 21, 2010 at 10:52 PM

    This sounds like a Mac-Mac cooking story, and I'm not sure that's a good road for you to start down, though the result this time does sound yummy! You and I should start entering cooking contests--I'm just sure I could win $50,000 on TV!


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