The next time you can’t decide whether you want to make Mexican or Italian food for dinner, go for this delicious compromise. Pastel Azteca (also called Budín Azteca) layers Mexican ingredients, with corn tortillas playing the role that the noodles do in lasagna, and the result is pure genius.
Mexican lasagna is a perfect example of the fusion of cultures that constitute modern Mexico: the tortillas, the chiles, and tomatillos harken back to pre-Columbian times, while the chicken and cheese arrived with the Conquistadors. The cream brings to mind the “Frenchified” era in Mexican cooking, which was at its peak in the second half of the 1800s.
Before starting to prepare this dish, you must make a decision—to fry or not to fry. Traditionally, tortillas used in this way have been very briefly fried in oil, a step which improves their texture for this type of use. However, many modern cooks, trying to lower the fat content in their diets, skip this step. Frying the tortillas adds an additional, slightly messy step to the recipe and raises its calorie and fat levels, but results in a better product; an unfried tortilla gets soaked with sauce while baking and loses it consistency. You decide which option is better in your circumstances, as both choices are bien sabroso.
- 2 medium to large poblano peppers
- 2 cups (1/2 liter) salsa verde (homemade or from a jar)
- 1 small bunch fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)
- Oil for frying (optional)
- 8 to 10 corn tortillas (cold, preferably leftover from the day before)
- 3 to 4 cups chicken (cooked, shredded)
- 1 1/2 cups mixed vegetables (cooked and well-drained, such as carrots, green beans, peas, corn kernels)
- 8 ounces (225 grams) shredded cheese (Chihuahua, Mexican Manchego, or some other kind that melts nicely)
Gather the ingredients.
Roast the poblano chiles under a broiler or directly over the burner of a gas stove until singed on all sides. Remove the skins, stems, and seeds.
Cut the flesh of the roasted chiles in very thin strips or chop them into pieces of about 1/2 inch / 1-centimeter square.
Place about 1/3 of the chile strips or pieces into a blender and add the salsa verde, cilantro, and the crema. Process until completely blended.
If you have decided to fry your tortillas, pour oil into a skillet until it is about half an inch (1 centimeter) deep. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Using tongs, place one tortilla into the hot oil for about 2 seconds, turn, then leave 2 more seconds. The tortilla should not change color or become hard.
Remove the tortilla from the oil, shake it over the skillet to drain off excess oil, and place it on a plate. Continue in this way until all the tortillas have been briefly fried.
Place the tortillas (regardless of whether they have been fried or not), onto a cutting board. Cut them in two, forming half circles. Preheat the oven on to 375 F / 190 C.
Pour the blended sauce into a wide, shallow bowl. One by one, lift a piece of tortilla with the tongs and place it into the sauce, turning it over once so that both sides get covered. Place it in the bottom of a lightly greased glass or metal baking dish that measures approximately 8 inches (20 centimeters) square. Continue in this way until the bottom is completely covered (which should take 5 or 6 tortilla halves).
Place half of the remaining poblano chiles, half the chicken, and half of the vegetables on top of the tortillas in the dish. Sprinkle on one-third of the shredded cheese. Top with a few spoonfuls of sauce.
Repeat the procedure to form another layer of sauce-covered tortillas topped with chiles, chicken, veggies, and cheese. Create a final layer of sauce-covered tortillas. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and distribute any remaining sauce around the sides of the baking dish.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is slightly browned. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes so that it can firm up a bit.
Use a sharp knife to cut your dish into squares and a spatula to dish portions onto individual plates.
Glass Bakeware Warning
Do not use glass bakeware when broiling or when a recipe calls to add liquid to a hot pan, as glass may explode. Even if it states oven-safe or heat resistant, tempered glass products can, and do, break occasionally.
- There is no rule that says you have to use salsa verde to make this recipe. Substitute any other Mexican cooking sauce—Ranchera Sauce, Mole, etc.—for the green sauce.
- Use shredded beef or pork in place of the chicken. Just make sure that the meat is cooked until it is very tender so that it can be easily cut with a fork once it is served.
- If you would prefer a vegetarian dish, substitute the chicken with mushrooms: sautee sliced mushrooms with a little diced onion before adding to the lasagna.
- Make this dish a bit fancier by using fresh squash or zucchini flowers instead of mixed vegetables. Slightly saute the flowers with some corn kernels and a bit of diced onion before using in the recipe.
- The technique of frying the tortillas is used often in traditional Mexican cooking and is known as pasar las tortillas por el aceite, which can be translated as “passing the tortillas through the oil.”
- If you like, serve your Mexican Lasagna with a side of pot beans (frijoles de la olla) or refried beans.