Monday, March 9, 2015

The Imaginary Mexican Lasagna

This post originally appeared on The Famished Freelancer on 11/19/13

I used to make a dish called Mexican Lasagna pretty regularly. It was one of those casseroles in Cooking Light magazine that you an throw together by opening a bunch of cans. Perfect for someone like myself back then with barely any time to cook dinner. At the time, I was commuting an hour and fifteen minutes each way, then volunteering in the local volunteer fire department/ambulance squad. 

So quick meals - yay!

I remember telling my then boyfriend about Mexican Lasagna. Either I was suggesting making it for us, or I already had. His response? "There's no such thing."

Yes, J was the sort of guy who could deny the existence of food on a plate in front of him, and no, I don't have an explanation for why I was dating him that doesn't make me sound like a schmuck.

He wasn't saying that the dish lacked cultural authenticity. I mean, he was, but he was also denying this dish's right to exist because...I'm not sure. Because he'd never heard of it, I guess. He had no objections to eating Chinese takeout, and most of those dishes are American inventions. Just like most "Mexican" food we eat in the States.

He asked to borrow the recipe (which I had ripped out of the magazine), so he could show a Mexican-American co-worker. She also had never heard of Mexican Lasagna, and I never got the recipe back. 

So as far as I was concerned, it didn't exist anymore because I couldn't make it.

I'd actually have more respect for the guy if I thought that was part of his plan. The dish didn't exist as far as he was concerned, so he made sure that it didn't.

Since then, Cooking Light has made their recipe archives available online. So I can now make Mexican Lasagna again. I printed out the recipe, bought the ingredients, whipped it up, and expected it to taste like triumph.

Instead, it tasted like disappointment. And a little like self-punishment. 

Maybe I should've drained the diced tomatoes first. And pureed the hell out of them because I'm not that crazy about diced tomatoes. Maybe it's because Cooking Light's La Bamba casserole is a more satisfying execution of the same concept, and now this earlier version pales in comparison. Maybe there's a lesson in there about how I can't recapture the past. Or that I don't want to, since that past included judging food based on calories instead of taste, and weeping while I worked out because I was overdoing it, but if I didn't, no one would ever love me.

And that's what the Mexican Lasagna tasted like - the pale imitation of life I was living while I was waiting to be thin enough to start living for realsies. 

That's not to say you won't like it, since you don't have the same connections. And maybe you like diced tomatoes more than I do. Hell, maybe even I'd enjoy it better on a hot summer day when I didn't want anything too heavy.

But I probably won't try it again. There are enough recipes combining beans, cheese and tortillas that there's no reason to stick with one that doesn't rock my world. I thought I'd be reclaiming something that my long ago ex took from me. Instead, I discovered that I'd only been missing it on principle. I had no memory of the actual dish. I would've stopped making it long ago, even if he hadn't swiped the recipe. 

I guess my point is that even when we can reclaim what we've lost, it can turn out that it wasn't that great in the first place.

Do you have a dish that you went back to after a few years that disappointed you?

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