Friday, 5 September 2014

Smoky Mexican Nacholada Casserole

I had tried hot water, rubber gloves and a knife to open that wretched jar of olives, with Sylvia cheering me on.  'When your dad gets home, he might be able to open it', I told her in desperation.  Then suddenly the lid gave way and olive brine dribbled all over my jeans.  At that moment, I regret to say, I was cursing Ricki Heller for her love of olives.  I would never think to use olives in a Mexican meal but I have learnt to trust Ricki in her wonderful recipes.  If we ignore the olive moment, her Layered Mexican Casserole was worth every bit of effort!

Ricki posted the recipe in 2010 and I have looked at it with desire on a quite a few occasions since.  Then suddenly the planets aligned.  I had this interesting sounding Black Bean and Chipotle Salsa lingering in the pantry.  And a couple of avocados were softening rapidly in the fruit bowl.  I never need any urging to make tofu bacon.  It is one of my few recipes that Sylvia eats every time with enthusiasm.  A good vegan cheese sauce makes me happy.  And unlike Ricki, we will never have stale tortilla chips in our house but I don't mind a reason to buy them.

So I blitzed and blended and chopped and fried and layered and scattered and sprinkled.  And it was very good.  Exact quantities aren't important.  Nor are exact ingredients.  I got away with cashew butter rather than blending raw cashews and I made important inroads into some coconut butter by using a spoonful instead of tahini.  I sprinkled seeds on top because I read about this in my early days of being a vegetarian, when I enjoyed learning about vegan cooking.

Ricki might like to scatter her baked casserole with coriander.  I would have preferred to heap mine with lime tossed avocado and spring onions.  However the avocados had seen better days and I don't keep spring onions regularly in winter.  I also find myself eating dinner in the dark in winter, hence the lack of natural light for photos.  (My brother has a new lightbox that he has offered me a chance to experiment.  One day!)

I made this casserole when Sylvia had been sick and dropping off to sleep with no effort.  I avoided trying to eat this while managing a cranky kid who was not up to eating much in the evening.  Instead I prepared all the layers, took Sylvia to bed and then layered up the casserole, baked it and ate it in peace.  It deserved a bit of respect.  It was that good!

The casserole was smoky and creamy with chewy chunks of tofu bacon and some crisp corners of tortilla chips.  Ricki amused me by calling it Nacholada Casserole because it fell somewhere between nachos and an enchilada casserole.  The black bean and chipotle salsa was excellent.  E considered it spicy enough that his reflex reach for the tabasco was on hold.  We will definitely buy the salsa again.

Next time I made this casserole maybe we will try the green tomatilla salsa and a tin of black beans.  I am feeling quite content now that I have finally made the casserole.  Now my hope is that it will appear on our table many times.

I am sending this casserole to Jacqueline's Bookmarked Recipes at Tinned Tomatoes. 

More vegan tex mex recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Borlotti bean mole with roast pumpkin and silverbeet
Lentil and cauliflower taco filling 
Mexican lasagne with corn tortillas
Mexican rice in the microwave 
My breakfast burritos
Potato and kale enchiladas
Sweet potato, zucchini and olive quesadillas

Mexican Nacholada Casserole
Adapted from Ricki Heller
Serves 4 (or less)

230g packet of corn chips (I used Mission white corn)
250g jar of black bean and chipotle salsa, or salsa or choice
1 red capsicum (red pepper), diced
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/2 batch tofu bacon (see below)
400g tin of brown lentils (or black beans), rinsed and drained
1 batch “Vegveeta” cheese sauce (see below)
sesame and poppy seeds to scatter

Preheat oven to 200 C.  Lightly grease a casserole dish (mine was about 22cm square).

Layer half each of the corn chips, salsa, red capsicum, olives, tofu bacon, lentils and cheese sauce.  Repeat another layer with the other half of each of these ingredients, setting aside some red capsicum.  Sprinkle with some seeds and the red capsicum.

Bake for 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.  We kept ours overnight at room temperature and reheated for another 30 minutes the next night.  It is best on the day of baking but quite yummy the next.

Tofu bacon:
Slightly adapted from here

250g firm tofu, pressed
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tbsp tomato sauce
1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1-2 tbsp rice bran oil, (or other oil) for frying

Cut tofu into small dice (about 0.5 cm square or even a bit smaller).  Mix a marinade of the remaining ingredients (except oil).  Add the tofu and mix until all pieces are covered in marinade.  This can be done hours or even a day or two ahead of time to allow the tofu to soak up the flavours.  Heat large frypan over high heat and swirl around about 1 tbsp oil. Fry the marinated tofu pieces over high heat until the marinade is absorbed and the tofu pieces are firming up.  They should be chewy rather than crisp when they cool.  You may need to drizzle in more oil if they are too soft.  Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

"Vegveeta" cheese sauce:
Slightly adapted from this one

125g cashew butter*
1 tbsp coconut butter*
1 cup soy milk, or milk of choice
2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1½ tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt (or to taste)
¼ tsp yellow mustard powder
¼ tsp turmeric (for color)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Taste to check and adjust seasoning as desired.

*NOTE: My little blender is broken and I know my food processor will not blend nuts well so I used cashew butter.  If you have more powerful equipment you could use 1/2 cup of raw cashews instead of the cashew butter.  I actually had almond, brazil nut and cashew butter because that is all I could find when preparing for this dish.  I used the coconut butter instead of 1 tbsp tahini because I want to use up the coconut butter.

On the Stereo:
Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings: Various Artists

This post is part of Vegan Month of Food September 2014.  This year for Vegan MoFo my theme is The Letter S.  Today is Smoky Friday.  Go to my Vegan MoFo list for more of my 2014 Vegan MoFo posts. 


  1. now that's my kind of casserole!!!

  2. You made it! This one's been on my list for a long time too. I guess it sounded a little intimidating with the different components but I'm certain I'll love it so I better just get on with it!

  3. Holy moly! What a recipe! It sounds delicious, although I don't know how I would go with the corn chips all getting mushy - I like my nachos crunchy. Then again, if I just think of it as a lasagne, maybe it would be okay.

    1. @caeli - I think the corn chips were still a bit crunchy on the first night - I think Ricki created this as an easier way of doing nachos - you could also sprinkle some crushed corn chips on top for a bit of extra crunch

  4. I suck at opening jars! Whoaaaaa, that’s one tasty casserole you made! Looks so delicious with tofu bacon and tortilla chips! Can’t wait to see the salsa and black beans, I bet they are pretty good on nachos!

  5. Oh wow... this looks like a great meal to make on a lazy Sunday afternoon with lots of time set aside and a huge reward to look forward to.
    I am intrigued by the idea of your tofu bacon!

  6. I'm not a fan of olives but can relate to your jar incident with other jars ;-)
    Casserole sounds delicious (I'd just go without the olives lol)


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