28 January 2014

Tamal Azteca

It was a dark and stormy night ... and supper needed to be hearty and filling. Enough sweeping and shoveling snow! We made up the fires, dried out the mittens, put on the warm slippers and heavy sweaters and dipped into a steaming vegetable casserole with the biggest serving spoon in the drawer.

Bowls of Tamal Azteca and balloons of deep red Rioja - that's all. Until we were full and happily warmed from the inside as nicely as we were by the woodstove fires. Sunday suppers should be that warming on a snowy winter night, don't you think?

A spicy little jalapeno archipelago gives fire-roasted tomatoes some heat, whiz the can (well, not the CAN - you know what I mean! lol!) and the peppers in the blender and make a sauce ...

Notice the small can and not the bigger 28-oz. can? I halved the recipe and it still made four hearty servings.

Bubble the sauce on the stove top for about a half hour. Stir it often, but stand clear of it if you've used really spicy peppers ... I didn't. I leaned in for a nice sniff and had teary eyes for the next five minutes ... I just HAD to smell all that onion and garlic and cilantro ... and jalapeno! While the sauce bubbles, squeeze the moisture from the spinach and break it into fluffy clumps, thinly slice some zucchini squash, thaw some frozen shoe-peg corn, chop a huge handful of cilantro, and grate some Parmesan and Monterey Jack (the kind with hot peppers in it!).

Spritz some corn tortillas with olive oil  and toast them in a hot oven for a few minutes ... doesn't matter if they begin to break up. You will use them in 'messy layers' between the vegetables that make the Tamal Azteca.

Butter the bottom and sides of a deep dish pie plate or casserole dish, put a generous layer of tomato sauce in the bottom and begin layering: tortillas, all the spinach, some Jack cheese, some cilantro, some sauce, tortillas, all the corn, all the zucchini, some sauce and some Jack cheese, tortillas, some Jack cheese, the last of the cilantro, some sauce, the last of the tortillas, the last of the Jack cheese, the Parmesan cheese, and the last of the sauce. Sprinkle the top with some salt and black pepper and any little dribbles of cilantro laying on the cutting board. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree Farenheit oven. Uncover and continue baking for another 15 minutes or so - let the top get golden and bubbly.

Yum ... once again, I've managed to make a gluten-free and meatless supper that's stuffed with vegetables. I deserve that glass of wine!

Tamal Azteca
a Beth Hensperger recipe that's been down-sized

Ingredient List:

14 oz. can fire-roasted tomato chunks in their juices
half a large jalapeno pepper, chopped -seeds, veins and all if you want good 'heat'
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped- small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 generous cup, warm chicken broth
½ tsp. Kosher salt (optional)
1 c. fresh cilantro, chopped and divided in half
2 boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, fluffed
1 medium zucchini (about 8 inches long), tipped and thinly sliced
2 handfuls frozen white shoe-peg corn (it’s sweeter and more tender than the yellow stuff) – thawed
½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. Monterey Pepper Jack cheese, coarsely grated

Making the Dish:

1.     Place the can of tomatoes and their juices and the chopped jalapeno pepper in a blender and whiz them until they are smooth. Set aside.
2.     Place the olive oil, and chopped onion in a large heavy sauce pan and sauté for a few minutes. Add the minced garlic and continue cooking for a minute.
3.     Add the tomato sauce, the chicken broth, salt, and half the cilantro. Lower the heat and let the sauce cook uncovered for about half an hour. Stir frequently to judge thickness. When the sauce has cooked down and coats the back of the spoon, turn off the heat and let it settle a bit.
4.     Prep the vegetables and have everything by your buttered casserole dish.
5.     Pre heat the oven to 350° F.
6.     While the sauce cooks down, spritz a cookie sheet and the corn tortillas with a bit of olive oil (olive oil cooking spray works well here) and layer them loosely on the cookie sheet.  Roast them for 10 minutes. Turn them and continue roasting for another 3-5 minutes.
7.     Remove them from the oven and have them handy nearby.
8.     Grate the cheese and begin layering the Tamal Azteca (when the sauce seems right)– ¼ the sauce, a layer of tortillas, all the spinach, some of the cilantro, some of the Pepper Jack, some of the sauce, more tortillas, all the zucchini, more cilantro, all the corn, some more of the Pepper Jack, some more sauce, the last of the tortillas, the Parmesan, the last of the sauce, the last of the Pepper Jack, any last bits of cilantro.
9.     Sprinkle on some Kosher salt and black pepper.
10. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes or so, until the cheesy top is golden and bubbly.

NOTE: This dish was just as good the next day when we heated the last two servings for our lunch. This convinced us that you could make the dish ahead, take it to a pot luck or party, and just re-heat it for serving. If it were part of a buffet, it could easily serve 8 small 'try-it' servings.


  1. I've never heard of this before but it sounds incredible - love those flavours - and perfect for a winter's night.

  2. hearty and filling indeed... and after my night of tequila (I know... it's only Tuesday!) but this looks genuinely what I need!

    1. Oh dear, I feel your pain. Tequila and I had a severe run in years ago and the worm won ... I have had it once or twice since (mostly to experiment and see if my stomach would remain settled) ... alas, I cannot tolerate the wicked brew to this day. I'll take a sedate glass of red wine any day ... wink!

  3. That looks amazing and perfect for a miserable day like today

  4. I would like some now please! (we have our fire made. our mittens dried and our slippers are on)


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