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The Latin Lasagna

Latin Lasagna recipe

Photo by Andrew Meade.

September is back-to-school time, and adjusting to new schedules can be a bit daunting. Add dinnertime to everything else you’re juggling and things can get stressful. But luckily there’s make-ahead meals and one-dish wonders like this Pastelon casserole to the rescue. The plantain pastelon is originally a Puerto Rican staple—and as I spent many summers at my aunt and uncle’s home there, it became a nostalgia vacation food for me. My aunt Connie made a mean pastelon, and here I’ve tried to recreate it as best as I could—with my own twists, which means it’s much easier to make. Think of it as a Latin lasagna, and instead of pasta you use delicious plantains, which are healthier and yummier. Buen Provecho!

Mexican Lasagna (Pastelon)

Makes 6 servings

This is the kind of dish you make when you just want to chow down. Every culture has its own layered casserole: moussaka in Greece, biriyani in India, and of course Italy’s lasagna. Here, long strips of ripe plantain stand in for the pasta noodles. It’s sweet, savory, fulfilling and comforting, with the leanness of the turkey and spice of the chorizo playing off of the soft and buttery plantains. For me, digging into a plate of pastelon is even better than ice cream!

4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon at room temperature
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ¾ cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
2 ½ cups shredded pepper-jack cheese
6 ounces raw chorizo, casings removed
1 pound ground white or dark meat turkey
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (or 1 tablespoon Worcestershire and 1 tablespoon sherry)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice( from ½ lemon)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper
4 very ripe black-skinned plantains, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch lasagna pan with the tablespoon of softened butter and set it aside.

2. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cumin and cook for 1 minute before gradually stirring in the chicken broth. Once all of the broth is added, stir in the milk. Continue to stir constantly until the sauce thickens slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 2 cups of the grated cheese and stir the sauce until the cheese has melted. Turn off the heat and transfer the sauce to a medium bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the sauce to prevent a skin from forming.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the chorizo. Cook, using a wooden spoon to break up any large pieces, until it starts to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the turkey and continue to cook until both meats are browned 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and some pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat and drain off any excess oil.

4. Line the pan with about one third of the plantain slices, making sure that they don’t overlap. Top the plantains with 1/2 of the meat mixture, spreading it out into an even layer so it covers the plantains. Top with half of the cheese sauce. Add another single layer of plantain slices and cover with the remaining meat mixture and the remaining sauce. Top with the rest of the plantains and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and some paprika over the top. Bake until the sauce is bubbly, 45 to 60 minutes. Let the lasagna cool for 10 minutes, sprinkle with the cilantro, and serve.

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