Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mexican Lasagna

Mexican lasagna: while this phrase is rather contradictory, the idea also sort of genius.  It’s socially acceptable to make such a statement without sounding utterly egotistical because the idea does not belong to me.  This concept is the spawn of the person everyone loves to hate: Rachael Ray.  (I actually don’t feel that way, but I’m trying to maintain some street cred.)  Before you click me out of your web browser and into oblivion, you must know that I took her recipe, and proceeded to coax it towards its full potential.  Ultimately, what could be displeasing about layers of tortillas, cheese, and a saucy chicken-vegetable mixture, mingling together in a hot oven?  This was Ms. Ray’s basic idea.  I saw her Mexican lasagna, and raised her extra vegetables, and some heat (hot pepper flakes, my favorite).  Being unaware of the game I decided she was playing, Rachael folded, and I’m pretty sure I came out of the game with the better hand.  I also added some class with canned tomato sauce between the layers.  Okay, maybe that doesn’t add class, but it provides some much needed moisture.  Between her magazine, cookware line, and infinite TV shows, Rachael must have been distracted, and the necessary sauce-factor simply slipped her mind. 

Mexican Lasagna (adapted from Rachael Ray’s recipe)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. ground chicken breast
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/2 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (not drained)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
8 (8 inch) whole wheat flour tortillas, cut in half.
2 cups shredded mild white cheddar

§  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (425 at sea level), and spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with canola oil spray or grease with olive oil (the spray makes for easier clean up).
§  Preheat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until hot. 
§  Add ground chicken breast, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper flakes, onion, and bell pepper.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
§  As the mixture cooks, break up the meat with a wooden spoon, and stir to distribute spices.  Allow chicken to brown and cook through (8-10 minutes).
§  Then add tomatoes, black beans, and corn kernels.  Stir to combine.  Allow mixture to heat through, and taste for seasonings.
§  Using four pieces of the halved tortillas, cover the bottom of the baking dish.  The will overlap slightly (see photos below).
§  Then distribute a quarter of the tomato sauce over the tortillas (a quarter of a cup).
§  Cover the tomato sauce with a ½ cup of the shredded cheese, and then a third of the chicken and vegetable mixture.
§  Repeat this layering process twice more.  Then cover the top with the remaining tortillas, then tomato sauce, and cheese.
§  Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese on top is browned and the dish is bubbling.
Comments:  I love this so-called Mexican lasagna, but I wish I could come up with a better name.  However, my creativity is apparently tapped out by a hectic start to the semester.  I will say that it has kept me happily fed through my first week, and it reheats nicely in the microwave, despite the cutesy name.  I was able to cut eight large pieces from this recipe, which is a pretty decent turnout.  I’m not entirely sure what Rachael was thinking because her recipe claims to feed four, and she used twice the chicken that I did.  
This dish could easily be made vegetarian by swapping out the chicken for an extra can of black beans.  The mix of ingredients made for a nice balance, with a lot of different textures and flavors, coming together as a heterogeneous, yet unified whole.  It’s especially lovely as a leftover because, when you cut the cold lasagna, the profile of your piece yields a view of all the ingredients, including the lovely interior of any black beans that happened to be straddling the border of two pieces (see photo below).  Despite the deliciousness, this recipe screams for something green.  Fresh cilantro would be great, as would an additional bell pepper of the green variety; including both simultaneously would be sublime.  It primarily needs the color, but the additional flavors would do no harm.  Overall, this dish is a winner.  Feel free to ignore that fact that Rachael Ray played a role in this; I really don’t think it should be the end of the world.  And you certainly shouldn’t let it deter you from cooking and eating something so delicious.    

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