Lighter King Ranch Casserole

April 1, 2013


Casseroles are pretty much my favorite thing to make for dinner and probably the least favorite thing for my Husband to eat. He has very plain taste and likes his meat and vegetables to be separated for the most part- it’s all meat and potatoes for this guy. Not to mention his general disgust for cream sauces or anything cheesy. So I usually don’t get the chance to make dinner my way- chocked full of carbs and cheese, all in one dish. King Ranch Casserole had never crossed my radar until I received a recent issue of Cook’s Country magazine, but it’s exactly the kind of meal that is right up my alley. It makes me kind of upset I hadn’t heard about it sooner. It is a layered Mexican chicken casserole. It uses corn tortillas and layers a creamy, cheesy chicken mixture between them AND sometimes is even topped with crushed fritos instead of more cheese. The original recipe is not exactly healthy though- it contains two types of condensed canned soup, 2 cups of shredded cheese, and a package of 12 corn tortillas. What really gets me is the condensed canned soup. I really don’t like using those. If I can’t avoid using a recipe that calls for some, I make my own.


Cook’s Country set out to get rid of all the excess fat and carb calories, along with the canned soup and create the dish with the same delicious taste. They use a basic bechamel sauce method by creating a roux then adding in some chicken stock. Shredded cheese and low-fat cream cheese are added to the cream sauce to create a richer texture. The new and improved recipe also cut back on the number of tortillas used, going as far as seasoning some toasted tortilla pieces and crushing them up to utilize for the topping.

Can I just mention real quick that I forgot about the last 4 of my tortillas that were toasting in the oven? They were charred by the time I remembered them. Totally useless. I had absolutely nothing around the kitchen to replace them with so I just went on without them (I was also too lazy to pack up the kids and go to the store for more). I ended up omitting the bottom layer of tortillas which kind of saddened me… obviously it would have been better with them, but it was still good despite my clumsiness.


The dish did in fact come out flavorful. It doesn’t feel like a diet dish and it was easy enough to put together and lasted me a good six days (I ate this meal by myself as my Husband won’t indulge in casseroles- like I mentioned earlier). I can’t quite say how it stood up against the original though because I have never made it- remember my condensed canned soup aversion? However, since the lightened up recipe was so delicious, it leads me to think that the original version was super yummy! I think I am going to look into making it with homemade cream soup base instead. I’ll let you know how it goes!

*It is really important to process the tortillas and spices for the topping while the tortillas are warm. I waited to do it when they were cold and the spices absolutely would not stick. I ended up just sprinkling the spices across the top.*



Lighter King Ranch Casserole
Serves: 8
  • 10 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • vegetable oil spray
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1 pound onions, chopped fine
  • 2 jalopeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 (10 ounce) cans Ro-tel diced tomatoes & green chilies
  • 6 Tb all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, halved lengthwise
  • 6 ounces Colby Jack cheese, shredded (1½ cups)
  • 4 ounces ⅓ less fat cream cheese (neufchatel), cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 2 Tb minced fresh cilantro
  1. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 450°F. Divide tortillas between 2 baking sheets and spray both sides lightly with vegetable oil spray. Bake until brown and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking; cool slightly. Pulse 2 tortillas, garlic, chili powder, and ½ tsp salt in food processor until coarsely ground, about 12 pulses; set aside. Break remaining 8 tortillas into bite-size pieces.
  2. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, jalopenos, cumin, ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper and cook until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add chicken, return to simmer, and cook until no longer pink, about 12 minutes.
  3. Remove pot from heat and transfer chicken to plate. Add Colby Jack, Neufchatel, and cilantro to pot and stir until cheese is melted. Once cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-size pieces and return to pot.
  4. Scatter half of bit-size tortilla pieces in 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Spoon half of filling evenly over tortillas. Scatter remaining bite-size tortillas over filling, then top with remaining filling. Sprinkle spiced, coarsely ground tortilla mixture evenly over top of casserole. Spray lightly with vegetable oil spray. Bake on upper-middle oven rack until filling is bubbling and topping is brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Serve.



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