A Cooking Class and a Mexican Casserole Recipe

Mexican red bean casserole

Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I love food, and with my tight budget, I’m always on the lookout for cheap entertainment. So when the vegetarian society at my uni was offering a Mexican cooking class for $10, I jumped at the chance to participate. Even though I’m not vegetarian any more, I do still enjoy vegetarian food, especially Mexican food. During the class we learnt how to cook rice and bean casserole, cornbread, soup and apple tortilla rolls for dessert, and then we got to eat everything. 

I have to say all of the food was delicious and it was very easy to prepare – maybe a little too easy, as we were done very quickly. I think the course was more aimed towards absolute beginners, as we were told things like “You should never ever deviate from the recipe” and “You should never taste the food until it is served”. I’m not sure I could ever stick to either of those rules!

Also, I wasn’t able to eat the cornbread or apple tortillas because they were not gluten free (this was my fault for not telling them ahead of time that I was gluten free). However, they looked very tasty, and I will be trying them at home with gluten free ingredients (breaking the first rule above!).

My group was in charge of the rice and bean casserole, so I thought I would share the recipe with you today. It is delicious and ridiculously easy, and I’m already planning to cook it for a dinner guest this weekend.

Mexican casserole ingredients

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 400g (14oz) tin corn kernels

1 400g (14oz) tin red kidney beans

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups of red pizza sauce or passata (I think I will use tinned crushed tomatoes and blend them up)

1 1/2 cups tasty cheese, grated

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (any type would work)

Pinch of black pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup sliced black olives

Mexican casserole mixture

Method

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Grease a medium-sized baking dish.

Combine all ingredients except half of the olives and half of the cheese in a bowl. Mix together well. Place mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and olives.

Mexican casserole

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Enjoy 🙂

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Comments

  1. That’s my kind of recipe! I haven’t got a meal plan in place this week so it’s going straight on the menu for tomorrow! 🙂

  2. Looks good!
    I’d be interested to know what they did for the apples and tortillas. Did you get a recipe for those?

    • They basically put stewed apples inside the tortillas, rolled them up, ladled a mixture of sugar and butter over them and sprinkled with cinnamon, then baked them in the oven. They came up crispy – a bit like sweet spring rolls.

  3. Hmmm… well, this area is a pretty big hub for Mexican food – a large percentage of my neighbors don’t even speak English, so “Mexican food” is sorta like “food” in terms of my local grocery stores etc. Anyhow, I have to say that this recipe seems a tad bit… um…. well, let’s just say it doesn’t seem very traditional to me! Pizza sauce?!? Kidney beans?!? Olives?!?

    If you wanted to make it more traditional, I’d suggest replacing the kidney beans with black beans, lose the pizza/tomato sauce, instead use a can of mild green chilies (or green chili salsa if you can find it,) add about a half teaspoon each of ground cumin and oregano, and replace the olives with a diced onion. You might need to add a bit of stock for moisture if it seems dry. I also wouldn’t put the sour cream into the casserole, instead I’d garnish each serving with a spoonful of sour cream, some fresh avocado, diced tomato and fresh cilantro.

    For a slightly different flavor you could use pinto beans, and instead of the green chilies use red chili sauce (enchilada sauce) – although that might be hard to find there… here’s a decent recipe if you wanted to try making the sauce – http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/red-enchilada-sauce/ (or you could just approximate it by adding the ingredients to your casserole

    I’ve actually never seen a casserole served in a Mexican restaurant, but at least with these alterations you’d have the spices and flavors closer to what’s used in traditional Mexican cuisine.

    Sorry to be a Mexican food snob – it just makes me sad to see anything with beans and rice in it pawned off as “Mexican food” when it bears so little resemblance to the real thing!

    • There are lots of variations on Mexican food depending what part of Mexico you’re from. I lived in Texas for 10 years and we had a lot of Tex-Mex food as well as Mexican food and it differed. We had plenty of kidney beans as well as brown (pinto) beans. However, the only time I had black beans was when my mother-in-law, who was Guatemalan, cooked them. She had a form of them at every meal. So I always thought of them as a Central American thing until I talked to my boss who is from Nicaragua and she said she never saw them until they came to the US. However, I will say that I never had pizza sauce as an ingredient although that is basically tomatoes and oregano, so those are some of the ingredients you mention as a possibility for authentic Mexican food.

      Where I live now, we have a very large population of Hispanics, but not necessarily all Mexicans. There is also a lot of variation in the restaurants they represent. The thing I find that most of these restaurants have in common, both Mexican and generic Hispanic, is tortillas, rice, and some kind of beans.

      It would be an interesting study to examine the foods from the different American Hispanic regions and learn to cook something from each one. I don’t have time to do this, but someone else should and blog about it. It would be interesting.

      • Good points. I think this recipe just reminded me of the “Mexican food” I was served at the dining hall in college in upstate NY – I still remember my excitement, and my utter disappointment upon tasting it! It was sort of like a bad version of Taco Bell!

        You’re right about the black beans – I think they probably are more Central American – but they go so well with the corn and green chilies. 🙂 Most of the beans used in the local Mexican restaurants here are pintos. The only time I’ve seen kidney beans used is in Tex-Mex chili which I don’t really think of as Mexican food. I’m sure the food I’m used to is strongly influenced by the Mexican immigrants in my area who are mostly from rural northern Mexico. But I’ve never seen cooked tomatoes used like that in Mexican food, the red color always comes from the chilies. I’ve also never seen beans used for anything but refritos.

        Anyhow – I guess I’m a bit Southwest-centric when it comes to my beloved Mexican food! My apologies… 🙂

        • Funnily enough, when I visited Mexico last year, I made the mistake of ordering nachos from a restaurant, not being aware that they are not a traditional food and were just for tourists. While Mr Omnivore got a delicious dish of real beef enchiladas, my nachos were made with fake liquid cheese and nothing else. I was very disappointed and didn’t make that mistake again!

          That’s interesting about the cooked tomatoes, I’ve always added them to everything “Mexican” I make. Do chilies come in cans like tomatoes over there? I imagine chopping and peeling that amount of chilies would take a long time. Thanks for all the info 🙂

          • I fear I am totally absorbed in my own reality here. Sorry about that…

            In these parts green chilies are sorta ubiquitous – as in there are enormous bins of them in every produce section, and during the harvest there are big tents in every parking lot with giant roasters where you can buy freshly roasted chilies for pennies a pound. You prepare them by roasting them on an open flame to blacken the skin, then you put them in a paper bag while they’re still hot so that the steam loosens the skin. When they are cool the blackened skin basically slides right off.

            Every grocery store here has an entire aisle of salsas and chilies. So they come in cans & jars, fresh, dried or frozen. I usually buy the frozen pre-roasted and peeled variety when it comes to green chilies.

            And the point about regional variations and tourist food vs. real food is totally valid. The only time I was in Mexico we were staying on the coast and all the good food was seafood – not what I generally think of as “Mexican Food.” And now that I’m thinking of it, I’m sort of shuddering to imagine what the rest of the world might think of when they picture “American Food!” 🙂

            Anyhow, I didn’t mean to come across as a jerk. I just love, Love LOVE good “Mexican food” and it breaks my heart that everybody doesn’t get to enjoy it like I do!

          • I know you’re not a jerk and I understand completely what it’s like to love good traditional food 🙂

            I had never even thought you could buy frozen chilies (although I freeze them myself sometimes if I buy too many). That would be awesome – I’ve only ever seen them fresh, dried or pickled (and never roasted).

            I think so much of the food availability depends on the people living in the area. We obviously don’t have a large Central American population here in Brisbane, but we do have lots of Asian supermarkets and some Indian ones, which have great ingredients for curries and stir-fries etc. Come to think of it, they might even have frozen or canned chillies… I’ll check it out next time I go 🙂

            Thanks for all of the tips, and I really mean that, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Hopefully some more authentic Mexican dishes will pop up on my menus in the coming weeks 🙂

      • I think living so far away from Mexico, we get a watered down version of Mexican food. We don’t really have black or pinto beans readily available, and the only salsa I have found is full of preservatives. I’m not sure what pizza sauce is like in the US, but I was thinking of a tomato puree or passata – basically just tomatoes blended up.

        That’s so interesting about the variation between different regions – we do have a tendency to just lump everything together and call it “Mexican food” here in Australia, thanks for your input 🙂 And I would love to have so many tasty restaurants around 🙂

    • You’re right – I probably should have titled it – Mexican-style casserole or Mexican-inspired casserole 🙂 It’s definitely not traditional, and I think part of that was because the class was aimed at busy students who are beginner cooks. Some of the ingredients are not readily available here, so they have been substituted for ones that are. For example, I have never found tinned black beans, and the only dry ones I can find come from specialised Indian stores, same with green chili salsa (although I would love to find that!). Thanks for the link to the enchilada sauce – I will definitely be trying it out.

      I usually add ground cumin, ground coriander and chilli flakes to anything that I cook Mexican (and avocado and coriander leaves (cilantro) if there’s room in the budget), so will probably play around with those flavours next time I make this. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

      • If you’re interested in trying out new flavor sensations, try chicken mole – some varieties actually do have cooked tomatoes in them now that I think of it. See what a liar I am? 🙂

        I haven’t made it in a while because I’m allergic to some of the ingredients so I’d have to do quite a bit of substituting – plus it’s a bit of a chore with a pile of ingredients. Anyhow, it’s a project, but totally worth it. I don’t have a recipe on hand, but this looks like a pretty good one:
        http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Mexico-Chicken-Puebla-Mole
        Don’t know where you’d find the dried chilies though!

  4. I’m notorious for not trying dishes as I go – I really should! And recipe deviations – I do follow pretty exactly first time unless there’s only a shake more of something. I also note any mistakes/changes in case they improve it (like when I accidentally use a whole can rather than half-a).

    Your recipe seems easy enough, might try it too! Like lifeonashoestring, there’s been no plan this week. Ecocatlady – I’ll try it with black beans I have, though I did find them hard to find in Aust when I was first looking for them a year ago.

    • Really? I can’t imagine not trying food as I cook it – maybe that comes from being hungry when I cook 🙂 I need to keep better records though, as to what worked and what didn’t, and I’ve even been known to lose the link to a great recipe online because I didn’t record it anywhere. I hope the recipe works out for you – black beans would go great.

  5. Very interesting to read all the tips on traditional flavors. As it is, it’s a great recipe to serve a bunch of people easily – definitely one I’ll keep in the recipe book (thanks!)

  6. I have to laugh about the Mexican/Tex-Mex food. I find that in cookbooks and cooking classes, anything with rice, corn and beans is automatically labelled Mexican, just like any dish with yams or sweet potatoes and peanuts or peanut butter is automatically labelled an African stew! And we all know how “Italian” our pizza and lasagna are (not!) We’ve made a bit of progress, though – around here, there is at least an awareness that the North American take-out Chinese food is not served in China!

    • I don’t know if you’ll see this or not, but your comment about Chinese food totally made me laugh. CatMan has a thing about Kung Pao Shrimp. There’s one restaurant in town that makes it exactly the way he likes, and I have literally tried everything I can think of to replicate it. This is made more complicated by the fact that I’m allergic to several of the ingredients, so I can’t taste it to figure out what it’s supposed to taste like!

      Anyhow, he’s bought me a zillion traditional Chinese and Szechuan cookbooks, all of which have very similar recipes, all of which he grades as a big, fat F. He’s just convinced that the problem is that we’re not doing it “traditionally” enough – but I tend to think that the problem is that what he likes is really an Americanized version, and that his beloved restaurant Kung Pao is probably a totally different animal from the real thing.

      • That’s funny that he might be used to the American version. I feel similarly about pizza – I love it with lots of toppings, which is not traditional at all.

        My sister’s boyfriend is actually Chinese and last time I was in Melbourne he cooked us some traditional Chinese food, which was delicious but nothing like I’ve ever had from a Chinese restaurant. According to him, the Chinese food we have here is just the tip of the iceberg, and tends to be from certain regions.

  7. OK, so I just had to share this with you. Your efforts to eat from your pantry inspired me, so I decided I should cook up a meal with things that I had lying around… which was lots of pinto beans, rice, corn, green chilies etc.

    Anyhow, I decided to make Mexican food, and I couldn’t find the recipe I generally use for the rice. So I went online to look for one that was similar, and literally EVERY SINGLE RECIPE called for tomatoes, or tomato sauce. I was totally floored! Anyhow, it seemed totally wrong to me, but I decide to try it anyhow. And it tasted good, but certainly not what I’m used to.

    So now I’m just totally confused. I’m wondering if all of the restaurants in my area somehow use a different recipe than the rest of the world, or if I’ve just got a mental block or what. I KNOW the recipe I’ve used before didn’t have tomatoes in it, because when I finally discovered it, it was the first time I’d ever gotten the rice to taste “right.” Hmmm…. the mystery deepens.

    Anyhow, thought you’d get a kick out of that little story. Perhaps I’ll have to get up the courage to test my Spanish skills and ask the waiter at my favorite Mexican restaurant next time I’m there.

    • Haha, thanks for the follow-up 🙂 The only explanation I can think of is that Mexico is a big place, so maybe they use tomatoes in some parts and not in others, and the restaurants near you are from one of the areas that doesn’t use tomatoes. If you do ever find your recipe (or ask the waiter), can you post it on your blog, or at least send me a link. I’d be really interested to try it, I’m always keen to try authentic food from all over the world (although I may have to make some substitutes!).

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