Go ahead and say those words out loud. You know you want to. 💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻
I had to write that in all-caps and put an exclamation point at the end to really drive home how excited I am about this recipe. Tacos as a cake. Cake as tacos. It makes my heart race and my mouth water.
Should we start replacing all birthday cakes with taco cakes moving forward? Okay, maybe “replace” is a strong suggestion. How about we start all birthday meals with a taco cake and then finish with traditional cake? Or better yet, ice cream cake. Now we’re on to something.
As a lover and defender of real lasagna, Italian lasagne, I’ve always been a bit skeptical, and – full disclosure – kind of grossed out by the concept of Mexican lasagna. Even though I love all the things it’s composed of, and deep down I’m sure it’s actually pretty delicious, this sort of fusion food is not something I’m comfortable getting behind. Leave lasagna alone, and definitely don’t bring Mexico into it. They want nothing to do with your silly little tortilla studded casserole.
You see, it all boils down to semantics. This Taco Cake is essentially Mexican lasagna, only in a slightly different, much more awesome format. And while I can’t get behind the latter, the former is right up my alley. The brain works in mysterious and funny ways. This recipe is a riff on one that appeared in my inbox a few months ago from none other than my cooking/food blogging Jesus, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. Deb, who is far more sophisticated than myself, refers to this as a torte rather than a cake. But to me, “torte” is just a little too bougie for something this fun, rustic and festive.
I’m a devout lover of real deal Mexican cuisine, but lets not get confused here. This recipe is definitely more Tex than Mex. This lovely layered number consists of lightly crisped flour tortillas, ground beef, black beans, tomatoes, corn, a little spinach (you won’t even know it’s there, trust me), and gobs of melted cheese. It gets baked, just like a cake, and then sliced and served – also like a cake!
The flavors all meld together and the tortillas soften up just a bit in the middle. It tastes like old school American style tacos and is as much fun to eat is as it is to make. Leftovers hold up really well, too. Since trying this recipe, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about all kinds of different variations I want to make next: A breakfast version, a chicken mole version, even a dessert version, which, when you think about it, is super meta.
Is there anything more authentic to serve on Cinco de Mayo next week? Most definitely. But is there anything more fun to help chase those margaritas? Absolutely not.
One Year Ago: Parmesan Spinach
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for frying tortillas
- 6 8-inch flour tortillas*
- 1 pound ground beef**
- 1 medium onion (any color), finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, minced, seeds removed for less heat
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 can (14 ounces) chopped tomatoes, or about 1 1/2 cups fresh
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 can (15.5 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh (from about 1 to 2 ears) or frozen (defrosted)
- 3 cups spinach leaves (about 3 ounces), roughly chopped
- 8 ounces grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese (I used pepper jack for additional heat)
- Chopped fresh cilantro and/or scallions for garnish (optional)
- sour cream and/or salsa and/or guacamole for serving (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray the inside of a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. If you don't have a springform pan, line a regular 9-inch cake pan or sheet pan with foil and spray.
- Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the tortillas, one at a time, until crisped and browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.
- Drain all but a teaspoon or so of oil from the pan, add the beef and break it up with a wooden spoon until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the pan and add the onion, garlic, jalapeño, and cook, while stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and cook until fragrant, about one minute more. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste, then add the beans and reserved ground beef. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until much of the liquid has evaporated. Add the corn and spinach and toss around until the spinach wilts and the corn is heated through. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- To assemble, place one tortilla in the prepared cake pan and spread about 1/6th (just eyeball it) of the filling evenly over top. Sprinkle with about 1/6th of the cheese, top with another tortilla. Repeat with the additional filling, cheese and tortillas, finishing with a layer of filling and a sprinkling of cheese on top.
- Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and heated through. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before removing it from the pan. Sprinkle with cilantro, scallions or both, or none. It's optional.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the cake into wedges and use a spatula or pie server to carefully remove them to plates. Serve hot with sour cream and/or salsa and/or guacamole on the side, if you wish.
- * Corn tortillas may be substituted for the flour, just be sure they're as close to 8-inches wide as possible. If they're not, make two cakes with smaller tortillas using 4 in each (8 total).
- **This recipe can be made totally vegetarian by omitting the ground beef and adding in one additional can of beans instead.
- *** Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator and reheat in a 350 degree oven until warmed through. Leftovers reheat beautifully and are great for breakfast with a fried egg and plenty of hot sauce.