I have forever seen recipes on TV and around the web for something called Mexican Lasagna, a giant layered casserole that contains pretty much everything we love and cannot get enough of — tortillas, beans, salsa, cheese and then some — but couldn’t bring myself to make one because I make bad decisions based on trivial things, such as the name, which made me cringe (must we blame the people of Naples or Mexico for the unholy ways we Frankenstein their cuisine?) and the fact that I hadn’t exactly run out of excuses to eat tortillas, beans, salsa and cheese yet and thus didn’t need to enlist another one. Don’t worry, Deb is going to see the error of her ways in the next paragraph.
Sometime in the hazy weeks after bringing this bunny home from the hospital, I spied a version of the dish in Katie Workman’s Mom 100 Cookbook that stopped me in my tracks for all the reasons any recipe ever does: I was so hungry, and it was so pretty. Regardless, I then looked for excuses not to make it, first arguing to no one in particular that there was no way it was nutritional enough to pass off as dinner, only to realize it contains nearly 4 cups of beans and 6 of vegetables. I then decided that there’s no way you could fit all that in one little cake and did that charming thing I do when I cook but I’m too tired to cook where I point out all the ways it couldn’t possibly work and was definitely going to flop and instead, what went into the oven was an exactly perfect-as-written and what came out looked exactly like the photo and tasted even better than I could have dreamed.
It has taken a level of self-control I succeed in employing nowhere else in my life to not make this at least once a month since, and it’s only the fact that my next book is not going to solely focus on taco tortes (though I would need little convincing at this point) that I’ve somewhat varied our diets since. It’s honestly that good. Does the fact that it’s also pretty — prettier even when you make it because you’re going to remember to line the pan with foil or use a springform so it comes out neatly — really matter? No. And by no, I mean, seriously, I’m not fooling anyone.
One year ago: Charred Cauliflower Quesadillas
Two years ago: Garlicky Party Bread with Cheese and Herbs
Three years ago: Pasta and White Beans with Garlic-Rosemary Oil
Four years ago: Cheddar Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Bread
Five years ago: Meatball Subs with Caramelized Onions
Six years ago: Mixed Citrus Salad with Feta and Mint and Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes
Seven years ago: Chicken Milanese + An Escarole Salad and Flaky Blood Orange Tart
Eight years ago: Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree and Candied Grapefruit Peels
Nine years ago: Icebox Cake
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles with Cucumber
1.5 Years Ago: Blueberry Crumb Cake
2.5 Years Ago: Charred Corn Crepes
3.5 Years Ago: Zucchini Tomato and Rice Gratin
4.5 Years Ago: Corn Buttermilk and Chive Popovers
Adapted, just barely, from the Mom 100 Cookbook
The original recipe calls for making this with 4 tortillas, or 4 layers. I made mine with 5 both times, but think 6 would be even nicer, so there’s less heavy filling between each, and have recommended this below. While you can use a fitted 8-inch cake pan if you have one, I have found that whatever bits of filling and/or cheese spill into the margins of a 9-inch cake pan are the most delicious parts — don’t you dare leave them in there. A 5- or 6-high stack will go over the top of a standard cake pan, but if you’re nervous about spillover (a non-issue in a 9-inch pan), you can always bake it on a foil-lined tray. Finally, should you wish to lightly fry your tortillas to a light crisp before you layer them, I’d expect them to get less soft when baked.
Serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer or light meal with a salad, 6 to 8 for dinner
Nonstick cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive, vegetable, or canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 clove garlic, minced
1 fresh chile pepper, chopped small (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder (adjusted to taste)
1 can (14 ounces) or 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes, drained, with 1/3 cup juice reserved
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black, red or kidney beans (or a mixture of any two), drained and rinsed
Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh (from 1 to 2 ears), from 1 15-ounce can, drained, or frozen and thawed
3 cups (about 2 3/4 ounces) rough-chopped spinach leaves
6 medium-size (8-inch) flour tortillas (although corn should work too)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese (I used a mix)
Chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream and/or salsa for serving (optional)
Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a 9-inch round cake pan or cast-iron skillet tightly with foil and spray it with a nonstick spray. Or, you can coat a 9-inch springform with nonstick spray and skip the foil, since it’s easier to remove from a springform.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, fresh chile pepper (if using), cumin, chili powder, and and cook until you can smell the spices and the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with the 1/3 cup of reserved juice and the tomato paste, then stir in the beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the bean mixture simmer until everything is hot, about 3 minutes. Add the corn and spinach and stir until the spinach has wilted and everything is well blended and hot, about 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as necessary.
Place 1 tortilla in the prepared cake pan. Spread one-sixth (just eyeball it) of the bean and vegetable mixture evenly over the tortilla, then sprinkle 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the shredded cheese evenly over the top. Repeat with 5 more layers, ending with the last of the bean mixture and shredded cheese.
Bake the tortilla stack until it is hot throughout and the top is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. You can run it under the broiler for extra color on top, if you wish. Let the it sit at room temperature for 5 minutes, before removing it from the pan, either by carefully lifting the foil that lines the pan or by opening the sprinform sides. Cut it into wedges using a sharp knife and serve it with a spatula or better yet a pie server. Sprinkle the top with cilantro, if desired, and serve with sour cream and/or salsa on the side, if you like.
Do ahead: You can make this ahead of time, cover it in the fridge overnight then leave it at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before baking it. The torte also reheats well.