27 February 2012

Eats: Mexican lasagna

Mr. P and I both really like Mexican flavors – whether it’s TexMex, Baja, or just chips and salsa. Definitely chips and salsa. But for some reason, whenever I try to experiment with those flavors, I usually end up stuck in the Taco Bell conundrum. You know, how everything tastes basically the same because you’re using the same five ingredients and spices? It makes me wonder why I even bothered to make something other than tacos with the seasoning packet from the store... which Mr. P probably would have preferred anyway.

But! Sometimes, sometimes I have success! Once was with the beef tamale casserole, because having the cornbread flavor was fun and different. And today’s concoction, which I’m calling a Mexican lasagna, also managed to be just different enough from the usual without being super unhealthy! I credit the marinara sauce. Yes, marinara in a “Mexican” dish. Mexican marinara. In, um, a lasagna. No wait hear me out.

You start with crushed tomatoes and Rotel, both in 15-oz cans. Our Kroger sells a “fire-roasted tomatoes with chiles” in a 15-oz can (as opposed to the smaller cans in which you find name-brand Rotel) and it was very tasty in this.

I also seasoned the sauce, but I didn’t measure or note amounts (of course), so everything is “to taste”. I added in a bunch of chili powder, red and black pepper, some garlic and onion, some salt, and cumin. Lots of cumin. I love cumin so my “to taste” is very cumin-y.

Then I cooked it down over low heat for forever:

Volia! Mexican marinara, perfect for a Mexican lasagna – or two, actually, if you make smaller 8x8 ones like me!

Then I stirred in a full pound of cooked ground beef (closer to 1.5 lbs before it was cooked):

If I wasn’t married to a man who is strongly opposed to beans, I would have loved to add some black beans here – or even layer in some refried beans from a can. Ah well. That’s for you to try!

Then it’s assembly time! I added some of the meat sauce to the bottom of a greased (always greased) 8x8 baking dish, just enough to cover it. (Again, note that if you use an 8x8 pan, you can make two lasagnas, but can only make one if you use a 9x13 pan.) Then I trimmed some corn tortillas to fit and layered them over it:

Other than cutting up those tortillas, they’re straight from the package, by the way – no pre-frying or whatever. They’re just curling up a bit from the heat and moisture in the meat sauce below.

Next is more meat sauce – and cheese! I toyed with the idea of making a Rotel-cheese-dip-esque sauce, or using the white queso dip. And I’m sure it would have been delicious. But really, we don’t need anything that unhealthy, so I just used regular shredded Mexican-blend.

I topped it all with a layer of corn tortillas, followed by green enchilada sauce and more cheese. Then I stuck it in the oven until heated through. If you freezer-cook this, that could take forever; if you pop it straight in the oven, it should only take about fifteen minutes until the cheese is bubbly and browning:

I fully expected this to taste like another why-didn’t-I-just-make-tacos sort of dish, but it was better than that! The corn tortillas got all puffy and soft like real noodles, and slow-cooking the tomatoes really made the “meat sauce” tasty.

Best of all, this makes two lasagnas – one for now and one to freeze! Anything that can be frozen and pulled out to bake after a long day at work sounds good to me. And if you’re skipping meat this Lenten season – and you don’t live with a bean-hater like me – this would be so easy to adapt for a vegetarian fare by substituting chili or black beans. Enjoy!