When I was pregnant with my first daughter, the midwives sent me in to see their new staff nutritionist to evaluate my vegetarian diet. If you have a mental stereotype for a dietician or nutritionist, it is quite likely it looks a lot like she did: pert, earnest and tidy, with her brand-new diploma hanging right over her desk.She asked me to fill out a diet summary and I did it diligently, recording all my protein sources and so forth.She began to look it over.“Now here with the tofu,” she said, tapping the paper with her pen, “what size portion would you say you consume?And here with the peanut butter,” (tap, tap)” is that about a two tablespoon portion?” And so on down the list, until I knew without much doubt that 16 years of being the vegetarian daughter of a worried Jewish mother was better preparation for reviewing my pregnant diet than whatever it was she had done to earn her diploma.But if doubt remained, it lasted only until she got to the bottom of my list.

“What about casseroles?” she asked.“Do you eat casseroles?”I said I didn’t.“Well you should,” she said with certainty, patting my list.“Two to three portions per week.”What they might be made of was not addressed.

My husband and I spent the rest of the pregnancy thinking up Horrifying Casseroles we might pretend we made weekly.Baked Snickers with Crack, and so on. But we behaved ourselves and didn't tease her, because I never went back.

As luck would have it, a few years later when my sisters and I were wrangling a collection of little cousins whom we often fed together, I stumbled across a recipe for Chilaquile Casserole in a Mollie Katzen cookbook.Making it as I did back then, I felt like I had either just stepped into our out of the test kitchens of a women’s magazine.A package of this, a jar of that, open a can, and presto!Six portions of casserole!I wanted to call up the nutritionist and let her know.But it was delicious and nourishing and totally simple to make and we abused the privilege of its discovery so severely that my oldest nephew re-christened it “Chili-Kill-Me Casserole.”

It is not really a recipe, I guess, but more of a platform on which to build something you will find tasty.I hope you enjoy your portion.

chilaquile casserole

Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Still Life With Menu

The basics:

12 uncooked corn tortillas

2-3 cups of coarsely-grated jack or mild cheddar cheese

dashes of salt, pepper, cumin and/or chile powder

3 large eggs

2 ¼ c buttermilk

The options:

1-2 cups cooked, drained pinto or black beans (or use some leftover black bean soup or chili--just try to steer clear of canned beans)

1-2 c shredded cooked chicken or turkey, or browned ground meat

1 c corn kernels

1 4-oz can of chopped roasted green chiles

1 to 1 1/2 cups of salsa

1-2 c cubed roasted potatoes

Oil a 2-quart baking dish.Cut a stack of 4 tortillas in half and then quarters, so you have four little stacks of wedges, and repeat for the other two stacks of 4.Cover the bottom of the dish with one set of these wedges, and layer on half of your chosen additions, followed by one third of the cheese.Lay on the next set of wedges and repeat.Top off with the remaining wedges.

Beat the buttermilk, eggs and seasonings together and pour gently over the top.Distribute the remaining cheese on top (you can also reserve a few tablespoons of salsa to glob decoratively on the surface), and let stand at least 20 minutesbefore baking. You can pause here for a few hours if you want to bake it later; just put it in the fridge and let it come to room temp before you bake it, uncovered, at 375 for about 35 minutes, or until golden on top and apparently set.

For a true Good Housekeeping glow, be hereby informed that this serves well hot or at whatever temperature it is when you arrive at a potluck with it, doubles easily and re-heats without complaining.