I have a confession: I am not always good at using leftover proteins. Now you would think–wouldn’t you?–that someone who enjoys cooking challenges as much as I do would thrive on taking what’s on hand in the pantry, combining it with leftovers, and making the most of everything. You would think that. I make a baked chicken or a roasted pork tenderloin, and it’s tasty stuff. But whatever remains uneaten after meal #1 will often sit in the fridge for longer than it should. I try to incorporate it into my grand meal plan each month, strategically placing meals in an effort to efficiently use what I have and not end up with chicken (especially leftover chicken) four days in a row. That leads me to my other confession: it doesn’t always work that way. My meal plan often gets majorly screwed up.
But over the past couple of weeks, I really have made a concerted effort to use leftover meats and what’s sitting in my pantry to make meals in such a way that no one (meaning: me) would notice we were, in fact, having chicken four days in a row (okay, I was really the one who didn’t want to be eating chicken four days in a row). It hasn’t been quite that extreme, but you get the point.
The initial plan for the leftover baked chicken (and poblano peppers that were originally destined for white chicken chili) was chicken tortilla soup, but then my husband challenged me to bacon cheeseburger soup. I couldn’t have soup two days in a row. So, it had to be something to be eaten off a plate with a fork. Logically, I think casserole. Aha! I got an ultimate casserole cookbook for Christmas–perfect!, I thought. But their version of chicken tortilla casserole involves little more than a can of diced tomatoes, cooked chicken, and a can of cream of chicken soup. There’s nothing really wrong with canned soup, but the recipe didn’t seem to hold true to the authenticity of chicken tortilla flavor–it’s not really supposed to be creamy to start with. And my personal challenge is to use cans of cream of anything soup as little as possible.
So, here’s my version. It’s nothing really fancy or difficult, and it really does lend itself well to leftover chicken and rice. The best part? It made just enough tasty leftovers for lunch the next day.
Chicken Tortilla Casserole
Please don’t send the authenticity police after me for adding rice, but I needed something to hold this meal in our bellies. The cheese and sour cream are optional, too, thus creating a dairy-free meal, if needed. This recipe is easily cut in half for those seeking a smaller portion size.
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 poblano pepper, chopped (you may choose to use a couple jalapeños or a bell pepper here or leave this out–see note on tomatoes below)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 1 Tbsp.)
- 1 cup chicken broth, divided
- 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes (you may choose to omit pepper above and use a can of tomatoes & chilies instead; if you’re cutting this recipe in half, use 3/4 to 1 cup salsa in place of diced tomatoes)
- 1 Tbsp. chipotle pepper in adobo sauce* or 1 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- 1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, cut in bite-size pieces
- juice from half of one lime
- 1 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro (optional)
- 1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack or cheddar cheese (optional)
- sour cream (optional)
- crushed tortilla chips
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 7 by 11″ or 9 by 13″ baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray.
- Heat oil in medium saucepan until shimmering. Add onion and pepper; cook until beginning to become tender and browned, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic; cook about 1 minute.
- Add 1/2 cup chicken broth, tomatoes, chipotle pepper, salt, and pepper. Heat until bubbling. Meanwhile, mix cornstarch with remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add to tomato mixture and stir constantly until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat.
- In large bowl, combine rice, chicken, lime juice, cilantro, and tomato mixture. Spread in prepared dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until mixture is bubbling around edges. Sprinkle with cheese, if using, and continue to bake for 10 additional minutes. Serve with sour cream and crushed tortilla chips.
*You will most likely need to chop the chipotle pepper and mix with the sauce to get needed measurement, and you will have extra. To avoid waste, line ice cube tray with plastic wrap and divide pepper between cavities (about 1 Tbsp in each). Freeze until solid, place in freezer-safe plastic bag, and store in freezer. Use as needed in future recipes.