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Microwave . . .

Try Easy Casseroles With the Spicy Flavors of Favorite Mexican Foods

February 12, 1987|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving

Mexican cooking has become so integrated into our cuisine that foods such as tacos and nachos are now considered traditional. Within the last few years, preformed taco shells, nachos and fresh tortillas--along with a variety of Mexican seasonings--have become available everywhere in the United States.

To a microwave owner, this is great fortune. Mexican foods microwave beautifully. Enchiladas and burritos are easy to assemble and heat in the microwave. Crisp taco shells and platters of cheese-topped nachos reheat best in the microwave because there's no danger of burning or drying out the fried tortillas.

It is interesting that out of all the foods in the Mexican cuisine, those that have achieved the most popularity are those, like tacos, that are individual single-serving foods. This may be because those are the foods most prevalent at restaurants and fast food outlets, where single servings are the standard. But at home, you can duplicate these savory foods as multiserving casseroles, which are easier to make, microwave and serve. If you have leftovers, rejoice. They're great reheated in the microwave. It takes only about two minutes at HIGH power per serving.

Flavorful Beginnings

Both of the Mexican casseroles that follow begin with a flavorful sauce.

Mexican Taco Squares start with the typical "red" sauce, made with fresh tomatoes. But before the sauce is added to the casserole, it's flavor-enriched and thickened with egg and half and half.

Turkey-Cheese Enchilada Casserole starts with a creamy white sauce, nipped with cayenne pepper and poured over enchiladas filled with turkey, green chiles and cheese. Like the taco casserole, this dish is savory in flavor rather than sharp and spicy. I usually make this family favorite with leftover poultry after a big turkey dinner, but chicken also works well.

MEXICAN TACO SQUARES

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

3/4 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons chopped mild green chile (1 medium) or 1 ounce canned green chiles

1 1/2 cups pureed tomatoes (3 or 4 medium)

2 teaspoons chili powder, about

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup half and half

1 pound ground beef

6 to 8 ounces corn chips or taco chips (about 5 cups)

1/2 pound Jack cheese, shredded or sliced

1 cup sour cream

1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

Place butter, onion and green chiles in 1-quart microwave-safe measuring cup or casserole. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes, stirring every minute, until onion has softened. Add pureed tomatoes, chili powder, sugar, oregano and salt. Microwave on HIGH 3 to 6 minutes until sauce is warmed and blended.

In small bowl, beat eggs and half and half. Add to tomato sauce, stirring until well blended. Set sauce aside.

Place ground beef in 1 1/2- to 2-quart microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH 5 to 8 minutes, breaking up meat with fork and stirring every 3 minutes, until no pink remains. Drain fat, if desired.

In 12x8-inch oblong (or 2-quart) microwave-safe baking dish, place half of chips. Top with half of cooked beef, half of Jack cheese and half of tomato sauce. Repeat layers, ending with sauce. Cover with wax paper.

Microwave on HIGH 15 to 18 minutes, rotating dish half-turn after 7 minutes, until hot and cheese looks melted. Top with sour cream and grated Cheddar cheese. Microwave on HIGH additional 2 to 4 minutes until cheese topping is slightly melted. Let stand a few minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TURKEY-CHEESE ENCHILADA CASSEROLE

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 cups half and half

1 cup chopped onions

1/4 cup chopped mild green chile (1 large), or 2-ounce can chopped mild green chiles

2 cups chopped cooked turkey

3 cups shredded Colby or other mild yellow cheese

1 cup chopped firm tomato (1 large), drained if juicy

8 to 10 (6- to 8-inch-diameter) flour tortillas

Paprika, optional

Place butter, flour, salt, pepper and cayenne in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole or measuring bowl. Microwave on HIGH 2 to 3 minutes, whisking every minute, until mixture looks blended and dry. Gradually whisk in half and half and continue microwaving on HIGH 7 to 11 minutes, whisking every 3 minutes, until thick and smooth.

In another 2-quart microwave-safe bowl or casserole, place onions and chile. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 3 to 6 minutes until onion starts to look translucent. Cool slightly, then add chopped turkey, 1 cup cheese and tomato.

Add scant cup cream sauce to turkey mixture and stir well. Fill each tortilla with about 1/2 cup turkey mixture and roll up into cylinder.

In lightly greased 12x8-inch microwave-safe baking dish, arrange rolls crosswise (10 tortillas will fit snugly). Cover with remaining sauce and sprinkle top with remaining 2 cups cheese. Sprinkle top with paprika. Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 12 to 16 minutes until bubbly on top and heated through. Let stand a few minutes before serving. Serve in squares. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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