mexican-ish casserole

6    |   
Prep Time:
15 minutes    |   
Cook Time:
35 to 40 minutes

print this page
mexican-ish casserole

When times are tough, I say to Sam, “Two words: Mexican Casserole.” Now I’m going to give you the same advice because this dish is more crucial than ever. It’s made with food you probably have on hand; food you can buy almost everywhere, even at the corner store (our neighborhood bodega has been a lifesaver); food you can store for a long time.

Yes, it’s a throwback to the 1960s, which is when my mother started making this for her family of six, but those were uncertain times too (for totally different reasons). And I know it is barely “Mexican” in the true sense of that country’s rich and complex culinary tradition; it is a California creation inspired by Mexican-ish ingredients. To bring things up to date, you can make it vegetarian without the meat (add more cheese) or vegan without either. Eat it for dinner then reheated for lunch the next day then with an egg on top for breakfast the day after that. As we say around here, MC just keeps on giving.

While we shelter-in-place in San Francisco, I will be making it over and over. I have 2 pounds of grass-fed ground beef in the freezer and I’m thankful my local butcher is still open for business. I can’t give cooking classes right now and I can’t give food tours, but at least I can share this recipe and hope that you stay safe and stay healthy and stay sane. Cooking helps with all three.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil, any kind
1 yellow, white, or red onion, chopped (use 1/2 onion if it’s huge)
1 pound ground chuck or ground sirloin or any ground beef
2 tablespoons chili powder
kosher salt
1 can (14-ounces) chopped tomatoes
1 can pinto or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup raw white rice
1/2 cup grated cheddar or jack cheese


In a 10- to 12-inch saute pan or ovenproof skillet with a lid, warm the oil over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the meat and cook, stirring, until browned (drain fat if desired). Stir in the chili powder and a good pinch of salt.

Stir in the tomatoes,  beans, rice, and 3/4 can of water from the tomato can, swishing it around to get all the clingy tomato stuff. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover pan and cook over low heat for 35 minutes, then turn off heat and sprinkle cheese over top of casserole. Place pan under a broiler until cheese is melted and a little crusty. Serve. Leftovers store well for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

note: you can also bake this in the oven. To do so, preheat oven to 350° and follow recipe to the point where you have added all the ingredients and brought them to a boil, then cover pan and transfer to the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and proceed with cheese as directed above.