Mexican Enchilada Casserole–with Gluten-free and Plant powered options

“Life without Mexican food is no life at all.”–Unknown

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Cooking in my home is a bit of a balancing act, especially since I am the only person who has to eat gluten-free due to celiac disease.  Additionally, I have a personal preference for eating a whole food plant-based diet.  It’s taken me years to figure out what works best for my body; so, I have no judgment for those who eat differently–including my own family.  Thankfully, I am blessed with a family that will eat leftovers.  This allows me to cook up oversized, flexible meals for them designed to last them a couple of days, leaving me time to also cook my own meals separately.

I must confess, however, that there are times I feel as if I fall into a cooking rut–repeating many of the same favorite meals for my family.  While they (rarely) complain, I do get excited when I stumble upon a new idea that could potentially work in a wide variety of ways to meet the needs of the omnivore and plant-based eater alike.  The recipe I am sharing with you today is one of those versatile dishes I created that was one part inspiration and another part desperation for a new idea.

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I knew there was a pound of extra-lean ground beef in the fridge, and I had just restocked all of the typical Mexican-style condiments we frequently use.  My original plan was to make taco meat for my family, a frequent go-to, which can be used not only for tacos, but also for creating nachos, salads, stackers, bowls, and the like.  However, I recalled once making something I called Mexican lasagna years ago, but the recipe was long lost. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could recreate a similar dish.

Research ensued, and cupboards were scoured.  Soon enough, a plan came together in my head.  I typed it all out before I began cooking; after all, if it turned out tasty, I wanted to be able to recreate it.  Plus, I figured, as I cooked, I could also easily type in adjustments to the recipe as needed.

As I cooked, the aromatic scents filled the kitchen.  The spicy fragrance was balanced and reminiscent of my younger years when I first began to learn my way around a kitchen.  Once in the oven, I let it cook, uncovered, and started checking on it around the 20 minute mark. Just as I had hoped, the sauce around the edges had started bubbling, and I could see the cheese beginning to transform into a luscious golden baked color complete with a bit of bubbling and browning.  I removed it after 25 minutes, setting it on hot pads to cool before serving.

This recipe was a home run with my husband and daughter.  They both found their own unique ways to top it.  Meanwhile, I created my own gluten free, plant-powered bowl version, and we rounded out the meal with chips and salsa.  

That said, if your family has a huge appetite, you could definitely serve up rice and/or more beans on the side.  You could even replace the black beans with corn in the casserole, and then serve black or refried beans on the side.  However you decide to vary this recipe, its ingredients are swappable and could easily be modified to suit your dietary needs or interest . . . even gluten free and/or plant-centered!  

From my home to yours, I share this recipe with you, and I am eager to hear how YOU decide to recreate it!  

Enchilada Casserole

Ingredients:

1 pound of lean ground beef (Can use plant-bant based crumbles for vegan.)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup diced onion

1 packet reduced sodium taco seasoning

½ cup water or favorite broth (I use a low-sodium vegetable.)

1 can red enchilada sauce

1 cup salsa

1 small can of chiles

6 large flour tortillas (Can use 9-corn tortillas, instead, for a gluten free option.)

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained

3 cups of thickly shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese (Use non-dairy cheese or skip altogether for vegan.)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 13 x 9 baking pan by lightly spraying it with cooking spray.

Over medium heat, in a large pan, brown ground beef, breaking it up while cooking.

Once thoroughly cooked, drain fat from meat, add in onion and garlic, cooking until onion is translucent (about another minute or two.)

Sprinkle meat with taco seasoning, stir in water or broth, allow to simmer for another minute or two.

Next, stir in enchilada sauce, salsa, and chiles into the meat mixture.

Simmer for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Place the prepared baking pan on a couple of hot pads to protect the counter, pour ⅓ of the meat mixture into the pan, sprinkle ⅓ of a can of black beans over meat, followed by ⅓ of cheese, and top with two flour tortillas or 3 corn tortillas.

Layer the tortillas with another ⅓ of meat mixture, another ⅓ of beans, and another ⅓ of cheese.

Top with tortillas.

Repeat the process with remaining meat mixture, beans, and cheese.

Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling and cheese is beginning to brown.

Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Top with desired toppings, such as guacamole, sour cream, chopped scallions, etc . . .

Makes 9 small servings or 6 generous servings.

Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.

Reheats well and makes great leftovers

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