When my brother was three, he was convinced, for no known logical reason, that his religion was Mexican. Over time, we were able to convince him that not only are our roots nowhere near Mexico, but that in fact, “Mexican” isn’t actually a religion.
What he did eventually learn, along with his actual heritage, was that he liked Mexican food. Now granted, we’re not talking about Mexican-Mexican. We’re talking about On The Border style Mexican, which we know is about as authentic as the Olive Garden is Italian. His favorite restaurant growing up was Casa Lupita, a chain-esque Mexican restaurant in a local strip mall – nicer than fast food, but not exactly fine dining. We’d go there for the colorful tablecloths and outlandish Tex-Mex decor, and order meals that we couldn’t pronounce like chimichangas (and Derek would pick the onions off, which he still does today).
Regardless of authenticity, and regardless of my brother’s finnicky eating habits as a child, I haven’t met too many people who are against homemade tortilla chips, chunky tomato salsa, creamy guacamole and gobs of melted queso. As delicious as all of that can be, when I go out for Mexican or Southwestern food I often find it too spicy, to greast, too salty, not spicy enough…you get the idea. It’s eays to screw up Mexican food, which is why I don’t cook it very often.
There is also a wide perception that Mexican food has to be bad for you – but it certainly doesn’t and to prove it, I made a delicious mexican “lasagna” that I found over at FatFree Vegan Kitchen.
1/2 large green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
corn tortillas–at least 12
3 cups (28 ounces) fatfree refried beans
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. chili powder, divided
1/2 tsp. cumin, divided
3 cups black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup salsa
1 can enchilada sauce (or 1 1/2 cups homemade)
2 cups of frozen corn
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a non-stick pan with a little water (1 tbsp.), sauté the peppers, garlic, and onion for about 3 minutes, or until softened. Set aside.
2. Spray a deep 9 X 13-inch baking pan with non-stick spray. Line the bottom with a layer of tortillas (you may cut some of them to fit). Make sure you cover the entire bottom of the pan.
3. Stir the refried beans and spread half of them evenly over the tortillas. Cover the refried beans with half of the pepper-onion mixture and half of the tomatoes; sprinkle with half of the seasonings, half of the corn and half of the black beans.
4. Add another layer of tortillas and repeat the layers of the other ingredients. Spread the cup of salsa over the final layer of black beans. Cover with a final layer of tortillas, pour the enchilada sauce over the top, and sprinkle with black olives.
5. Cover and bake for about 30 minutes or until hot throughout. It will be easier to cut if you allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
My pan, not quite deep enough, only had room for one layer so the casserole tended to fall apart whenever I cut it, no matter how warm or cool. As evident from the picture above, this was a messy meal and if you’re a parent, consider yourself brave if you try to serve it to children (although, it’s not like I had an easy time getting it from the pan to the plate so maybe I shouldn’t be pointing fingers).
Tell me your favorite Mexican-style meals to make at home!
(And by the way: don’t forget to wish my little brother a Happy 22nd Birthday today! Or, you can just drink a margarita in his honor…)