Chicken Taco Casserole

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This is a complete meal with protein, vegetables, and grains. The beans used here may be canned or dry. Dry beans would require an overnight soaking. You can use a 16-oz. bag of black beans or pinto beans. Before rinsing the beans, pick off any particles that don’t belong there, such as small pebbles. Cover the beans with cold water and let soak overnight.

The next day, the beans will need to be cooked first. The fastest way to do so is to use a pressure cooker, which is a specially sealed pot that cooks food quickly due to the physics of steam and pressure. Without getting technical or sidetracked here, I suggest you Google pressure cooker to learn more about it. It is an excellent way to make certain dishes quickly. For example, if you wish to make beef stew and use a cheap cut of meat, you can easily and quickly tenderize the meat by using a pressure cooker. Also, the pressure cooker makes excellent shredded pork or chicken.

Back to the beans; drain the water the beans have been soaking in overnight. Assuming you have a pressure cooker, put the beans in the cooker and put in enough water to cover them. Put the pressure cooker on the stove and cook over medium heat. Once the regulator starts moving on the lid, turn down the heat to 4, if medium is 5, and turn on the timer for 15 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker then just cook the beans in a regular pot. Cook over medium heat until the beans are tender; this may take about an hour or so, but stir the pot occasionally and add more water to keep the beans covered.

As the beans are cooking, take a half pound of skinless, boneless chicken and cut it into small pieces. You can also use cooked leftover chicken. Set the chicken aside after you’ve cut it up. Slice an onion. Next, crush and cut up three cloves of garlic.

When the beans are ready (I’m assuming you know to wait until the little pin on the pressure cooker lid goes down, indicating all the steam inside the cooker has been let out), take out half of the cooked beans. Use a slotted spoon so you don’t carry over much liquid, but don’t discard the liquid. Store the other half of the cooked beans for later use. You can freeze this, along with some of its liquid, so you can make stew, soup or another casserole with the beans another time.

Now the cooking begins—get a big skillet, put oil in it and sauté garlic for a minute over medium heat. Add the sliced onion, sauté for a minute. Add the chicken, put in one or two packets of taco seasoning mix (try McCormick’s chicken taco seasoning mix or Frontera’s New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce with roasted tomato and mild red chile). If you use the seasoning mix, then pour in some of the liquid from the beans, or use water. Put in enough liquid so the chicken doesn’t stick to the skillet. Now put a lid over the skillet to cook the chicken. Stir occasionally to make sure the chicken isn’t sticking to the bottom. When the chicken is fully cooked, add the beans and add just enough liquid so the chicken and beans don’t stick. Put the lid back on and turn down the heat to medium low. When the mixture starts bubbling, add in a bag of frozen spinach (10 oz.) and stir, add a little bit more liquid if needed to make sure nothing sticks to the skillet.

After about two minutes, when the spinach is fully mixed in with the chicken and beans, turn off the stove. If there seems to be too much liquid, add a small handful of 100% ground corn meal so some of the liquid can be absorbed, but don’t overdo it. The mixture shouldn’t be dry or watery. Transfer the whole concoction into a big bowl where you will stir in dollops of sour cream (put in however much you want, depending how much you like sour cream).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take out a 13” x 11” glass dish and spray it with olive oil. Pour in about ¼ cup of pre-made or homemade salsa in the dish. Place in it three 6-inch corn tortillas, and spread the tortillas out. They will not fully cover the whole bottom of the dish, but that’s okay. Put in a layer of the chicken, bean, and spinach mixture and sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over the top. Next, spread a thin layer of salsa. Follow up with another layer of three 6-inch corn tortillas, repeat the layering previously described.

When you get close to the brim of the glass dish, the final layers should be salsa followed by shredded cheddar cheese. Cover loosely with foil. Make sure the foil is not sticking to the top layer of the casserole because at some point, you will take off the foil to brown the top layer of cheese.

Place the casserole in the oven and time it for 40 minutes, at which time if the mixture is bubbly, you can take off the foil to brown the cheese for about 10-15 minutes.

When done, serve the casserole with avocado or guacamole. Eat with relish.

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