Chicken Tortilla Casserole

I don’t really do well on beach vacations.

For a lot of small (and pretty vain, now I think about it) reasons.

I have naturally curly hair that tends to puff up like a cotton ball in high humidity, driving me nuts.

And I have kind of a love-hate thing with the midday sun.  I love sunny weather, like anyone. But I have fair skin that burns before it tans, and I become more and more fearful of wrinkles (and therefore, the sun) as I watch every birthday come … and go.

The bigger reason: I like to keep busy even when I’m on vacation –  touring cities, seeing sites – I want to know what the culture (and most definitely, the food!) are all about in any new place.

But I did make it to Mexico once several years ago for a relaxing beach vacation.

And I was able to appreciate that the beaches were incredibly beautiful.

Also, the food was amazing.

I had the best tortilla soup, memorable in all its contrasting flavors: savory (from the chicken broth) yet sweet (from the corn), and light (from the crisp veggies) yet rich (from the melted cheese), and creamy (from the avocado) yet crunchy (from the tortilla strips). Pretty much perfection.

And I could eat soup any day of the week.

I do eat soup almost every day for lunch.

But my meat-and-potatoes-guy thinks of soup more as a precursor to the main event.  He has trouble with the idea of a soup really being a meal in itself.

That’s the big selling point with this casserole.

It’s all the best of a chicken tortilla soup – tons of flavorful healthy veggies and all the same delicious flavors.

But it’s a really hearty casserole guaranteed to fill every meat-and-potato-loving member of the family.

Here are all the key players for this dish.

Begin by microwaving some parboiled brown rice according to the instructions on the package – this will be added to the casserole later on.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut some skinless, boneless chicken breasts into cubes.

Heat up some extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.

Add the chicken and season well with salt and pepper.

Cook until the outsides are nice and golden, and then scoop the chicken into a bowl.

Cover it and set it aside.

Turn the heat to medium.

Mince some garlic and dice a small onion.

Add to the pan and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.

Next, dice a jalapeño pepper.

Jalapeños are pretty readily available in most grocery stores.

They taste like a slightly spicy bell pepper.

It’s best to remove the seeds (the spiciest part of the pepper) so you get some flavor from the pepper without much heat.

Begin by chopping off both ends.

Cut it in half, then into quarters, lengthwise.

Now you can easily use your knife to remove the ribs and seeds.

Once the seeds are removed, cut each quarter into thin strips and then dice it up.

Then again, if you love a lot of spice, you can always dice it up with the seeds!

Next prepare a zucchini.

Chop off the ends and then cut the zucchini in half lengthwise.

Set one half flat-side-down on the cutting board for stability.

Cut thin strips lengthwise.

Then dice up the zucchini.

Repeat the same steps for the summer squash.

Add the jalapeño, zucchini, and summer squash to the pan.

Season with salt and pepper and sauté.

Next, add some chopped tomatoes.

Add some cumin and coriander for tons of rich flavor.

Stir everything together.

Add some frozen sweet corn.

And also add the cooked brown rice and the cooked chicken you set aside earlier.

Stir and pour the mixture into a large casserole dish.

Grate some sharp cheddar cheese.

And arrange it all over the top.

The cheese is really optional in this dish.

It tastes great, of course (it’s melted cheese!)

But the avocado you’ll add later adds a lot of rich creaminess, so you can do without the cheese if you’re really watching fat and calories.

Bake the casserole for just a few minutes, until the cheese has melted nicely.

Meanwhile prepare the avocado.  Avocado is one of my all-time favorites.  The flavor is delicate, yet the consistency is so rich and creamy.

Avocados are incredibly healthy too.  They’re full of fiber (to keep you feeling full for a long time), Potassium, and Vitamin E.  Avocados also have tons of lutein, an antioxidant that keeps skin smooth and healthy. You may have heard they’re fairly high in fat. It’s true. But they’re made up of unsaturated fats, which are actually good for you and help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and raise ‘good’ levels.

They’re easy to prepare too.

Slice the avocado in half, lengthwise.

You’ll feel your knife hitting a large pit in the center – just continue to cut around it.

The safe and foolproof way to remove the pit: just scoop it out with a spoon.

Cut thin slices lengthwise, cutting down until you reach the skin.

Then cut across to create a small grid pattern.

Use the spoon to scoop out the flesh.  Diced avocado!

Grab a lime and squeeze the juice all over the avocado.  Do this right away, and it will keep the avocado from turning brown.

Grab a bunch of cilantro and, cutting down toward the cutting board, chop the leaves off the stems.

Then chop up the cilantro.

Take the casserole out of the oven and serve it up on individual plates.

Top each plate with some avocado, cilantro, and a few tortilla strips.

This dish has all the best flavors of a tortilla soup.

Every bite has a ton of flavor from the fresh herbs and veggies, hearty rice and chicken, savory cheese, and sweet corn.

And the combo of creaminess from the avocado and crunch from the tortilla strips is so delicious.

Also, unlike a tortilla soup, no one will question whether this qualifies as a meal – it’s really satisfying. Enjoy!

Here is the complete recipe:

Chicken Tortilla Casserole

Total Time:  45 minutes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings 

1 cup parboiled brown rice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, diced
1 small summer squash, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
16 ounce container chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 cup frozen sweet corn
1 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar (optional)
1 avocado
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
20 whole grain tortilla strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper



Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Prepare the parboiled brown rice according to package instructions and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the cubed chicken breasts, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the outsides are golden.  Scoop the chicken into a bowl, cover, and set aside.  Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the garlic and onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the jalapeño, summer squash, and zucchini.  Season with salt and pepper.   Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, cumin, and coriander, and stir to combine.  Add the corn, along with the cooked chicken and the cooked brown rice.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Transfer the mixture to a large casserole dish.  Arrange the grated sharp cheddar over the top of the casserole.  Bake in the oven until the cheddar is nicely melted, about 7-9 minutes.  Remove from the oven and transfer to serving plates.  Top each plate with avocado, cilantro, and a few tortilla strips.  Serve.

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  1. April 24, 2012 / 3:15 pm

    Vanity aside… beach-hair is always a struggle… and usually drive me nuts too haha

    Casserole looks delicious btw!

  2. April 24, 2012 / 4:06 pm

    This looks delicious! Can’t wait to try it 🙂

  3. April 24, 2012 / 4:22 pm

    Casserole with a little kick! I love it. I’m bookmarking it!

  4. April 24, 2012 / 4:25 pm

    I love chicken tortilla soup, so this sounds great – love the tortilla topping, too!

  5. April 24, 2012 / 4:56 pm

    Ahh! Beach hair is a nightmare for curly headed people. I have never been one to pull off the “windswept” look. I have more of the “attacked by a furious wind” look. Plus, there’s the whole “I need sunscreen every five minutes” matter. And let’s get real. Sunscreen and sand do not mix. By the end of the day I’m usually a red faced, Einstein haired, gritty skinned grump. This is why we went to Canada, not Mexico for a honeymoon. 🙂

    P.S. Your pictures are

  6. April 24, 2012 / 5:50 pm

    My hair actually looks better at the beach… it’s kind of wavy/ half curly and the salt water really adds to the volume/ waviness of it. 🙂 But I must just be lucky like that. I love this recipe because I’d be able to make one w/ chicken for the boyfriend and one without for me, simultaneously. Perfection!

    • April 24, 2012 / 10:56 pm

      You are so lucky 🙂 And I was thinking the same thing – this would be great (and filling too) even without the chicken.

  7. April 24, 2012 / 6:30 pm

    Looking good, pumpkin !!! But me being me .. I don’t understand the cut tortillas on top and the corn has to go for me. Goes on file now.

    • April 24, 2012 / 10:58 pm

      Oh the tortillas are the best part! 🙂 Have you seen the kind made with whole grains in place of corn?

      • April 24, 2012 / 11:01 pm

        You .. over there – never stops to amaze me !!!! *smile No very little about Mexican food – I do a superb fajitas – one of the best, but there goes my limit. Don’t like corn expect on the cob.

  8. April 24, 2012 / 7:56 pm

    I love a good casserole and your wonderful Mexican bake version looks delicious! A little bit of vege substitution like beans and this dish will be flying high at my place 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

  9. April 24, 2012 / 8:32 pm

    Well girly, I’m right there with you on the beach vacation topic. My hair’s the same as yours…the second it touches water, poof! And not in a cute way….in a wow-my-hair’s-really-frizzy way. I’m also not a huge fan of laying around for hours on end at the beach (although I do love the ocean) so playing frisbee or walking in the sand is usually what I resort to. Your tortilla casserole looks fantastic, by the way! 🙂

  10. April 24, 2012 / 8:52 pm

    I loved reading your comment along with all the other comments about beach hair. I am the same way. I can spend 1/2 hour freeze drying my hair in low humidity, freezing cold air conditioning, and walk out on the beach and each hair takes on a mind of it’s own. Crazy!!
    I am consequently a big fan of beach hats, but unfortunately the wind likes to blow them off.
    Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I love your great pictures and explanations that always make preparing your dishes super easy. Thanks.

    • April 25, 2012 / 1:50 am

      Thank you, that is so nice to hear! 🙂 I’m also a big fan of beach hats and have nearly lost every one, thanks to sudden gusts of wind!

  11. April 24, 2012 / 10:17 pm

    I do like one dish casseroles, especially when they have such great southwestern flavors. This does look exeptionally tasty. Nice clicks here as well.
    I do better in winter instead of summer, better hair and I love winter clothes too!

  12. April 24, 2012 / 10:46 pm

    This does look tasty…and I love those chopped tomatoes in the tetra pack…brilliant x

    • April 25, 2012 / 2:04 am

      I love Pomi tomatoes (from Italy). The container is BPA-free and there is no tinny taste!

  13. April 25, 2012 / 1:43 am

    We went to Mexico for our honeymoon a couple of years ago and this dish totally reminds me of the flavours from that trip! This dish looks so vibrant, with different textures….I want to try it (maybe I’ll even make it for Vince). I remember him making guac last summer that tasted exactly like the one we had in Mexcio…it caught me by surprise, but I started tearing up! Brought me right back to that romantic trip 🙂

    • April 25, 2012 / 2:07 am

      Aww it sounds like an amazing trip! Don’t you love how making a certain dish can transport you back to a certain place and time? 🙂

      • April 25, 2012 / 2:24 am

        Absolutely! It really was an amazing trip…I just wish I had taken more pics of all the food. I think I was too busy enjoying every mouth full (and, lets face it, basking in the romance! heheh).

  14. ctwhitford
    April 25, 2012 / 11:15 pm

    Looks great, I’ll try this one!

  15. April 26, 2012 / 4:12 am

    This looks so complicated… I always thought casseroles were supposed to be easy! Granted, I’ve yet to make one of my own, and only learned the word recently. What *is* a casserole supposed to be anyway, just baked pasta with lots of stuff?

    • April 26, 2012 / 2:56 pm

      Yeah, casseroles can be pretty much anything. Simple or complicated. And any combo of meat, veggies, and starch (rice, potato, or pasta) all mixed into one big dish and baked in the oven. I was a little worried about the number of ingredients in this one being too much for a lot of people, but the flavors are so delicious (and so healthy too!) 🙂

      • April 26, 2012 / 3:59 pm

        One of my profs told me that she makes casseroles from leftover Thanksgiving dinner – layering the potatoes, turkey, gravy, veggies, stuffing, etc and just tossing it in the freezer. Then she just sticks it in the oven when they need food. Does that actually work??

      • April 26, 2012 / 5:30 pm

        Oh that’s clever and I bet it does work. Casseroles are worth the time because you can make a lot and then freeze whatever you don’t eat. And then reheat whenever you need a quick, convenient dinner 🙂

  16. April 26, 2012 / 8:46 am

    Thanks for the foodbuzz request. I love how indepth your posts are. Not sure if you spend more time taking photos than cooking. Keep up the cook work.


    • April 26, 2012 / 3:02 pm

      You’re absolutely right! This dish normally takes half an hour for me to make. To photograph – more like 2 1/2 hours! 🙂

  17. April 26, 2012 / 4:28 pm

    This looks so delish and I bet it’d freeze really well. I’m about 10 weeks away from my due date so I’m gonna need lots of tasty things to stow in the freezer!

  18. April 27, 2012 / 1:18 am

    Wow, triple the points for such an in-depth point by point how-to! And it looks delicious and satisfying!

  19. Food Stories
    April 27, 2012 / 4:13 pm

    This dish looks so inviting. Thx for all the effort you put into the step-by-step 🙂

    • April 28, 2012 / 3:26 pm

      Thank you. This is why I always love to hear from other food bloggers – they totally understand the work involved 🙂

  20. April 30, 2012 / 10:45 am

    This casserole looks really, really yummy. I really like the addition of all the veggies!

  21. May 8, 2012 / 1:22 pm

    Great post. I was checking constantly this weblog and I am impressed! Very useful information specifically the last section 🙂 I care for such information much. I was looking for this certain info for a long time. Thanks and good luck.

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