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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: 

Dear HH*,

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!  

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

© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs


29 comments to Layered Mexican Casserole*

  • How great that this might be the end of the separate nacho platters for you two! I’m not surprised he loved it: that casserole sounds terrific! I’ve got to give it a try soon… Thanks also for sharing your quick tempeh crumble recipe; I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy tempeh, and I have a feeling this one will become a favorite over here.


  • Your hubby and mine would be the best of friends. Joe would be in heaven if I made this for him. Tonight we had mushroom quesadillas and OMG were they good. There’s something about queso fresco, tomatoes, corn tortillas, and mushrooms that makes us smile. Great recipe, Ricki!


  • I am on the downward slope (when it comes to age) and can’t remember if you mentioned that the memory goes as well as the 5 senses but that is a good reason to play on HH’s ‘better than last time’ comments – next time you just have to tell him that he forgot how much he loved it last time (but don’t tell him I suggested it) Of course I would need no such convincing – sounds wonderful esp if we had the rare experience of stale corn chips


  • That looks fabulous! I am definitely making these soon. My boyfriend will go crazy over this recipe.


  • Cherie

    I totally agree with you and also with Johanna about the memory fading! For me being 50+ means that now I can try a dish like this and a whole world of others I never could have handled before! So I’ll choose to look at it in a positive way…while I can! Can’t wait to make it!


  • Julie

    This looks AMAZING!! I was SO intrigued about your remark on jarred salsa…….IS there a kind out there that doesn’t have vinegar in it?? :-0


  • Fiery hot sounds good. Very good! I bet it would be a huge hit for me and my bf, too!


  • Colleen

    Oh this sounds yummy. I tend to cook things in a batch since I live alone, and this would be a nice addition to my repertoire! I will have to give it try. Though I will have to use fresh chips (they never go stale at my house)… 😉


  • Courtney

    My mom used to make something similar growing up…ahhhh, the memories 🙂 Of course, hers used real cheese, and she would always try to “sneak” extra veggies into it, lol. This version sounds great–I can’t wait to try it! Do you think I could sub tofu in your quick crumbles recipe?



  • what a deeeeeeelicious meal, Ricki! we occasionally find ourselves with a near empty bag of tortilla chips and while i’ll toss them on a taco salad (or toss some to our dog) i’m always looking for another tasty was to use them, and one we’ll be trying, fo ‘sho! dan looooves him some spicy mexi-goodnesses & i do as well. w00t!

    i hear ya on the eyesight. i had an eye appointment a few months ago and when asked if i was having any problems with my eyes i mentioned that when driving at night it seemed like more and more people were leaving their “brights” on and that i was squinting more as well. my eye doc said, “well, i can’t help ya there – that’s just you getting older.”


    frugalista – i love it, Ricki! i’m also with ya on that one. yay!


  • My boyfriend would love this! I don’ really like lasagna with noodles, but once I made them with kamut bread instead and it was amazing! I bet nacho chips are amazing too! I will try this soon. xxx


  • Oh my gosh!!! That looks wonderful. I am about ready to start trying more foods in my diet. Thank you so much for posting the recipe.

    I am having an apron giveaway….be sure to check it out. Terry


  • All I can say to those photos is: YUM. This casserole looks so indulgent! I’m definitely going to whip this up as soon as I have a working stove!


  • Jes

    Hooray for taste buds waking up! I’ve never made a nacho casserole thing with tortilla chips–what a great idea! I can’t wait to try this out.


  • Josiane,
    I’m hoping–he even admitted he liked it to someone else in public yesterday! 😉 I love tempeh, so I hope you like the crumbles as much as I do!

    Thanks! Your dish sounds great, too–still wishing I could eat mushrooms again!

    I meant to mention that memory goes with age, too, but I forgot. 😉 (luckily, sense of humor doesn’t go!)

    I don’t know why, but it does seem like a really “guy” recipe, doesn’t it? I must admit I ADORED this, too, especially the 2nd day when the chips soaked up all the ssucy goodness. 🙂

    Great and positive way to approach it–hope you enjoy it!

    The Neal Brothers uses apple cider vinegar, which some recommend on the ACD. It doesn’t bother me (and I waited until Stage II to use it), but I think each person has to try for her/himself and decide. 🙂 But I think you’re right, most brands DO have vinegar.

    Sometimes, you just have to go fiery hot!

    This is a perfect big-batch meal. I froze the leftovers and even defrosted, it was terrific. And I’m sure fresh chips will do just fine! 😉

    Sounds yummy! I thought about putting chopped collard in as well, but forgot. And yes, tofu crumbles would work–you might want to try the ones I mention here.

    This is a great way to use ’em up, as they soak up the salsa and cheese sauce to become soft and noodle-like. We actually like the soft version better than the crunchy chips in regular nachos! Sounds like your doc at least has a sense of humor! 😉

    Veggie Wedgie,
    Lasagna with bread sounds like the perfect savory bread pudding to me! Now I want to try THAT recipe! 😉

    This is a great way to introduce a new take on an old favorite. Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

    A stove would be good! 😉 Hope you’re enjoying the new place. 🙂

    I love this type of thing since very bite is slightly different, all the flavors meld and you get a saucy, cheesy, spicy, soft and crunchy pan of flavor. . . okay, I have to go eat some now. 😉


  • Yum! I know that my husband would love this, too! He adores Mexican food, lasagna, and anything spicy– this will be a winner at our house!


  • this looks so easy and i actually have salsa, beans, and a pepper i need to use up before the move. too bad i packed all my bakeware. oh well, this is a good recipe that’s totally tweak-able too im sure!


  • All of your talk of tastes diminishing freaks me out! I already like spicy food, what am I going to eat?!? 🙂 Ha! I guess I still have a decent amount of time to worry about it.

    I love Mexican food, this dish looks good!


  • Danielle,
    If he likes both Mexican AND lasagna, he will love this, yes!

    I’m sure it could work in another pan. . .or as regular nachos, of course 😉

    Didn’t mean to freak you out! I was actually trying to be tongue-in-cheek (or maybe nachos-in-cheek?). Anyway, it apparently doesn’t occur the same way for everyone, since my taste buds are still pretty sensitive even though the HH’s seem to be aging. 😉


  • this looks so good. i think i’ll make these real soon. just need to get some tortilla chips 🙂


  • cute blog with some awesome recipes!

    i love the mexi casserole. i, too, am a bit of a spice freak and have eaten jalapenos as snacks. 🙂 i sincerely hope that i don’t lose my tolerance, but i guess i will just have to adapt with age!


  • Yum! that sounds super good. and it must have been if the HH liked it 🙂 I was wondering if somehow you worked rhubarb in when I saw you had a new post – that would have really been something! ; ) Kim | http://www.affairsofliving.com


  • I’m almost 28 so this is a very timely post! I guess at the stroke of midnight on my birthday I should be prepared to need a stronger glasses’ prescription, maybe a hearing aid, and a walker? 😉

    I do think I know how I want to celebrate my birthday, however – by eating this delicious casserole! I love all the alternate titles of the meal, but however you say it it always looks and sounds AMAZING!


  • I love a good Mexican casserole and this one sounds great! Such beautiful colors too! Thanks for the invite to the SOS challenge, but unfortunately the waffles aren’t vegan. 🙂 Looks like that is a requirement in the rules. Maybe next month I’ll come up with something to enter.


  • Oh my, that looks SO good. My husband would devour that.


  • I remember reading long ago — and at my advanced age I’m surprised I can still remember it — that we build up a tolerance to spicy food, and over time require more and more heat to make the food taste spicy enough. Hot spices are addictive in that way. The casserole looks like just the thing to rouse anyone’s taste buds, young or old.


  • Bring on the nacholada! This dish looks awesome! Mr. Kook is sleeping right next to me here, but if he was awake he would demand some nacholada right away. It’s just the kind of dish he would love.

    I am a complete heat-wimp, so I would have to tone down the jalapeno big time or I would end up crying. What a wimp! It is interesting what you say about our senses diminishing. I am a supertaster, but lately I have found that I no longer hate some foods that used to make me gag just a few years ago. Hmmm… maybe I can handle jalapenos now? 😀


  • Love this combination of nachos and enchiladas!


  • […] dinner featured more of the ever-so-amazing Daiya. A few months ago Ricki posted a recipe for Layered Mexican Casserole on her blog and I have had it bookmarked since. I had some leftover Daiya in the refrigerator from […]

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