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Adventures in food for curious cooks.

Don't Be Afraid, It's a Tortilla Casserole

Mostly Plants Series

How to use whatever produce you find at your farmers market or CSA. Roots to leaves and flowers, here's how to cook with what you've got.

Don't Be Afraid, It's a Tortilla Casserole

Lynley Jones

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Bizarre culinary mash-up, or the best thing to cook with what’s in season right now? You decide. (And then invite me over, because I already know what the correct answer is and I’m hungry.)

TORTILLA CASSEROLE

I hate the words "tortilla casserole."

To be clear, I don't have a problem with either word by itself. Having grown up in Arizona, tortillas are a beloved staple food in my New Jersey home. Whether flour or corn, we use them at least once a week to make tacos, tostadas, cheese crisps (an Arizona thing), burritos, or in myriad other ways.

And as for casseroles... what red-blooded American eater could have a problem with them? Certainly not me. From church potlucks to luncheons and picnics, any women-organized gathering from my childhood was sure to include a tuna casserole or lasagna, always a reliable sign that the ladies in charge had everything well in hand and darn well knew how to feed a crowd.

But put them together, and tortilla casserole evokes strange, unappetizing notions of flour tortilla-starchy-gummy-creaminess punctuated with things well-meaning midwestern American church ladies might assume to be "Mexican," such as ground beef, bell peppers, Fritos, or maybe even (dare I say it?) some sort of tunafish concoction layered with tortillas....

STOP! Please, for the love of God, step away from the baking dish! Nice and easy, and no one gets hurt.

BUDIN AZTECA

OK, that sounds much better, doesn't it? Budin Azteca (pronounced boo-DEEN ahz-TAY-kah). It is a (ahem) tortilla casserole, but this time, there's no reason to panic.

 Grilled zucchini, corn and roasted poblano chiles form the first layer in Budin Azteca. It just gets better and better from there.

Grilled zucchini, corn and roasted poblano chiles form the first layer in Budin Azteca. It just gets better and better from there.

For one thing, it's authentically Mexican, so there's no risk of well-intended but bizarre flavor-and-texture combinations that are a sin against nature. Instead, roasted poblano chiles, Mexican crema, tomatoes, onions, corn and summer squash cohabit with corn tortillas and a little shredded chicken like old married people, sharing the space in comfortable harmony, each at home with the other, and welcoming you to the party with genuine Mexican hospitality.

For another thing, the word budin actually translates to "pudding" rather than "casserole." (But on second thought, that's probably going to start making you nervous again, so don't think about that.)

How about this - instead of worrying about what to call it, just make it and eat it. And be grateful the fine folks in Mexico have spent thousands of years figuring out exactly what to do when we end up with gobs of indigenous squash, corn, chiles and tomatoes at the end of summer.

Just as nature intended.


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