A good casserole is one of the best comfort foods. You just can’t beat a one-dish meal for convenience – just pop it in the oven and relax – or for the great way the ingredients play off each other. This Latin-style lasagna is both sweet and savory, with cumin-spiced ground beef, layers of plantains, and mildly spicy pepper-jack cheese.
I can’t emphasize the importance of using RIPE plantains enough. I was impatient – two of the plantains I used were perfectly ripe, but two were still a little green. The difference between the taste and texture of ripe and not-so-ripe was huge. After sauteing the ripe plantains, the slices were soft and buttery, with a subtle sweetness. The green plantain slices were tough and dry, and had all the flavor you would expect from cardboard. Be sure that you use plantains that have black skins, or that are yellow with lots of black spots on the skin.
This is the basic recipe that I used, modified from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for Cuban-Style Beef and Plantain Pie, and inspired by Ingrid Hoffmann’s Latin Lasagna from Simply Delicioso. We really enjoyed this lasagna, despite the presence of unripe plantain interspersed in the casserole. Next time I make this, aside from using riper fruit, I might add a layer of ricotta with cilantro mixed in, or top it with a decadent layer of cheesy, white sauce. My mouth is watering already!
- 1 sweet onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 1 pound ground beef (grass-fed)
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 16-ounces diced tomatoes (with juice)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked, hot paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ripe plantains (black-skinned, or heavily spotted)
- coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil (to saute plantains)
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons water
- ~ 12 ounces pepper Jack cheese, shredded
- Fresh cilantro, chopped, for serving
Heat coconut oil (or EVOO) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and red bell peppers; cook until softened, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute or until garlic is fragrant. Add beef and pork. Cook until browned, stirring and breaking up clumps. Drain off all but 2-3 tablespoons of fat, if necessary (will depend on fattiness of beef and pork used).
Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, raisins, vinegar, oregano, cumin, paprika, coriander, salt, and pepper. Simmer for around 15 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; adjust seasonings to taste. The meat mixture should be moist and a little saucy. If it seems too dry, stir in some water or broth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Peel plantains. (They do not peel easily, like bananas. I found it easier to slit the thick skin open, lengthwise, then slide the skin off in one piece.)
Slice in half, crosswise, then slice each half lengthwise into 3 long slices. In a large skillet, heat ~1/4 cup coconut oil (or EVOO) over medium high heat. Saute the plantain slices in batches until golden brown, 2-3 minutes on each side. Add additional oil, if needed. Transfer the cooked plantain slices to drain on paper towels.
Assembling the casserole:
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly oil a lasagna pan or large casserole dish.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and water until blended.
Place about 1/3 of the meat mixture in the bottom of the pan as a base. Top with half of the plantain slices, and then about half the shredded cheese. Add a good layer of meat (about 1/2 of what is remaining). Pour half the egg mixture into the pan, spreading it out over the ingredients. Layer with the remaining plantains, meat, and cheese. Pour the remaining egg mixture over the top of the casserole – spreading it out to distribute evenly.
Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil, and bake at 350F until hot throughout and bubbly (about 45 minutes). Remove foil, and bake for around 10 more minutes to brown the cheese on top. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with fresh cilantro.
XTC has long been one of my favorite bands, sadly they are no more. But what a brilliant collection of works they left. First, one of my “Top 10” albums, Apple Venus Volume 1, their final release (sorta…). At this point the band was just Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, but what a glorious noise they made! This sublime release is complete ear candy, from the opening rain drops of “River of Orchids” to Moulding’s “Knights in Shining Karma”. Hard to believe this was released in 1999…or that it’s out of print. For shame.
Now, one of the first albums by XTC, Drums & Wires. This was the first release by the band that got noticed in America, and I can remember “Life Begins at the Hop” and “Making Plans for Nigel” seemed to be on constant repeat on my Walkman (kids, ask your parents…it was the precursor to the ipod!). Essential!