South-of-the-border flavors have been a mainstay in my diet since I was in the first grade. I spent a few of my formative years in southern Colorado with my mother, so cooking and eating Mexican food feels like a homecoming for me. The foods of that region had so much flavor and complexity, and the fact that the earliest Mexican foods I ate were homemade means the bar is set pretty high for me.
With Cinco de Mayo coming up this week, I wanted to share a fun meal that is as versatile as it is delicious. Though most of the Mexican food my mom made at home was some version of ground beef tacos, she occasionally dabbled into more involved recipes, and at some point when I visited her as an adult, she made something she called “stacked tostadas.” I loved them! With crunchy tortilla shells, warm ground meat and melty shredded cheese, they satisfied all my texture cravings, and the authentic flavors took me back to my younger years.
This recipe is not quite the same as what my mom made, and I doubt she even worked from a recipe but from whatever she had on hand at the time. A few of the ingredients are necessary, including the corn tortillas and cheese, but the other fillings are subjective. The thing that really makes this dish is the red sauce— it’s bold and flavorful, but not tomato-based. Rather, it is built on ground chile peppers.
For as long as I can remember, one of the staple seasonings in my mother’s arsenal was a pure chile powder that came in a generic looking cellophane packet with a white label and red lettering. It was made by a local, southern Colorado company, which had a whole line of other products as well, but I most remember the“chile molido puro.” Unlike most commerical brands of “chili powder,” which usually include various other seasonings, additives and a ton of salt, this stuff was just pure ground chiles—the exact literal translation of chile molido puro.
I have not seen those cellophane packets in many years (I’m sure they’re only distributed regionally), and until a few days ago, I couldn’t even remember what the brand was called, but it’s amazing what one can find on the internet with only a few keywords in a search bar. Here’s one of the images the web found for me when I asked for “chile seasonings Colorado company:”
Just seeing the package made my heart giddy! It’s funny that whatever made you fall in love with a particular food becomes the standard, and I guess that’s what comfort food is all about! If you want to try something fun and new for Cinco de Mayo, give this recipe a try, either as I made it with ground turkey, or by substituting whatever sounds delicious to you.
I haven’t been able to get my hands on a package of the Fernandez seasoning just yet, so I’ve substituted ground ancho chile powder for my enchilada sauce. Always read the labels to see whether your seasoning includes other ingredients, and if you find that you have one labeled “chili powder,” with cumin, oregano and garlic, that will cover most of the flavors you need. If it also contains salt, adjust your salt and pepper accordingly.
My recipe for the sauce is very similar to what’s offered on the back of the Fernandez label, which recommends making a basic oil and flour paste, with garlic and seasonings for flavor and water to thicken (though I used a low-sodium veggie broth). If you find the flavors of your sauce too intense, you can tame it by adding a few tablespoons or up to a small can of tomato sauce. We crave intensity at our house, so I went the other direction and added a spoonful of pureed chipotle with adobo. We had some in the fridge because my hubby had just made a batch of his awesome smoky guacamole, which was perfect on top of these tostada stacks.
For the filling, I cooked up some ground turkey with onions and red bell peppers, a few shakes of my favorite Mexican spices and some black beans. Want more heat? Swap the red bell pepper for diced jalapeños. My mom always used ground beef, but turkey lightened this up a bit without sacrificing flavor. Ground chicken would also work, or you could skip the meat altogether in favor of additional beans or perhaps roasted sweet potatoes for body and texture. For a little pop of sweetness, I also added a little fire-roasted sweet corn, which we almost always have in the freezer.
Use whatever kind of Mexican melting cheese you like— cheddar, Monterey Jack or pepper jack work nicely, or Colby is good if you want really mild flavor. For best results, buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself. The stuff in the bag is coated with cellulose powder to keep the cheese from sticking, and the melting quality suffers. I promise, it’s worth the extra effort.
Store bought corn tortillas are fine for this, but if you want to go all out for Cinco de Mayo, consider making a batch of easy handmade corn tortillas. Give them a brief dip in hot oil to make them nice and crispy, then start layering! Filling mixture goes on first, then cheese and sauce. Second verse, same as the first.
After a third layer, finish the enchilada stack with a handful of shredded lettuce, a dollop of sour cream and fresh guacamole. And though tostadas are typically a handheld item, the stacked and sauced method here requires that you use a fork.
Turkey & Black Bean Stacked Tostadas
Cinco de Mayo is a great excuse for me to celebrate the flavors that I've loved since early childhood.
- 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp. pure ground chile powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- A pinch of oregano (preferably Mexican)
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth
- 1 Tbsp. pureed chipotle with adobo (optional; substitute tomato sauce for milder flavor)
- Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and saute garlic briefly, just until it begins to bubble.
- Add flour and whisk to combine. Let this cook until bubbly, then add seasonings and broth.
- Whisk constantly until mixture begins to thicken.
- Stir in chipotle with adobo (or tomato sauce) and reduce heat to a simmer while you prepare the tostada filling.
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- 1/2 tsp. Ground Chile powder
- 1/2 tsp. Ground cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup fire-roasted sweet corn (frozen is fine)
- 12 regular size corn tortillas
- Vegetable oil for frying (peanut or canola oil are good)
- Shredded lettuce, sour cream and guacamole for topping
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, then sauté onions and bell peppers until softened. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Push the vegetables to the outer edges of the pan and add turkey, half at a time, to the center of the pan. Cook until browned and then add remaining turkey to finish cooking.
- Add seasonings, black beans and corn. Stir and cook until heated through.
- Reduce heat to keep mixture warm while you prepare the tortillas.
- Place a second skillet over medium heat, and add oil to about 1/2-inch depth.
- Fry tortillas, one at a time, until crispy (about 2 minutes) and blot on paper towels.
- Create stacks, beginning with a tortilla base, topped with turkey-black bean mixture, cheese and sauce. Follow with two more layers.
- Top finished stack with a handful of shredded lettuce, sour cream and guacamole.