Comfort with a Twist

I have a confession to make. I like puns. Even when they make me groan, which is most of the time, there's a smile happening in sync. So when I recently got an opportunity to tweak some of my fondest childhood comfort food in a way that gained applause and make a properly groan-worthy pun in the name, I was in heaven. Introducing "Nacho" Mother's Tater Tot Casserole:

*pauses for the groans and drooling to subside*

In all honesty, the idea of combining flavors associated with nachos and tater tots came from a local restaurant that serves "tot-chos" as appetizers. I figured that idea was nice, but didn't go far enough, so tater tot casserole got a makeover that left those at the table smiling. Like the original, a ground meat-based layer finds itself covered with a tater tot layer. Unlike the original, the ground meat layer is bursting with Tex-Mex flavors and ingredients found layered onto nachos and the tater layer gets a blanket of cheese and crushed tortilla chips before heading to the oven.

You could opt for more cheese in this dish, but I decided to keep it pretty simple and offered a fresh pico de gallo as a condiment when it was served. I didn't have any on hand, but black beans would have been great in the bottom layer and could probably have even been substituted for the meat if you want a meatless version. Also, you can offer more in the way of condiments and quickly make this into party food. Sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and chopped green onions and black olives would all play nicely with this dish. Olé!

"Nacho" Mother's Tater Tot Casserole

  • ½ lb. lean ground beef
  • ½ lb. spicy pork sausage
  • 2 tsp. Southwestern seasoning
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 c. diced, roasted tomatoes
  • 1 c. frozen corn
  • 2 lb. frozen tater tots
  • 1 c. grated cheese
  • ¼ c. crushed tortilla chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a nonstick skillet, brown the ground beef and pork sausage, adding the Southwestern seasoning after about 5 minutes of cooking. When the meat is nearly browned, add the onion and bell pepper and continue cooking until the meat is fully browned and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Add the roasted tomatoes and frozen corn and stir until they are well incorporated into the mix.

Layer the meat mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Pour the frozen tater tots over the top of the meat mixture, creating an even layer of frozen spuds. Sprinkle those with the grated cheese and, if desired, the crushed tortilla chips.

Bake the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tater tots are browned and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve hot with salsa and other traditional nacho toppings.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes