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: