Can you tell by the picture that this is one of our favorites? This vegetarian Mexican casserole freezes beautifully and serves up a delicious meal….I can’t remember for the life of me where I first read about vegetarian Mexican casseroles or even where the bare bones of this recipe originated, but it doesn’t really matter. This has been a staple in my recipe box for several years now and will always be a favorite. I’ve gifted new mommies and grieving friends with this freezer meal, a bag of tortilla chips, small container of sour cream and an avocado. ALL have appreciated the flavors. It’s comfort food for the soul, yet healthy too! And for some, it has been a surprise how much they actually enjoy a meat-free Mexican dinner!
The best part about this casserole is the homemade polenta at the bottom. “Po-what” you say? Polenta! It’s a soft boiled dough made from course ground yellow corn. When cooled, it hardens into a sweet and salty base for our baked casserole. It sounds tricky, but homemade polenta is actually very simple to make. The texture of the polenta really compliments the next layer of hearty beans, corn, salsa, spices, lime and fresh cilantro. Finished with a generous layer of Monterey Jack and served with your preferred Mexican toppings, this favorite casserole is soon to become one of your favorites too! Since there is no meat to brown or prepare, it comes together in about 30 minutes and feeds a hungry crowd of at least 8. Ready to make our favorite Mexican casserole with me?
Come on in to my kitchen!
Here are the stars of the show! The polenta needs only quality cornmeal, water, salt, sugar and butter. That’s it! The next layer involves ingredients you might already have on hand this time of year – canned pinto and black beans, frozen corn, salsa, diced tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, fresh lime juice, spices and yummy cheese.
To make the polenta (seriously, it is so easy), start by bringing 3 cups of water to boil in a large pan. As soon as the water boils, add 1 cup of cornmeal (I use Hodgson Mill brand because it is coarse ground which makes a better polenta). It was hard to hold the camera at the same time, but as you pour the cornmeal into the boiling water, use a whisk to break it down until smooth. Now, turn your heat to as low as you can to you have a bare simmer and set the timer for 15 minutes. We want the corn to cook and soak up most of the water. To help it out, whisk the polenta occasionally during those 15 minutes.
While the polenta is cooking, get out a large bowl and combine all the ingredients starting with the beans. You will add 2 cans of drained pinto beans, 1 can of drained black beans, 1 cup of frozen corn (fresh is fine too!) 1 – 16 oz. jar of your favorite salsa, 1 – 15 oz. can of drained diced tomatoes (fresh is fine too!), 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 1/3 cup chopped red onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 T. fresh lime juice (about 1/2 lime), 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. oregano and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix it all together!
**Couple notes on the jar of salsa… it’s best to use thicker salsas here so that your casserole does not become too runny after it’s baked. Also, the salsa I used has quite a bit of cumin in it already, so I omitted the 2 tsp. of cumin from the recipe. Truly, this casserole can become your own! Feel free to add bell peppers, hot Mexican spices or whatever you have in plenty from the summer garden.
After you’ve mixed together the rainbow of beans and veggies in your bowl, the timer for the polenta should be going off. Now you will want to add 2 T. butter, 1 T. of granulated sugar, 1 tsp. of salt and some cracked black pepper. Whisk it again and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Spread the polenta at the bottom of a foil pan. Here I am using a pan size 9 3/8 x 9 3/8 x 2 3/8 – also known as a poultry pan. Other larger, but more shallow pans will work just as well. Pour your bean mixture on top of the polenta and top with 2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack cheese. If you prefer another type of Mexican cheese or sharp cheddar, go for it!
To freeze the casserole, cover with some heavy duty foil and label with baking instructions. From freezer to oven, it will need to bake for 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven or until the cheese is golden and sides are bubbling. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Of course, sometimes this casserole never makes it to the freezer! It’s simple, healthy and full of flavor. Even our 1-year old couldn’t get enough 🙂
- 1 cup quality cornmeal
- 3 cups water
- 2 T. butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 T. sugar
- cracked black pepper
- 2 pinto beans, drained
- 1 can black beans, drained
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 16 oz. can favorite salsa
- 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
- ½ cup cilantro, chopped
- ⅓ cup red onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 T. fresh lime juice
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. oregano
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 cups Monterrey jack cheese, shredded
- To make polenta, bring 3 cups of water to boil in a large pan. Whisk in 1 cup of cornmeal. Turn the heat down to a bare simmer and cook for 15 minutes, whisking occasionally.
- Meanwhile, mix together 2 cans of drained pinto beans, 1 can of drained black beans, 1 cup of fresh or frozen corn, 1 - 16 oz. jar of thick salsa, 1 - 15 oz. can of drained diced tomatoes, ½ cup chopped cilantro, ⅓ cup chopped red onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 T. fresh lime juice, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. oregano and ½ tsp. salt. Set aside.
- After 15 minutes, whisk in to the polenta: 2 T. butter, 1 T. of granulated sugar, 1 tsp. of salt and cracked black pepper. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Spread the polenta at the bottom of a foil pan. Next, pour on your bean mixture and top with 2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack cheese.
- Cover with heavy duty foil, label, and freeze. From freezer to oven, bake for 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven or until the cheese is golden and sides are bubbling. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.