This is a great southwestern, or Tex-Mex dish that I can almost guarantee everyone will fall in love with. Though I am not a Texan, and never was a fan of Tex-Mex food, I really love the flavors in this casserole. Recently my husband and I saw a re-run of Guy Fieri’s show on the Food Network, called “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives”. Each episode, he visits several watering holes or food institutions in different cities across the U.S. The premise is that even though these places might be “down-home” diners or holes-in-the-wall, they make awesome food that keeps people coming back for years. He also features food joints with unique décor or alternative takes on classic foods. Anyhow, if you like food and travel, the show is worth a watch. Be forewarned though, it will make you extremely hungry.
In this particular episode, Guy Fieri meets Mr. “Alright Alright Alright” himself, aka Matthew McConaughey in his home town in Texas, where a local diner is serving a favorite dish called “King Ranch Casserole”. The owner says that it is a classic Texan recipe with many variations. After seeing this episode and nearly drooling at the screen, my my husband and I decided to give this casserole a try.
I found a recipe on Food Network’s website (which is almost always a sure bet), and made some of my own personal variations and changes to their recipe. The result was DEE-LICIOUS. As my husband described it, it’s like a pizza without the crust. The combination of tomato, onion, crunchy bell pepper, mushrooms, topped with black olives, chicken, and shredded cheese is to die for. Not to mention that these ingredients are layered over soft flour torillas which melt in your mouth after baking. Mmmm-hmmm. You have to try this! I can’t imagine anyone not liking this casserole after a long day of work, it’s awesome comfort food.
One of the great things about it is that you can vary the ingredients however you like; omit the chicken to make it vegetarian, add in some jalapenos for a spicy kick, toss in some fresh corn off the cob, the possibilities are endless. This recipe works particularly well if you have some left over chicken that needs to be used, like rotisserie or plain baked or grilled chicken breast. I imagine you could also use pork or beef if you prefer it. I’ve also lightened up the Food Network and TV recipes by using white meat instead of dark, 1% fat milk instead of cream, and not frying the tortillas prior to layering the casserole. This makes the dish light and healthy but still flavorful and delicious.
Healthy King Ranch Casserole
• 2-3 medium breasts or about 3 cups cooked chicken cut or pulled into bite size pieces
• 1/4 tsp. chili powder
• 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
• ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
• 1/8 tsp. cayenne
• Dash of red pepper flakes
• 1/2 cup milk of choice
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
• 1/2 medium red or orange bell pepper, roughly chopped
• 8 oz. package of white button mushrooms, chopped
• One 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, liquid drained and reserved
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• Salt and pepper to taste
• ½ of a 6 oz drained can of medium pitted black olives
• ½-3/4 cup shredded cheese (chedder, mozzarella,etc)
• 3-4 soft 9” flour torillas
- Saute onions and garlic over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add bell pepper and mushrooms. Saute until cooked through, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chili powder, cumin, paprika, and cayenne and mix thoroughly for 1 minute. Add can of petite diced tomatoes and stir to incorporate.Let the mixture simmer for 5-10 minutes on low-medium heat.
- Add 1/2 cup of milk and stir continuously . Add to the sauce the 2 tbsp. of all-purpose flour and mix evenly until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Add a thin layer of the tomato sauce to the dish. Top with a torilla and press down. You will need to cut the torilla in half or in thirds to make it cover the whole pan. Top the torilla with another layer of sauce and spread evenly. Add diced chicken, black olives, and a sprinkling of cheese on top of the sauce. Next, add another torilla. Layer the toppings in the same order; sauce, chicken, olives, and cheese. Continue until you’ve used the torillas (this should be about 3 layers). You should finish with sauce topped with a final sprinkling of chicken, olives, and cheese.
- Bake in the oven uncovered at 350°F for 30-35 minutes. The cheese should be gooey and melted. Serve hot and enjoy wearing a cowboy hat!
*recipe adapted from Food Network’s “King Ranch Chicken”