Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't Mess with Texas

Shhhh! Don't tell anyone, but Mr. Wendy and I are not real Texans. We moved to the Lone Star State almost exactly five years ago. For the most part, we've acclimated. I still wilt about mid-July and don't leave the air conditioned comfort of my home unless I absolutely must. And I still have to place my trust in a higher power when I get on the interstate. (I'd invoke Carrie Underwood and beg Jesus to take the wheel, but I'm hoping he's busy steering the semis hurtling down 35E.)

On the whole, though, we've adjusted to our new home.

Probably the toughest thing to get used to was the food. Two twenty-year vegetarians moving to the heart of cattle country? Sounds like the premise for a bad sit-com. I thought my hill-billy kin were bad about slipping bacon into everything on the menu, but they've got nothing on Texans. There's pork fat, chicken stock, or lard hiding in just about everything.

So for the past five years, it's been us versus Texas food.

Except when it comes to Tex-Mex. Oh my. Tex-Mex is where Team WatHawk and Texas find common ground. We have to be vigilant about the above-mentioned stealth pork, but Tex-Mex can be done well without the meat, and we're huge fans.

This casserole is my homage to Texas, but totally animal-free: no meat, no dairy, no eggs. In a word, vegan. The potato filling is so luscious and the sauce so, well, saucy, you'll never miss the cheese. What's more, it's quick to put together and doesn't require much stove time, so it's become one of my go-to summer dinner party meals. If you really want to, you could add some cheese (cheddar or jack would be good). Or you could make a totally different filling. It's the sauce--with its special ingredient--that you simply must try!

(By the way, the dish is named for our cat Todd. He has never made the dish for us, though I like to think he would. If he were a little taller and had thumbs.)

Todd's Potato and Pinto Enchilada Bake

Here's what you'll need before you begin assembly. Don't fret. There are lots of pieces, but they're all super-easy.

1 recipe enchilada sauce
1 recipe potato filling
1 recipe pinto bean filling
18 6-inch corn tortillas

Enchilada Sauce

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs. flour
1/4 cup chili powder
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 oz. Mexican chocolate*
salt to taste

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in flour, reduce heat to medium, and cook until lightly brown, stirring constantly to prevent flour from burning. Stir in chili powder, then slowly mix in vegie broth, getting rid of any lumps. Stir tomato sauce, cumin, and garlic powder into sauce and continue cooking over medium heat approximately 10 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Stir in chocolate to melt. Season to taste with salt.

* Mexican chocolate comes in tablets for making hot chocolate. Abuelita is the brand I get most often, but there are several. Look for them in the Hispanic or international food section of your grocery store. If you cannot find Mexican chocolate, you can use unsweetened chocolate and add a dash of cinnamon.

Potato Filling

1 bag frozen, steam-in-bag russet or sweet potatoes*
10-16 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed (whatever size your grocery store carries!)
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
dash of ground chipotle or cayenne

Press as much water out of the spinach as you can (put it in a colander and press with the back of a spoon). Mash the potatoes with a fork or a potato masher; they don’t need to be smooth, just mushed a bit. Stir in the spinach, cumin, garlic powder, and chipotle/cayenne.

*In the alternative, use 2 pounds russet or sweet potatoes, peeled, diced, and boiled in salted water until tender.

Pinto Bean Filling

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fat free refried beans
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan, mashing some of the beans with the back of a fork. Heat over medium-low flame until hot.


Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9x13 pan with a little non-stick spray and spread about 1/2 a cup of enchilada sauce in the bottom. Arrange 6 corn tortillas on the bottom, tearing and overlapping so that the whole bottom of the pan is covered.

Spread 1/2 of the potato filling on the tortillas.

Ladle half of the pinto filling over the potatoes, and drizzle about 1/2 a cup of enchilada sauce over the pintos.

Repeat with another 6 tortillas, the rest of the potatoes, the rest of the pintos, and another 1/2 cup of sauce. Top with the last 6 corn tortillas and ladle the rest of the sauce over the tortillas (so they are totally covered).

Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes.

Voila! Delicious, nutritious, and so, so easy!

For information about Wendy's Mysteries a la Mode and more yummy recipes, visit her website. The first in the series, I Scream, You Scream, is available now; the second Mystery a la Mode, Scoop to Kill, will be released in September.

You can follow Wendy on Twitter or Facebook.


  1. An Ohio Vegan in Tex's Cattle Country... I think that was the original title to Mark twain's book, just before some editor told him that historical fiction would sell better...

    Wendy, welcome to the blog. I just read your bio... Constitutional law... in Texas??? hmmm, the jokes are rolling around, but i will let other ponder this.

    Love your recipe. Will make a terrific side dish for brisket (sorry)

  2. I'm one of those people who would probably fit right in with Texas food, I love meat. But you've made this recipe look yummy and sound so easy to prepare it will come in handy for quick get-togethers. Thanks.

    Thoughts in Progress

  3. Wendy, my youngest daughter is going to love this one! She's the lone vegetarian amongst us meat-eaters (though I admit we've been cutting back for the past two years along with her) and I'm always looking for dishes that will appeal to all of us. We love Tex-Mex so this one is a keeper. I'm looking forward to going shopping already!


  4. YotG - believe me, I am well aware of the comedic fodder my life provides. Oy.

    And for both you and Mason, there's really no reason you couldn't add some shredded brisket to the casserole. (Wow - I hope they don't revoke my vegetarian card for that ...)

    Julie - hope your daughter (and your whole family) enjoys it. :)

  5. Wendy-

    I just discovered Abuelita's Syrup de Chocolate
    last week. When we were in San Diego, I ordered a Mexicali Mocha and they used the Abuelita syrup. (Oh my, it's as close to heaven as a person can get at seven o'clock in the morning -- without being dead). I'm definitely going to try this dish! YUM!!!

  6. Potatoes in enchiladas? Who'd have thunk! Great recipe, Wendy.


  7. I can't help thinking this is like the Tex Mex version of lasagna. Tortillas instead of noodles, enchilada sauce instead of tomato, cumin instead of oregano, and a vegetarian filling. Great recipe, Wendy!

    BTW, when Todd figures out how to make this, send him by my house to teach Mochie, please. ; )

  8. Oh this sounds really good thank you Wendy for sharing this. I never thought of potatoes and enchiladas together my family will love it.

  9. I love this idea! Now I will have to try it, since we do eat fish but no fowl, beef or pork. Thanks, Wendy. (BTW, working on an essay and the Abuelita chocolate figures into it -- nice surprise to see the pic when I was just visualizing it last night.)

  10. Cleone HawkinsonJuly 14, 2010 at 5:20 PM

    Double-take here on the 1/4 CUP? of chili powder in the sauce. Really? Whoa!

  11. I love this recipe, Wendy! We love eating meatless here at least once and week and this sounds perfect for our rotation! Thanks for sharing it!

  12. Great to see so much love for the Abuelita! Jenn, thanks for tipping me off to the syrup ... yum!!

    Cleone, yes, it's really 1/4 cup of chili powder. This is not cayenne, mind you, but New Mexico chili powder. It's not terribly spicy. Honest. I have a low tolerance for hot-hot, and this is not. To keep costs manageable, I recommend looking at the rack of celo-bags of herbs and spices. You can usually find bags of chili powder (1/2 cup per bag) for just a couple of dollars. Even cheaper if you hit an international market.

    The one thing that's really negotiable in the sauce is the oil. I've made this with as little as 2 Tbs. of oil (half of what the recipe calls for). It still works, but it doesn't have quite the same mouth feel. :)

  13. Sounds fantastic. I'll ck for some milder chili powder (I have some pretty hot non-cayenne I bought in bulk and haven't a clue about the origin) - thanks for the tip and the recipe.

  14. Great recipe, Wendy. It's printed out and in my file now. I'm a confirmed carnivore, but this sounds terrific. Thanks for making us laugh too. I needed that!


    Charlotte Adams mysteries