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Zox Kitchen: July 10, 2014

Vegetarian Lasagna, Mexican Style

I learned my Mexican history from TV, i must admit, from the stories many of us watched like Zorro, which have been re-written as movies in the last few years. I took a particular shine to Zorro in part because of my own name being similar or at least it seemed like it to a 5-year-old.

But all kidding aside, it is valuable to know that much that we call Mexican cuisine in this country is Spanish and is not authentically Mexican. However, this is changing since neither the Spanish nor the French were able to impose their cuisine on Mexicans, which was in fact vegetarian in large measure before Cortez arrived. The Spanish brought beasts of burden to farm and to raise for consumption. Cows, pigs, goats, sheep and chickens were all brought to the new world and in many respects imposed on Mexicans. But many indigenous people held on to their own cuisine within the regions where they lived. It came to be called Meso-American cooking with European, especially Spanish, influences.

Basic Mexican cooking has become more popular of late, and some of it can even be labeled haute cuisine today as we rediscover Mexican history through holidays like Cinco de Mayo and the foods Mexicans and other Latin people continue to introduce to us. Foods like corn, beans and chile peppers have brought us culinary specialties many people love. Corn souffle or red beans and rice come to mind. The region of Qaxaca in south central Mexico specializes in molés, the unique sauces that often include Mexican chocolate and nuts. The regions of Veracruz, Yucatan, and Chiapas bring us seafood recipes that make our mouths water.

Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef who runs two different Mexican restaurants in Chicago and a new one to open in Los Angeles, called The Red O, contributes to this new Mexican food. He has opened our eyes and our tastes to authentic Mexican cuisine such as pork tinga with potatoes, avocado, and fresh cheese and spicy grilled chicken with creamy pumpkin molé sauce published in Bon Appétit.

And this movement towards recognizing and appreciating Mexican cuisine in no small measure is influenced by the growth of the Mexican population in the United States. For example, it was startling to learn when I visited my hometown of Des Moines Iowa this past summer, that the population of the city has grown to more than 200,000 with 30,000 of that number being Mexican-Americans. Nationwide, Mexicans now consist of 17 percent or 53 million of the nation’s population and is expected to grow to more than 30 percent by 2060. Is there any question that Latins in general are having a more important impact on our everyday lives, politics and culinary tastes and preferences? Salsa is fast approaching the most popular condiment next to ketchup. And as I have illustrated below, comida Mexicana or Mexican food, can be healthy for us as well.

Mexican Style Lasagna

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

• 2 lbs. large corn tortillas, cut into 3-inch strips

• Béchamel sauce, 3 cups

• 3 cups Monterey Jack cheese, 2 1/2 cups

• Tomato sauce, with fresh basil, 2 cups

• 1 bunch red chard, ribs removed and leaves cut into thirds

• 6 large carrots cut vertically into slices

• 2 poblanos, roasted, peeled, deveined removing stem, and thinly sliced and diced. Poblanos are not that spicy (only 4 on a scale of 1-10) but only add one diced chile if you prefer muting the spiciness.

• 1/2 cup bread crumbs, toasted

• 4-5 ounces of unsalted butter

• 6 tablespoons unbleached flour

• 2 cups regular milk

• 1 teaspoon cumin

• 1 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 tablespoon diced onion

• 1 teaspoon crushed cloves

• Sea salt and ground black pepper

Directions

1. Béchamel consists of butter, milk and flour. It’s one of the classic French mother sauces. It is usually seasoned with onions or shallots, nutmeg, cloves and a pinch of salt.

2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, a bit at a time, continuing to stir or whisk as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add nutmeg and cloves, cumin, salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat. To cool this sauce for later use, cover it with wax paper or pour a small amount of milk over it to prevent a skin from forming.

3. Make the tomato sauce by combining a 15-ounce can of tomato puree with 1/2 cup chopped basil and 2 teaspoons of sea salt. Mix at medium heat for 20 minutes while simmering. Taste and set aside off the burner.

 4. Roast the poblanos at 425F on both sides for 30-40 minutes until the chilies begin to lightly blacken in color. Remove from oven and place a towel over them to steam for about 10 minutes. Then peel under the water faucet removing stems, seeds, and veins. Slice the chilies into 1/2-inch strips and then medium dice.

5. Toast the bread crumbs at 400 F for 1-2 minutes and set aside. Careful not to overcook. Or you can toast in a medium size skillet until light brown.

6. Peel and thinly cut the carrots vertically and steam or poach for 2-3 minutes.

7. Remove the chard ribs and cut the leaves into thirds. Rinse well and leaving the leaves moist, place in a medium skillet. Cover the leaves and heat at high temperature for 2-3 minutes until wilted. Remove and set aside.

8. Cut the large corn tortillas into 3 inch wide slices

9. Begin to assemble the lasagna by layering the ingredients. Pour the béchamel, the cheese and the tomato sauce, which has cooled off, into one mixing bowl and gently mix for a minute. Pour one cup of sauce on the bottom. Next add the tortillas strips. Follow by adding about 1/3 cup of chard next, followed by 1/3 cup of carrots, followed by 1/3 of the diced poblanos.

Repeat the layers two more times if there is room — otherwise, only make 2 layers. Add sauce; noodles; chard leaves; carrots; and poblanos, finishing on top with all the bread crumbs.

10. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 1 hour at 375 F. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes more at 400 F. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Please send comments, questions or observations of interest to Chef Alan at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For details about past columns, catering or Chef Zox’s blog, please visit www.zoxkitchen.com