Festive and flavorful
The almost-endless array of Tex-Mex dishes makes it effortless to enjoy the cuisine’s festive flavors as often as you like.
BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY | STYLING/PHOTOS BY BROOKE ECHOLS
Long before “Taco Tuesday” became a thing, Old El Paso was making it easy for moms (or dads) everywhere to make a meal that was simple to put together and was practically guaranteed to be a hit with everyone around the dinner table. With its pre-packaged crunchy corn shells, zippy seasoning packet and peppery sauce, the Texas-based company gave home cooks everything they needed to whip up pretty tasty tacos, which are classic examples of Tex-Mex cuisine.
Tex-Mex is a style of food that actually originated north of, not south of, the border. Tex-Mex dishes are characterized by Mexican influences but often rely on items not usually found in traditional Mexican foods, things like ground beef, shredded cheddar and spices like cumin. As the first part of its name suggests, it originated in Texas, created by Texans with Mexican or Spanish roots (as well as Mexican immigrants who made their way to the Lone Star state). They blended flavors from Mexico with Texas “cowboy-culture” tastes and used readily available ingredients. Mexican restaurants started modifying menus and came up with items like burritos and nachos to please American palates, and the appeal of Tex-Mex began to spread like warm cheese dip poured over a pile of tortilla chips.
The term Tex-Mex is relatively new; it first showed up in print in the 1940s, and most sources say it was the 1970s before it was widely used. Today, we hear it regularly, and there’s been some insinuation that Tex-Mex is inferior to or a corruption of “authentic” Mexican food (which is now much easier to find). But many argue it’s not; it’s simply different and truly its own distinct category.
The popularity of Tex-Mex doesn’t seem to be in question at all; we definitely have an appetite for it. At restaurants of all types and at home, folks continue to consume it in massive amounts. In the South, we’ve even folded it into regional favorites like casseroles. And thanks to the long list of Tex-Mex recipes available, you can extend Tex-Mex’s hearty, spicy and zesty essence beyond Taco Tuesday and relish it every day of the week. Try a few of these sent in from your fellow readers.
Cook of the Month
Sheila Summers, Joe Wheeler EMC
Sheila has been making her beloved Tex-Mex recipe, Chiles Rellenos Casserole, since before the phrase “Tex-Mex” gained common usage, first whipping it up more than 40 years ago. A friend at work who hailed from Southern California shared it with her, and her first bite was her first taste of chiles. “I’d never had anything like it, but I loved it,” she says. She’s continued to make it because everyone else who’s ever tasted it loves it, too. “Every time I fix it, no matter who is eating it, they can’t get enough.” If there do happen to be leftovers, they’re equally delicious, another reason the dish maintains a permanent place in Sheila’s recipe repertoire. “When you reheat it, the cheese kinda gets caramelized around the edges, making it even yummier,” she says. And the cheese is what makes her version of her friend’s recipe distinct; the original had more Monterey Jack, but Sheila switched things up and added more cheddar. One thing you can’t mess with is the chiles. “Don’t use the diced; I tried that. It’s just not the same,” she says. “Use the whole peppers.”
Chili Rellenos Casserole
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons flour
2 twelve-ounce cans evaporated milk
4 four-ounce cans whole chilis, drained and seeds removed
12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated and divided
12 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated and divided
1 eight-ounce can tomato sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In mixing bowl, blend eggs and flour until smooth. Add evaporated milk to egg-flour mixture and mix well. Set aside. In a greased 9×11-inch baking dish layer 2 cans of the drained chilies, then layer 1/2 of the cheddar cheese, layer the remaining chilies, then layer the remaining cheddar cheese. Top with 1/2 Monterey Jack cheese. Pour egg-flour mixture over the cheese and chili layers. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with remaining Monterey Jack cheese. Top with tomato sauce. Return to oven and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to set for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Nacho Grande Casserole
2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 sixteen-ounce cans chili beans
1 twenty-nine-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1 fifteen-ounce can tomato sauce
2 packages taco seasoning mix
1 can mild Rotel tomatoes, drained
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
3 cups tortilla chips, crushed
Optional toppings: chopped
tomatoes, green onions
Cook ground beef and onions in a Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring until beef is no longer pink; drain. Add beans, corn, tomato sauce and seasoning mix; stir until blended. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 13×9-inch baking dish. Top with cheese and tortilla chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until bubbly or golden. Sprinkle with green onions and chopped tomatoes, if desired.
Angie Cousins,Central Alabama EC
3 cups self-rising cornmeal
3 jalapeno peppers, chopped (add to your taste)
1 large onion, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 can cream corn
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil, divided (3/4 cup and ¼ cup)
1 ½ cups Mexican blend cheese
Mix first 7 ingredients and ¾ cup oil. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Pour ¼ cup oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Place skillet with oil in oven to pre-heat for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon cornbread mix in skillet to cover bottom. Add cheese, covering batter, keeping cheese away from sides, to keep it from sticking. Spoon rest of mix on top of cheese. Bake 40-45 minutes.
William Ring Sr., Tallapoosa River EC
Slow Cooker Picante Chili
3 pounds ground turkey or chicken
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
Dash of olive oil
1 seventy-ounce container picante sauce
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 cans dark kidney beans
Rice, cook’s choice
Brown the ground turkey or chicken with the diced onion and diced bell pepper in olive oil. Add picante sauce, sliced mushrooms and kidney beans. Simmer 2-4 hours in a slow cooker. Serve picante chili ladled over your favorite rice.
Dolores Pope Watkins, Cullman EC
2 pounds cheddar cheese, divided
6 eggs, beaten
Jalapeno pepper, to taste
Put one-pound grated cheddar cheese in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Combine beaten eggs and peppers and pour over grated cheese. Sprinkle remaining pound of cheese over egg/pepper/cheese mixture. Bake 45-60 minutes at 375 degrees. Cut into squares and serve. Great for football tailgate snack.
Mary McGriff, Cullman EC
5 packets of instant grits
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 large can diced chilies
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Salsa, cook’s choice
Prepare grits by package directions for microwave. Stir in cheese, garlic powder, chilies and butter. Stir until butter and cheese melt. Spray a 4-quart crockpot with olive or canola oil. Pour grits mixture in crockpot and cook on high for 2-3 hours or on low for 4-5 hours. Serves 8-10. Serve for breakfast or brunch with fresh fruit on the side and your favorite salsa on top.
Peggy Goodlett, Joe Wheeler EMC
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup diced onion (about 1 small onion)
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
Salt and pepper
4 corn tortillas, cut or torn into 1/2-inch pieces
8 large eggs
1/4 cup salsa
1 cup shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack or Mexican Blend cheese
Heat the oil in a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat until simmering. Add the onion and jalapeños, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Meanwhile, place the eggs and salsa in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk to combine; set aside. When the onion is ready, add the tortillas and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the eggs. Scramble until eggs are almost set, then fold in the cheese and remove from heat. Serve with salsa, pico de gallo, cheese, sour cream, avocado, guacamole, corn or flour tortillas or beans.
Belinda Bazinet, Central Alabama EC
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