Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Real Tortilla Casserole

We all know about the food memories of childhood--things we wouldn't cook now are remembered ever so fondly. I just heard a food show host tell how his father used to mash up canned salmon with a dollop of catsup and serve it on crackers. And his kids loved it!

It's funny how recipes change over time--but perhaps not so funny to my kids, who remember a tortilla casserole that I made for them long ago when they were little. The recipe was probably from some old 1950s gringo cookbook, copied down back when I lived in California or Washington or British Columbia and imagined that a red chile sauce was red because of the paprika.

And it's really funny to me that the original recipe card, just unearthed today, calls this "Beef Enchiladas," when we've always called it Tortilla Casserole.

Over the years, I stopped frying the tortillas and used them right out of the package; I forgot to add olives, and used whatever was in the fridge--any kind of leftover meat, vegetables, perhaps a chopped up tomato or potato or both. When we moved to New Mexico, I was able to use high quality red chile powder and chopped green chiles, all from crops grown right here in the Mesilla Valley. That's evolution and it happens in every kitchen. (The evolved recipe is here).

But my grown children have always argued that there was once a very different version, the one they remember from childhood. For them, here it is (in case you don't want to decipher my handwriting on the card):

1 lb. ground beef
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbl. chile powder
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbl. paprika
1/2 tsp. oregano
3 tbl. flour

2 cups water

1 cup whole pitted olives.

6 tortillas [I'm sure this means corn tortillas, from back in the days when that was the only kind available in most grocery stores. I've used flour ones, too, in more recent times].

Grated cheese (the amount is up to you)

  • Brown the ground beef in a bit of oil. 
  • Add the salt, chile powder, garlic, paprika, oregano, and flour. Stir well. 
  • Add the water. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. 
  • Add the olives.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes until sauce has thickened and reduced.
  • Alternate six lightly fried tortillas, the sauce, and grated cheese in a casserole
  • Bake at 350 for ten minutes. [This surprises me--I like it baked much longer so the edges of the tortillas start to get crisp]. 
  • Cut into wedges and serve with chopped lettuce [what else?] .