So, one of our go-to weekday meals for the family is a Mexican casserole.

A play off lasagna, it is a layered dish using tortillas (instead of lasagna noodles), ground beef (and/or leftover rotisserie chicken) browned with a taco spice blend, black beans and/or chickpeas (and sometimes some kernels of corn), salsa (instead of marinara sauce) and mix of shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses.

I almost always have all the ingredients on hand, and it takes less than 10 minutes to assemble and about 25 minutes to cook to bubbly oozy gooey cheesiness… While it bakes I steam some vegetables or pull together and salad and put a meal on the table with little time or effort. My family adores this simple dish.

Last week (as my husband spooned the last bits of this ‘lasagna’ from the Temptations baker to his plate) he suggested I make a vegetarian version for myself. A few days later, I pulled out a meatloaf pan and did.

NJ Veggie Mexican Lasagna 1

The easiest thing to do would be to use meatless crumbles instead of the ground beef – there are several products on the market. However, I prefer to limit fake foods (that includes fake meat) and lean towards natural, whole food options. This is the basis of my faithfully fit food philosophy – choose foods close to the way God put them here. So, for my vegetarian version of the dish, I replaced the ground beef with lentils – and it worked deliciously.

A bit about the bitty lentil…

Lentils are nutrient dense legumes.

They are low in calories and fat, high in fiber, and a good source of protein, magnesium, calcium, folate, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus. Adding lentils to your diet can help support heart health (the leading cause of death in the US). It can also save money and time as lentils are very inexpensive and unlike most dried beans – dried lentils take minutes (instead of hours) to cook.

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Lentils are varied and versatile. The four categories most commonly found in stores are:

  • Black lentils – hearty, earthy flavored lentils that cook in about 25 minutes.
  • Red and yellow lentils – a mildly sweet and nutty variety often used in soups and a variety of Mediterranean dishes. These cook quickly and break apart easily.
  • Brown lentils – sturdy lentils with a mild and earthy flavor. Brown lentils take 35 -40 mins to cook and hold their shape well. My most used variety, I adore these as the protein in shepherd’s pie, in soups and added to salads.
  • Green lentils – the most sturdy variety (taking ~45 minutes to cook), these lentils hold their shape very well and have a slight peppery flavor.

See resources at end of this post for more on varieties and uses of lentils.

Brown, green and red lentils are staples in my pantry. For this dish, I used red lentils wanting the mild sweetness to balance the smoky and spicy flavors of other ingredients.

I also added another kitchen staple – kale to this dish. For more on kale see my posts Kale Yes!{Recipe} Hearty Fire Roasted Tomato, Kale and White Bean Soup, and {Recipe} Kale and Spinach Saute .

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Back to the Mexican ‘lasagna’ dish at hand – here’s the framework:

Simply layer:

  • flour tortillas
  • lentils
  • black beans
  • kale
  • salsa
  • cheese

Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, remove foil and bake for another 15 mins.

Easy. Peasy.

 

Cook the lentils

  • Pick through and rinse ~1 cup of red lentils.
  • Add the clean lentils to a saucepan with vegetable broth (enough to cover), finely chopped onion and celery (a few tsps), 1 dried bay leaf, Kocher salt, cracked black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until lentils are tender. Don’t sleep on this step – red lentils turn mushy easily and I let that happen as I was going for a refried beans texture for this layer of the dish. For a more sturdy or crumbly ground beef like texture, use brown lentils.
  • When done, I reserved some of the lentil mixture for another dish later in the week and stirred stir in taco spice mix to taste.

Note about taco seasonings: 
I really like the taco spice mix from the bulk food spice section in Whole Foods. Taco seasoning can be made easily by mixing about 1 Tbsp chili powder with ~1 tsp each of ground cumin, salt and pepper, and touches of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and dried oregano. The make-your-own method allows you to control the salt and flavor.

Cook the kale

  • While the lentils cook, add 3-4 cups of cleaned and roughly chopped kale into a hot skillet with a tsp of olive, tossing for 1-2 minutes to coat and braise.
  • Reduce the heat to low, and add some vegetable broth, chopped onion, and crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Cover, and cook until the leaves are wilted and broth is gone.

Assemble and cook the ‘lasagna’

In a meatloaf pan or other tall walled dish layer: 

  • Flour tortilla
  • Layer of seasoned lentils
  • Sprinkling of black beans (drained and rinsed from a can)
  • Layer of braised and wilted kale
  • Layer of salsa (for this dish I used a smoky chipotle salsa from Trader Joes)
  • Layer of shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheese

Repeat the layers once more. Cover with foil, bake at 350 for 20, remove foil and bake till bubbly.

This dish is:

  • Vegetarian, (for a vegan version, you could use a fake cheese…)
  • Ooey, gooey cheesy and with a delicious balance of smokiness, sweet and heat.

If you give it a try (the regular or vegetarian version) please share your thoughts – use #templecarecooking and #nettyejohnson on your social media post so I can see it.

Take care, God bless, eat well and be well!

Nettye

P.S. Check these resources for additional deets on lentils Cooking Light, Bon AppetitMedical News Today, and Jessivca Gavin, Culinary Scientist

 

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