Layered Mexican Casserole*
*Or, ACD-Friendly Fast Food. Or, Intercultural Lasagna. Or, What to Do with those Nearly-Stale Nacho Chips.
Even though these days it takes me almost 15 minutes before I can stand up fully erect after first rolling out of bed (in which I sleep on my back, with 2 pillows under my knees so my spine can retain its proper curvature) in the morning; even though driving at night has become more and more an exercise in blinking and squinting than a convenient means to return home after a dinner out; even though I sometimes do a double take when walking by a mirror after thinking, “What the heck is my mother doing in there??”; even though my students perceive me more as a Nanny McPhee than a Sheba Hart–even though all these things are true, I still can’t help but feel as if, internally, I’m the same person I was in my 20s.
Getting older can really be a shock to the system, let me tell you. One of my class projects in nutrition school was to assess how sensory perception changes over time. Boy, was that ever a wakeup call! (Then again, it would have to be a much louder wakeup call if I were in my 80s). You see, for every year you age past, oh, about 18, each of your five senses diminishes. And the older you get, the more quickly and more dramatically they do so. (Are you depressed yet? Don’t worry, you will be–that’s more common when you’re older, too).
So, while we all may realize that sight and hearing fade with age (a 70 year old needs three times the light of a 20 year-old to see accurately–no wonder septuagenarians shouldn’t be driving!), most of us don’t really think about how our sense of taste diminishes as we grow older.
Well, the HH and I must be bordering on superannuation. (Okay, actually, it’s just the HH, but I didn’t want to make him to feel bad. That is, if he can still feel anything at his age).
I’ve noticed lately that the HH has started pronouncing my cooking ”not spicy enough” or “too bland” or “not flavorful enough” even when it seems fine to me (or is something that isn’t supposed to be spicy, like mock tuna or stroganoff. A recent exception was the vegan pasta carbonara, which he scarfed down anyway). Could it be that his taste buds are feeling a little exhausted after 50+ years of operation? Not sure. But I do know that what we eat has become more and more piquant over the years.
True, I’ve always enjoyed spicy eats, but my tolerance–and desire–for ramping up the heat has definitely increased of late. I’ll never forget a dinner party to which I was invited by my office mate when I first began teaching at the college; she had just come back from seven years living in Mexico and promised us an authentic feast.
While the rest of us guzzled cold drinks between tiny nibbles of fiery-hot mole appetizers, our hostess calmly plucked an entire jalapeno from a plate and, hoisting it by the stem, popped it in her mouth. Then she continued to relay her anecdote while chewing contemplatively, never even breaking a sweat. I was truly amazed by her seemingly asbestos-lined palate at the time; little did I know I’d be eating whole jalapenos myself (at least I stuff mine with goat “cheese” first) two decades later.
One evening last week, I had dinner plans with friends and wanted to leave something for the HH to enjoy at home. After viewing at least a dozen enchilada casseroles on other blogs as a result of the Daring Cooks event last month (plus Celine’s Mucho Macho Nachos and Angela’s Time Crunch Vegan Enchiladas) I was craving Mexican food. We had all the ingredients on hand, so I thought I would whip up some of the HH’s favorite nachos. Of course, I knew that jalapenos were non-negotiable. Not to mention super-spicy salsa (arriba!). Plus, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make just a single platter versus the two we usually make: his, with ground beef and melted cheese; mine, with crumbled tempeh or tofu and cheesy sauce.
I grabbed all the ingredients and began prepping. Only one problem: the already-opened bag of nacho chips had been sitting too long, and the chips had lost their snap, bordering on stale. What to do?
Of course, I could have thrown them away. But that would have traumatized my inner frugalista. I could have given them to The Girls with their supper (“We vote for that choice, Mum!”), but that wouldn’t help with my dinner needs. What if I simply tossed all the ingredients into a casserole dish, and let them bake up? I envisioned a super quick, nacho-meets-enchilada dish. And so, the new, fast-food, ACD-friendly, Mexican nacholada casserole was born.
I mixed everything up and left it on the counter with a simple note:
Here’s a casserole for dinner. Heat at 350 for about 25 minutes, then take as much as you’d like. Have fun with The Girls!
xoxoxoxo kiss kiss kiss
Upon my return that night, I casually inquired, “Um, so how was the casserole?”
It’s true, the dish was so fiery hot it may have finally triggered the HH’s antiquated taste buds (in fact, you may wish to tone down the jalapeno screaming a few decibels in your own dish). True, I didn’t disclose in advance that this casserole was simply a new, unfamiliar twist on his oft-rejected vegan nachos. True, the HH was on his own that night, and would probably prefer to eat rose petals dipped in sand than have to whip up something of his own. Whatever the reason, the dish was a huge hit.
“That stuff was delicious!” he exclaimed. ”I loved it. You can definitely make that again.” (Hee hee). Even after I revealed that it contained tempeh and cheesy sauce, he was still enthusiastic. “Well, I don’t know why, but this time it tasted great,” he insisted (of course he forgot there hadn’t been a “last time,” since he’s always refused to try it in the past). Triumph!
I’m hoping this is the end of separate nacho platters from now on in the DDD household.
As is so often the case, the HH’s initial skepticism was overruled by the transformative deliciousness of my plant-based meal. And luckily, despite his natural penchant for meat, he’s happy to embrace a vegan meal “if it tastes good.” I guess that’s just one more reason why I’ve decided to stick around as we grow old(er) together.
* No, I didn’t really write, “HH” or “Ricki” on my note–I used our usual pet names for each other. But the HH would never speak to me again if I published them on the blog!
Layered Mexican Casserole
I call this “fast food” because it’s one of the few dishes I don’t make entirely from scratch. Jarred salsa is fine on the ACD if you find an organic brand with no added sweetener, vinegar, or other taboo ingredients. This casserole is a great way to use up less-than-fresh nacho chips (the chips absorb the moisture from salsa and cheese to become soft inside and crunchy on the edges of the casserole dish), but if your chips still crispy, feel free to assemble these ingredients in regular nacho fashion.
About 4 cups (1 L) nacho chips (or enough for 2 layers of overlapping chips in a 10-inch/25 cm casserole dish)–I used tri-color ones by Que Pasa
1 jar (about 2 cups/500 ml) medium or hot salsa of your choice (I used Neal Brothers)
1 cup (240 ml) cooked, drained black beans
half a large red or green pepper, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper (or less, to taste), sliced thin
1/2 cup (120 ml) sliced black olives (on ACD, use oil-cured)
1 recipe Dreena’s “Vegveeta” Cheese Dip/Sauce**
chopped cilantro, for garnish
** For ACD Stage I, use brazil nuts or macadamia nuts instead of cashews; use 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) powdered mustard.
Quick tempeh crumbles: In a large sauce pan, crumble one package (12 ounces or 350 g) tempeh. Add 1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock; 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) Braggs liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce; 5-10 drops liquid smoke or 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika; and 2-5 drops liquid stevia. Bring to boil over medium heat, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the tempeh just begins to brown. Use in this casserole, in pasta sauces, sprinkled on salads, or in sandwiches.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a 10-inch (25 cm) casserole dish with nonstick spray or lightly grease with oil.
Place a single layer of nacho chips in the bottom of the casserole dish, taking care to overlap so that little, if any, of the bottom of the dish is visible. Dollop about half the salsa randomly over the chips. Sprinkle with half each of the tempeh, beans, red or green pepper, jalapeno and olives; then drizzle half the cheese sauce over all. For the top layer, repeat the process, setting aside the peppers and olives; once the cheese sauce has been added, sprinkle the top with peppers and olives.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until the casserole is hot throughout and the top of the cheese begins to brown slightly. Remove from oven and allow to sit 10 minutes before scooping out onto plates. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired. Makes 4-6 large servings. May be frozen.
This is my entry this week in Amy’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays event. Go check out all the other great recipes, too!
Last Year at this Time: Blog break (no entry).
Two Years Ago: Mint Smoothie
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