Where is the King Ranch and why are they credited with this casserole? Apparently a reporter (or two) from several Texas newspapers have asked the good folks at the King Ranch this very question and no one there can claim its origins being from their ranch. I'm sure Texas being Texas, they just thought it belonged there. For all we know some homemaker from Wyoming threw this together in a desperate attempt to feed her family. All my taste buds are jumping into June, but the flexing temps outside dictate casserole. What the casserole lacks in looks, it completely makes up for in taste. If it bakes, browns and melts, it works. And truthfully, more often than not, when I have no idea what we'll be having for dinner, nine times out of ten it ends up being a casserole (and the vestiges of my pantry).
The King Ranch casserole came to mind after I had seen its name in one of the many foodie magazines I subscribe to, but had since lost where exactly it was I had last seen it. It's basically a layered tortilla, chicken-less strips, and sauteed veggie medley all baked with vegan cheese on top--with a bit of a creamy sort of Ro-Tel dip sauce. You have a bit of latitude with the ingredients, but stick with the flavors of the southwest to keep it in the realm of the original design of the King Ranch. And no, not Ranch Dressing (which is what I thought of when I first heard the name).
As for Missouri and its foods, our produce aisles right now are sad and uninspiring to say the least. Even cabbages look raggedy. Suddenly strawberries are taking front and center stage. Really? Last time I checked, mid-to-late May is our strawberry season. We officially have another season of sorts here in Missouri: morel mushroom season. A joke amongst master gardeners is that morel hunting is only for those lucky enough to have been born into the family of a morel hunter. Last week a friend of mine called--she was on her way to a presentation for master gardeners and the topic was "mushrooming". I laughed at this and said to her, please ask how anyone is supposed to be interested in mushrooming when NO ONE, and I mean no one who morel hunts will EVER give away the deep dark secret of where the morels are?! The morels are good here. . . if you can find 'em. *If there is a morel mushroom hunter who would like to share their "find" for this fungus among us, please email me!
Here's my version of the King Ranch Casserole. You'll find many versions of this lovely one-dish meal on the internet. Personally, I overwhelm easily. So I stuck with the first two pages of searching for "guides" into all things King Ranch. So easy. I took some diced red pepper, onion, celery and added one package of Morningstar Vegan Chicken Strips. I sauteed these in a bit of olive oil for about ten mintues. Seasonings are pretty much up to you--but try to stick with a southwest flair. You can add green pepper and yellow pepper--knock yourself out. But seasoning this--you will want to be sure to include ground cumin, dried cilantro, oregano, maybe some cayenne pepper. Just keep taste testing along the way. As I researched this recipe, lots of cans of creamed soups kept cropping up. Ew. I opted to create my own bechemal--about 3 tablespoons melted vegan margerine, then add a tablespoon or two of flour, whisking constantly--you'll have a thick paste--but it should begin to smooth out, then begin adding unsweeneted almond milk (or whatever milk you happen to have on hand)--still whisking, keeping the heat up to medium high, then removing it right about the point you are adding your second tablespoon of flour before you have a big clump of flour. Whisk, whisk, whisk until it's all nice and smooth--add more milk until it gets smooth. Add a pinch of nutmeg and some fresh ground pepper and salt. You can see my consistency in the pic below. This homemade bechemal serves as a nice substitute for that mystery creamy of something soup.
Preheat the oven to 400. Spread a layer of the bechamel on the bottom of lightly sprayed 9 x 13 casserole dish. Take about 12 corn tortillas and cut them into strips. Layer half of the corn tortillas over the top of the bechamel layer. Then spread about a third of the veggie mix over the corn strips. Then repeat the layering. Finally, top the casserole with some vegan cheese. I used a combo of Daiya cheeses. Then added chopped scallion and black olives. I baked it uncovered for about half an hour. This made an excellent dinner, served with guacamole and a dallop of tofu sour cream. Better yet, it's an even better leftover the next day!