Love for Nigella

In this day and age of chefs as celebrities and whole channels devoted to cooking, I'm sure we all have a favorite. I tend to go back and forth between a few different household names (mark bittman, hugh fearnley-whittingstall, jamie oliver) but I'll always have love for nigella lawson. In fact, before I actually got cooking in the kitchen myself, I watched her cooking shows and collected her cookbooks. The first recipe I ever wrote in my (now full) recipe notebook was her "noodle soup for needy people" - a soup that I still sometimes make! While most of Nigella's recipes are baked, sugary delights - expertly prepared to comfort and entice your sweet tooth - she occasionally whips up a dish that raises my interest and makes it impossible for me to ignore. When I received her most recent cookbook, kitchen, for Christmas, and watched a few episodes of the accompanying tv series on the BBC, it was her recipe for mexican lasagne that caught my eye.

The initial reason for my making this recipe was simply the fact that Nigella recommends goat cheddar instead of any other number of cows milk cheeses. Exciting! And while I love Mexican food as much as the next person (who used to live in Southern California and became somewhat of a Mexican food snob as a result), it is difficult to name this dish "Mexican lasagne". It just sounds wrong. OK, so there are tortillas involved, some beans and corn, a little guac on top (not "avocado salsa" as she suggests). But the idea is a good one, and I'm not going to fault Nigella for it. Phil can vouch for it being a good recipe - he ate every last morsel.

Forgive the terrible photo. While it might taste good, it's near impossible to take an appetizing picture of any lasagne, let alone this one... my take on the original recipe appears below.

Nigella's Mexican Lasagne

Serves 4; original recipe from nigella kitchen

The particulars:

  • 1 tbsp oil of your choice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 green chili, roughly chopped (seeds optional)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro stalks
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes + 1 can full of water
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste (please don't use ketchup like she suggests! that's silly!)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cob of corn kernels
  • 1 cup goat cheddar, grated
  • 4-6 soft tortillas (corn or whole wheat)
  1. Heat the oven to 400F.
  2. Make the sauce by heating the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, pepper, and chili. Sprinkle in 1 tsp of sea salt and cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the cilantro stalks, the chopped tomatoes, and pour in the empty can refilled with water. Spoon in the tomato paste, and stir to dissolve in the liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave for at least 10 minutes. You want this to go from watery to thickened, so let this cook while you prepare everything else.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the beans, corn kernels, and about 3/4 of the grated cheese (leave some to sprinkle on the top at the end).
  5. Start layering up your lasagna by spooning roughly a third of the tomato sauce in the bottom of an ovenproof dish (round or rectangular, doesn't matter, so long as it's deep). Place two tortillas on top, overlapping in the middle. Add a third of the beans/corn/cheese mixture, then some more sauce, and two more tortillas.
  6. Continue layering until you have run out of space and/or ingredients. The last two layers should be tortillas and the reserved grated cheese. Bake in the hot oven for 30 minutes.
  7. Let it cool slightly before serving. Some nice cool guacamole with the cilantro leaves makes a wonderful garnish.