I grew up in New Zealand, with parents that did everything for us, cooked, washed, cleaned, I was rarely asked to lift a finger to be perfectly honest. This may make me sound like a spoilt, ungrateful child, but thankfully I don’t think I ever acted that way, and was and still am a neat freak, so I at the very least maintained order in my bedroom, and was happy to wash the family car’s for small change.
What this lack of responsibility resulted in, was me realising a fortnight before I moved to London, that I actually didn’t know how to cook! Baking, yes, but that wasn’t going to tick the five a day box, not even if it was apple crumble or banana cake coming out of the oven. And so, my mother was instructed to give me a crash course in A. basic cooking skills ie how to cook chicken and not kill someone with salmonella and B. some easy recipes that would make it look like I knew how to cook when I really didn’t.
Ironically, from the time I was a young child, I was actually interested in all things crafty, baking (at the age of eight I insisted on buying the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book because I NEEDED it in my life) and recipes that were published in Women’s Weekly magazines. So I happened to have a bunch pulled out, and saved for the day I would eventually need to not only read the instructions, but follow through and produce the end result.
One of the recipes I’d happened to collect was created by Simon Holst, the son of the very ‘famous in New Zealand’ cook Alison Holst. Being a huge fan of Mexican food, this recipe had huge appeal for me, and so I decided to trial my cooking skills on my family, and it turned out a success. Eleven years later, it is still my go-to recipe for the ultimate in comfort food, or having friends over for a lazy dinner. It also turned out to be ingrained in the memories of two of my favourite people in the world, who I consider my unofficial younger siblings, that I was nanny/unofficial older sister to in London for a few years. I would make this for them often, and they loved it, so much so that 6.5 years after they left UK and was visiting them in Los Angeles this past November, they brought it up with me straight away. The official name of this recipe is Corn Chip casserole, but the kids, now teenagers towering over me, always referred to it as the much catchier:
For 4 servings:
2 tbsp olive or canola oil
1 medium onion
1 tsp (1-2 cloves) minced garlic
1 red or green pepper
1 tsp each ground cumin and oregano
1/2 tsp each chilli powder and salt
425g can red kidney beans, drained
1 large avocado, peeled and diced
2-3 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Juice 1/2 lemon
Sauce: 3 tbsp (25g) butter
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1/2 tsp each ground cumin and oregano (optional)
Approximately 150g corn chips
1/2 cup grated cheese
Paprika to dust
1. Peel and slice the onion while the oil heats in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes then chop and add the red or green pepper. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and turning clear. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the seasonings, kidney beans, diced avocado, coriander leaf and the lemon juice. Leave to stand while you prepare the sauce.
2. Melt the butter in a medium-sized pot, add the flour and stir to make a smooth paste. Cook for 1 minute, stirring continuously, then add half of the milk. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, ensuring there are no lumps. Add the remaining milk and let the sauce thicken and boil again. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and extra seasonings (if using).
3. Arrange half of the corn chips in a layer over the bottom of a shallow (25x30cm) casserole dish. Cover these with the avocado-bean mixture, then cover this with the remaining corn chips. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the layered mixture then sprinkle with the additional grated cheese and dust with paprika. Bake at 220degC for 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
I often buy a pre-cooked roast chicken and added that to the bean/avocado mixture and it’s delicious!