Mexican Lasagna

Recently, I have begun exploring the world of Twitter as both a student affairs professional and a food blogger. It’s quite fascinating, really. One of the themes that comes across the Twitter-radar every Monday is the concept of a meatless dinner. It’s tagged as #meatlessmonday and seems to be gaining quite the following. One of my goals this year was to explore more vegetarian eating, so this seemed like a perfect way to dabble and expand my repertoire of meatless recipes. Truthfully, at first I was intimidated. I could only think of about two recipes, and they were variations of beans and rice. Not very exciting, I know. Then I remembered Mexican lasagna, and my heart leaped for joy. I used to make this all the time, and as life sometimes happens, it just fell off the radar. Ladies and gents, boys and girls, children of all ages, it is back on the radar, and I am happy to share it with you for your own Meatless Monday enjoyment!

Mexican Lasagna [adapted from Healthy Cooking for Two (Or Just You!)]

1 can black beans (14.5 oz)
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
chopped green onions (Perhaps 2 – 3 stalks. Mine were very long and made a scant 1/4 cup.)
chopped cilantro, to taste (for some, this may be none)
1/4 cup diced green chiles
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream (I used low fat.)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder (less if you are using strong Penzey’s chili powder)
6 corn tortillas

1. Empty black beans into a colander, and let drain while you are preparing the rest of the ingredients. The original recipe said to rinse them. I didn’t do this either time I made the recipe and cannot tell that my choice negatively impacted the dish. Feel free to rinse them if you wish.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Open and drain about half the juice from your can of tomatoes. Then in a non-reactive bowl, mix the tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped green onions, cilantro, green chiles, cumin, and chili powder. Stir well to combine.

Tomato Goodness Mixture

4. Grate cheese.

Honestly, I rarely measure cheese.

5. Stir/whisk the sour cream to make it airy/light and easily spreadable.
6. In a non-stick pan (I recommend using an 8″ pie pan – despite what is pictured below), spread a small amount of the tomato liquid. You are just looking for a thin layer to cover the bottom of the pan. Put one whole tortilla down and break one tortilla in half to make it fit and cover the remaining space. Spread some of the tomato mixture on top, making sure to cover the edges. Spread about half of the beans on top of the tomato mixture. Top with about half of the Monterey Jack cheese.

7. Repeat the tortilla-tomato-bean-cheese layering process. This should use up your beans and Monterey Jack cheese.
8. Top with your final set of tortillas and the remainder of the tomato mixture.
9. Gently plop and spread the sour cream on top of the tomato mixture. I do mine in sections. It will be messy and imperfect. This is okay. Sprinkle your cheddar cheese on top. It is important to cover the edges of the tortillas with tomatoes or sour cream or cheese or any combination. If left uncovered while cooking, they’ll dry out and be bad eats.

Cheese on Top - Oven Ready

10. Put the pan on a jelly roll pan to catch any drips or cheese melts down the side of the pan and slide into the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until the cheese is gooey and melty and things are bubbling around the edges. When you take it out, let it sit for 5 minutes so it can cool. Otherwise, if you try to eat it immediately, it will be boiling-lava hot and take off the inside layer of your mouth. Not good.

Right out of the oven!

If you prefer it spicier, you can up the chili powder or add more green chiles or add fresh peppers. I made this twice and just happened to have the green chiles on hand the second time around. I am definitely going to try adding more the next time I make it. That’s why you won’t see them in the picture below, though. The first time I made this, I didn’t drain any of the juice from the tomatoes because the original recipe directed me not to. I didn’t remember whether or not I had from when I used to make it, so I went ahead and followed the directions. However, although the lasagna was still delicious, it was quite runny, and I didn’t care for all the extra liquid in the dish. Draining about half the liquid the second time around really did improve the integrity of the dish, in my opinion. You are welcome to try it both ways to see which you prefer. It is your kitchen, and you are the boss of it, after all. You could also swap out the kind of beans if you don’t like black beans or didn’t have them in the pantry. Mozzarella would be an agreeable swap for Monterey Jack.

I understand that for some of my friends, cilantro is an anathema, which does make me a little sad. However, for those of you who are practically in love with it like me, let me offer you a tip or two on chopping cilantro and herbs in general. First of all, I’m a bit of a cilantro purist in most cases. I don’t particularly care to eat the stems, without good reason admittedly. I think they carry the same cilantro taste as the leaves. I just don’t want to eat them. Unless the whole bunch is going in the food processor, I will take the few extra moments to pick off the leaves and toss the stems. However, don’t feel like you have to do this. It is probably easier to just chop the stems and all. If you are like me and are anti-stem, you now have a bunch of loosey-goosey leaves all over your cutting board, so now what? Well, dear reader, so glad you asked. Gather, bunch, and scrunch those leaves into a tight little pile under your fingers. Very carefully so as to avoid your fingertips, slice through the pile, moving your fingers back as your knife slices its way through the pile. At the end, either rotate the pile 90 degrees or your knife (whichever is easier), and slice again.

It will be a little messier this time through, but you’ll still get most of it chopped through a second time. Anytime I’m chopping herb leaves that are big enough to stack, scrunch, or roll, this is the method I use rather than chopping individual leaves. It works less well with smaller leaves like thyme, but you can still gather them into a pile and run your knife through, right to left, and it will do a fair chop job. Don’t be afraid to restack and cut again if necessary. I’ve also found that storing my herbs in either a container of water or a damp paper towel lengthens their life in my fridge. I put the plastic produce bag on top of the cilantro to help protect it from being banged up while in the fridge, too. No sense in letting your herbs go to waste if you can help it, right?

Meatless Monday is not a new concept at all. Much like many fashion trends make a reappearance many decades later, this food trend seems to have made a resurgence on the food scene. Way back, back in the days of World Wars I and II, there were national endeavors lead by Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman to reduce our meat consumption in an attempt to aid the war effort. In 1917, New York City hotels managed to save about 116 tons of meat in just one week. That’s a crazy amount of meat, y’all!! In 2003, Meatless Monday was brought back as a public health initiative in conjunction with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. There are environmental, financial, and health benefits to going meatless, even once a week. You can check some of them out here, but reducing your consumption of meat reduces the carbon footprint of your grocery bill, reduces the amount you spend on meat which can be some of the most expensive items in your cart, and can potentially help curb obesity. Those sound like pretty good reasons to give a try to me. Every little bit helps in all those areas. You can check out this website for more information and recipes.

When you make Mexican lasagna for one or two with the recipe above, there are definitely leftovers which is fine by me. You could wrap individual portions in plastic wrap, then freeze them for a later date. Me? I just pop the portions in the fridge for lunch later in the week. I microwave it for about a minute, perhaps a smidge longer, and it’s delicious eats at the office. Yes, please! I end up having Meatless Monday dinner, Meatless Tuesday and Thursday lunch, and it’s all quite delightful. I hope this recipe encourages you to give Meatless Monday a try. And if you don’t want to wait until Monday to eat it, I don’t blame you. Have a meatless whatever day you like. It is your kitchen, you know. 🙂 Happy eating!

Nutritional content: 1/6 of the pan – makes 6 servings in an 8″ pan
Calories: 257
Carbs: 26 g
Protein: 13 g
Fat: 12 g
Calcium: 20%
Fiber: 5.5 g
Iron: 5.4 %

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