You may be thinking, “Dude, that’s not a breakfast recipe!” And you’d be right. Instead this is one of those dinner recipes where you end up eating the leftovers for breakfast. Come on, we’ve all been there – is there anyone among us who’s never eaten pizza for breakfast?
Then again, maybe this is a breakfast recipe. Maybe I’m making a stand against the unwritten rules that dictate that oatmeal isn’t okay for dinner, fettuccine isn’t fine for breakfast, and it’s unacceptable to drink Diet Coke at 9am. Who made up these food regulations? As a liberty-loving person, am I not entitled to eat my favorite foods whenever I damn well please? I say we revolt against this food-timing tyranny!
Or maybe not. I mean, you can’t go to war against an intangible concept. Who would ever do something as inherently ridiculous as that?
And more importantly, I don’t want Diet Coke at 9am.
Anyway, moving on to this recipe. As I’m sure you’re aware, Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner, so start celebrating everything Mexican (and hope that lime shortage sorts itself out pronto)! To celebrate, I decided to throw a tortilla fiesta in a my kitchen – in other words, I used a whole bag of tortillas to make a Tortilla Casserole.
“Tortilla Casserole”, which is also called “Enchilada Casserole”, is a cross between enchiladas and lasagne. I’m not quite sure how the concept came about, but I imagine it was due to someone not wanting to spend hours rolling enchiladas. This is one of those comforting dishes that makes a lot and freezes really well (I have three pieces sitting in my freezer right now).
Having never been to Mexico, I often wonder how the Americanized version of Mexican food compares to the original. If it’s anything like the difference between real and Americanized Italian food, then they’re very different. Believe it or not, in Italy garlic isn’t used in every freaking dish, pizzas aren’t drowning in cheese, and the idea of a hot dog or cheeseburger-stuffed crust would cause some poor Nonna to have multiple heart attacks. If anyone has any perspective on how the “American” idea of Mexican food is different (or similar) to the real thing, I’d love to hear from you.
This casserole undoubtedly has the influence of, well, me. If you look at the recipe, you’ll notice that the sauce has no cumin and no garlic. There’s no cumin because I cannot stand the taste. Are there any other cumin-dislikers out there (I’d hate to think I’m alone in this)? And there’s no garlic in the recipe because I have some severe garlic-haters in my family. Also, I just didn’t think it was necessary. I’m someone who prefers having a few strong flavors, rather than mishmash of herbs and spices – which probably explains why I’m not a curry fan. But if you can’t imagine a tomato-based sauce without garlic, then add about two cloves along with the shallots (or onion).
You may also have noticed that I left casserole cheeseless. That’s just me – I’m not a big fan of cheese. But I’ve indicated in the recipe when it would be a good idea to add some shredded cheese, if that’s how you roll.
But don’t go thinking that a cumin, garlic and cheese-free casserole must be bland! Or that you have to load up the sauce with chilies to the point that your eyes start watering and your tongue wants to secede from your body. A key part of my sauce is red bell peppers (capsicums), which are blackened and then the skins are removed, resulting in a smokey, flavorsome pepper. It also means that the sauce doesn’t have to be extra spicy to be tasty. In fact, if you’re not a fan of chili, just leave it out and use four red bell peppers instead of two (more often than not I’ll make my sauce this way).
So I hope everyone has a wonderful Cinco de Mayo next week. I’ll be sure to post some more Mexican-themed recipes, but they won’t be as labor-intensive as this one! They’ll also be more obviously “breakfast appropriate” (not that I want anyone to feel confined by tacit ideas of what is and what isn’t a “breakfast” food).
Fun Fact: I cut this casserole into six pieces, and they were all snowflakes – in that no two were alike. I really need to practice my cutting skills!
- 2 lbs (900g) peeled sweet potato (peeled weight), cut into chunks
- Salt and pepper
- 1 - 2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise
- 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans or borlotti beans
- ½ cup frozen corn
- 3 cups Red Bell Pepper and Chili Sauce (recipe follows)
- 12 corn tortillas, preferably a day or two old
- Optional toppings: Shredded cheese of choice (or dairy-free equivalent) and pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- To serve: Sliced avocado and cilantro (coriander)
- Prepare the fillings: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking tray with baking paper, and lightly grease the paper with cooking oil spray.
- Transfer the chopped sweet potato to the prepared baking tray, season with salt and pepper, and bake for 30 minutes. Add the zucchini to the tray, and bake for 15 minutes more.
- Transfer the sweet potato to a large bowl, and roughly mash (using either a potato masher or a strong fork). Set aside.
- Dice the zucchini, and add it to another large bowl. Add the pinto beans and frozen corn, and mix well.
- Assemble the casserole: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease a large ovenproof casserole dish (mine was 9 x 9in, or 23 x 23cm).
- Cover the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of the sauce. Add 4 corn tortillas, overlapping them slightly (you may need to cut them to make them fit).
- Layer as follows: Sweet potato mixture, 4 corn tortillas, sauce, zucchini/bean mixture, 4 corn tortillas, sauce.
- Cover the casserole with alumimum foil. Bake for 40 mintues. Remove the foil, add shredded cheese (if using), and bake for 10 - 20 minutes more. The casserole is ready when it has heated through and the cheese is melted and bubbling.
- Sprinkle over some pumpkin seeds (if using). Let the casserole sit in the dish for 5 - 10 minutes before cutting into pieces. Serve with sliced avocado and cilantro. Enjoy!
- 2 red bell peppers (capsicums)
- 2 dried chilies*
- Hot water, to cover
- 2 - 3 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 shallots (or ½ - 1 onion), finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 3 cups tomato passata (pureed tomatoes)
- 2 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano.
- Prepare the red bell peppers: Preheat the oven on the broil setting (otherwise known as grill, or fan grill) - alternatively, set your oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking tray with aluminium foil, and grease the foil with cooking oil spray.
- Cut the bell peppers in half, and remove the stems and seeds. Place on the prepared tray (skin side up). Broil (grill) for 10-20 minutes, or until the skins have blackened.
- Transfer the peppers to a plastic freezer bags, tie a knot in the bag to seal, and set aside to cool.
- Once cooled (or at least cool enough to handle), use your hands to remove the skins. Roughly chop the peppers.
- Prepare the dried chilies: Remove the stems and seeds from the chilies.
- Preheat a dry skillet over high heat. Toast the chilies for 1 - 2 minutes, flipping occasionally. Transfer to a bowl, cover with hot water and let sit for 30 - 40 minutes.
- Drain the chilies, pat dry with paper towel, and finely chop.
- Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt (which prevents the shallots from burning), and sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the chopped bell peppers and chilies, and sauté for 2 more minutes.
- Add the tomato passata, water, oregano and season with salt and pepper. Stir well, and then turn up the heat to high. When the sauce starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 35 - 40 minutes.
If you would prefer to use fresh chilies, then go ahead! Just remove the stems and seeds, and your prep-work is done - there's no need to toast and rehydrate them.