I grew up eating casseroles at home, family reunions and potluck dinners, but growing up in Texas meant one very special casserole…King Ranch Casserole. Despite the name, the casserole didn’t come from the King Ranch in South Texas but rather a Junior League recipe that really caught on. My mom usually made this dish for special occasions. It had layers of creamy and spicy goodness that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Everyone I knew that made this dish would put their own little spin on it whether using white cheese or yellow, plain canned tomatoes or tomatoes with chiles, tortillas or tortilla chips…the options were as creative as you could let your mind go.
We are right in the middle of Hatch green chile season and with that I began trying to come up with yet another creative way to use these delicious peppers. I began thinking of…no, dreaming of…a healthier version of King Ranch Casserole. I came up with this Spicy Green Chile Chicken Casserole.
When I first started working on this recipe, I kind of took the easy route. I used jarred green chile stew. I used full-fat ingredients without attempting to cut calories. I used not only corn tortillas, but I used tortilla chips. I used full fat cream of chicken soup and full fat, pre-shredded cheddar cheese. My daughter said it was the best thing I ever made. So I wanted to see if I could make the same recipe with lower fat and calories and still keep all the flavor.
The first thing I did was to make my own green chile stew because I could control the amount of sodium and fat. I used freshly roasted Hatch green chiles. I could only find “hot” so my sauce turned out rather spicy. Just to make sure I was making the right move, I did a little taste test with my husband and daughter. My sauce beat the pre-made green chile sauce so I knew I was headed in the right direction.
Next, I already knew that I wanted to swap the cheese for lower calorie cheese so I used Colby Jack instead of pre-shredded cheddar cheese. This reduced the calories per ounce from 110 to 80 and I only used 6 ounces. I also didn’t use oil to sauté the chicken and veggies, but non-stick cooking spray instead. Unlike the original casserole, I added two cups of cooked brown rice. Then finally, I used 1 can of reduced fat cream of chicken soup. This cut the calories from 325 to 150 for the can.
I think it turned out kind of like a Tex-Mex lasagna because of the layers. The end result was delicious and got my daughter’s seal of approval.