So back in high school, my first job was working at a Mexican take-away shop in the food court of a shopping centre. I know. Magical. We made nachos with liquid cheese and crumbed chicken burgers with the corn chips that crushed and were left in the bottom of the tub. Tres authentic. Three afternoons a week and all day Saturday I would smile patiently at the lady and her adult son who would come in, order, eat most of the meal and then come back with a complaint and demand a refund (Dad taught me how to deal with them and I would make every step of the meal with them watching me, asking them if I was putting on too much salsa, if they wanted me to zap the final product so it was extra hot, etc. etc. Thanks Dad). On Thursdays, in the lull between afternoon and late-night shopping, I would clean every inch of tiles and counter, scrub out the deep-fryer and fold a million paper napkins around two million pieces of plastic cutlery. I would get free pizza and garlic bread from the (also now gone) Italian take-away next door at the end of the night. I was so special.
I started on 6.64 AU an hour and started saving for a car immediately. Later I saved for schoolies and then moving out to go to uni. My first boss was great but the couple who bought the business later were really nasty and didn’t like that another part-timer and I had been working there more than a year and therefore couldn’t be easily fired and were also getting on in age (17. Over the hill).
Even thought the other girl quit, storming out one lunch after being accused of stealing from the register (an embarrassment I would also later be accused of) and I was berated in front of customers if I was too generous in my servings, I stuck at that job until I moved to Brisbane.
I never liked Mexican food.
That’s right. Mexican was never as popular in Australia as it has been for a long time in the USA, because Mexican meant Old El Paso taco shells or tortillas, salsa and sachets of mince meat seasoning. There were no other brands to buy, you couldn’t get flat bread in the bakery of the supermarket yet and so it was quite expensive. Add to that I never liked cheese and (still don’t like) sour cream, I was not one to beg for Mexican for dinner. Hell, I didn’t even like corn chips and salsa at parties.
And I’m not sure what changed. I’d like to tell you a story about a friend’s mum who made amazing authentic Mexican taught to them by Indigenous people of Mexico’s highlands (does Mexico even have highlands?), but I can’t. I have no idea when my taste buds changed (probably when I stopped being such a picky eater) but I would place a bet and say it was probably nachos. White people love nachos 😉
One dish that I loved and began recreating from the take-away store was tortilla bake. We made a chicken and a beef on and people lost their minds over it. This tortilla bake is obviously vego, could be vegan if cheese was left out and could be healthier if I had used less cheese. It was supposed to be special and “what the hell”, we had the cheese to spare. These days, I see tortilla bakes all over sites like Pinterest but, back in 2001, this was the best you could get.
In pictures, with explanatory captions, is my current incarnation of tortilla bake.
I have, from the left, a can of Mexi beans (basically kidney beans in sauce but we had no home made ones), chipotle sauce, corn, pre-cooked capsicum and onion, olive oil spray, tortillas.
Spray the bottom and sides of a pie dish, cake tin or whatever dish fits your tortillas and place your first tortilla inside.
Start layering. You can see a layer of beans, capsicum and onions, and corn here. Change the ingredient to suit your budget and preferences.
Add a layer of cheese (I thought I’d leave out that photo because I’m sure you know what cheese looks like) and then add a second tortilla. . I’ve then used the back of a spoon to smear a layer of chipotle sauce onto this tortilla. This can be done on the first tortilla too, depending on your tastes.
Add another layer of beans, veg and cheese followed by a tortilla until you fill your pan. Our dish is really shallow so we only get two layers. Then add a final tortilla, more sauce and top with cheese. Chuck that puppy in the oven until the cheese is cooked and it’s hot all the way through.
It’s good to let it rest and firm up after you get it out of the oven. If you can wait. Otherwise, serve with sides of your choice, like a green salad, corn cobs, or in our case, European styled cabbage and mushrooms. Yeah, I don’t know why we chose that either.
AI AI AI.