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How to Make the Easiest Hearty Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

by | Sep 7, 2021 | Recipes

Use boxed rice and beans (or homemade) to quickly & easily pump up the protein in an enchilada casserole. Layers of flour tortillas, topped with ground beef, bell peppers, onions, rice and beans, and shredded cheese make this Cheesy Enchilada Casserole a hearty, filling meal.

enchilada casserole served on a plate and topped with a dollop of sour cream and fresh tomatoes

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Kicking Off the Pantry Clean Out Recipe Series

Today, I’m introducing a new series of recipes here on Sweet, Savory & Sassy — Pantry Clean Outs. And I’m kicking it off with this Hearty Cheesy Enchilada Casserole that uses boxed rice and beans.

The recipes in the Pantry Clean Out series will focus on using ingredients in my kitchen and pantry that I need to use up before they go to waste as a way of showing you what delicious dishes you can create by simply shopping your own inventory of food and spices.

It’s kind of like my own personal version of Chopped. My hope is that by sharing what I come up with, I’m able to inspire you to rummage through your kitchen cabinets and pantry also to see what you can whip up without having to go to the grocery store.

recipe series card denoting this recipe is part of the pantry clean out series

Do you ever get tempted by a really good sale on boxed meals and side dishes at the grocery store? If you don’t, please tell me how to gain your superpowers. Seriously.

Though the majority of our meals are made with “whole” foods these days, I still fall prey to the 5 boxes for $5 campaigns from Rice-a-Roni and the like. Inevitably, the first box or two is always a great time saver and things work out well. But after that, they end up just sitting on the shelf in the kitchen cabinet for months…and months…and months.

The Backstory on this Cheesy Enchilada Casserole with Beef, Rice & Beans

When word started popping up more often about the coronavirus at the end of February in 2020, my mind started going into doomsday-style prepper territory. Normally, I wouldn’t give it much thought since I was already working from home at the time. However, I knew if worse came to worst, getting basic food and household supplies could be a nightmare. Especially given that there are so many people here in NYC.

I’ve lived here for almost 6 years now. And I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out what makes my neighbors tick. The people here are used to BIG hurricane winds and rain, Nor’easters, and Snowmageddon levels of snow in just a “typical” year of weather. But I swear to God, every time some act of nature is about to roll through our region, these folks fly out the door to the grocery store. And every damn time, they buy up all of the toilet paper, bananas, bread, milk, eggs, and bottled water.

JUMP TO:

INGREDIENTS    SWAPS    TIPS & TRICKS    HOW-TO    RECIPE

Sorry, Too Late for Fresh Foods, But Hey There’s Lots of Canned & Boxed Stuff Left

By the time we got to the store, all that was left was stuff in a box or a can. Couple that circumstance with the fact that one of us in the house is a picky eater. The kind of picky eater who won’t go for typical “survival”/camping foods. You know, foods like nuts, granola, trail mix, canned tuna, and canned veggies. So our emergency food stash was quite the slim pickings.

We came out of the store looking like hoarders of instant mashed potatoes, canned soup, dry pasta, and boxed rice and beans.

Recently, I was doing an inventory of our kitchen cabinets/pantry. Yep, I’m *that* freak. And I saw that here we are 18 months later with a surplus of those damned potatoes and one single remaining box of rice and beans. And yes, they are most certainly past the Use By date on the package.

Is This Still Good or Do I Just Toss It?

First things first, I checked out Still Tasty to see whether I could use the boxed rice and beans, even though the box said they were “expired”. According to the site, boxed rice mixes last 18-24 months. What’s also good to know is that the date on the box isn’t a safety date. It’s actually the manufacturer’s estimation of how long the product will remain at peak quality. And, per the Still Tasty website, dried beans are good for 2-3 years before their quality begins to deteriorate. So this lone box of rice and beans was still worth salvaging. And it was time to get to work doing so.

macro shot of the melted cheese on the baked enchilada casserole

The Easiest Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

Enchilada casserole is ridiculously easy to make and ridiculously delicious. What’s not to love about tortillas, ooey gooey melty cheese, and enchilada sauce?? Nothing, absolutely nothing not to love. But they’re not very hearty and filling.

One of the easiest ways to bulk up an enchilada casserole is to add a protein. Since I had this box of rice and beans that I needed to use, I decided I’d toss it into our casserole. A serving of the boxed rice and beans is about 3/4 of a cup and packs a whopping 20 grams of protein. So we were front and center in the land of double protein, baby!

This experiment with the boxed rice and beans in an enchilada casserole was a raving success for three reasons. First, I was able to salvage the boxed rice and beans. If you know me, you know I’m big on not letting food go to waste. Second, my picky eater actually enjoyed it. And, third, this cheesy enchilada casserole is hearty AF! Seriously, I thought about cutting it into 8 servings and thought it looked too small; so, I went with 6 pieces. Oof! Both of us thought that serving size was much too generous because it really is a hearty, filling casserole.

Gonna try out this recipe?

Leave a star rating or review in the comments to let me know what you think!

Ingredients For Hearty Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

overhead shot of the ingredients needed to make cheesy enchilada casserole
  • Ground Beef – I used ground beef for this recipe because it’s what we had on hand. It sounded like it would pair well with the flavor of boxed rice and beans I was trying to use.
  • Boxed Rice & Beans – It was a box of Zatarain’s Garden District Kitchen Salsa Verde Brown Rice and Red Beans. The flavors lend very well to an enchilada casserole. But you could use any flavor of boxed rice and beans that you’ve got. Or make rice and beans from scratch and layer them in as this recipe does with the boxed version.
  • Enchilada Sauce – This recipe uses red enchilada sauce. We tend to go for the mild versions in our house. It’s a whole lot of flavor, without much heat in this recipe.
  • Bell Peppers – If you don’t like bell peppers, you can leave them out of this dish. They lend a little bit of sweetness to the filling between the layers of tortilla.
  • Onion – Peppers and onions are a go-to combo for me, so I included both in this casserole. The onions also lend a note of sweetness to the casserole filling. But, you could certainly leave them out if you’re not a fan of onions.
  • Cheese – The recipe calls for 2 cups of shredded cheese. I use this amount as a baseline depending on how ooey gooey melty I want my casserole to be. So if you dig cheese, I would say start out with 3 cups instead and you’ll be more satisfied. Whatever you do, just don’t use the pre-packaged shredded cheese; it won’t melt nearly as well as freshly shredded cheese.
  • Tortillas – The size of tortillas you’ll need will depend on the size of dish you’re using. I typically use a 9 x 13 baking pan or dish, so I tend to use “fajita” size tortillas. They’re about 7-8″ in diameter and I typically need 8-10 of them.

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recipe pin graphic for pinterest

Ingredient Swaps & Variations

  • Ground Turkey – Turkey makes great swaps for the ground beef in this recipe. When using turkey, I prefer ground turkey.
  • Chicken – Chicken is another great swap for the ground beef. For chicken, I’ve made it with both ground chicken and grilled chicken. With grilled chicken, I like to either shred it or dice it into 1/2-inch cubes. All three preparations are delicious, but I tend to favor the diced grilled chicken.
  • Corn Tortillas – If you don’t have or don’t like flour tortillas, give corn tortillas a spin. They work just as well in this tasty casserole!
  • Other Veggies – Speaking of corn…you can definitely add veggies inside the casserole to bulk it up further. Some that make a great addition are corn (fresh, frozen, or canned), carrots (thinly sliced or shredded), potatoes (diced or shredded), and tomatoes (fresh ones diced or canned ones with green chiles).
  • Want More Heat? – Use a hotter enchilada sauce, toss in a can of diced green chiles, or mix in some pickled sliced jalapeños.
  • Let’s Talk Garnishes – There’s a wide variety of garnishes that make an excellent addition to this Cheesy Enchilada Casserole. Things like a dollop of sour cream, diced fresh tomatoes, fresh chopped cilantro, sliced green onions, sliced or diced fresh jalapeños, more shredded cheese (obvi) or some crumbles of queso fresco or cotija cheese, sliced black olives, pico de gallo, or some salsa.

Recipe Tips & Tricks

What to Remember & Avoid – Don’t overdo the amount of enchilada sauce on the bottom of your baking dish. If you put down too much, the tortillas will soak it all up and become soggy. If they’re soggy, they will end up sticking to the bottom of your baking dish. What you’re aiming for is just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the tortilla. This way so the tortillas don’t get crispy while the casserole bakes in the oven.

Ways to Use Hearty Cheesy Enchilada Casserole Leftovers – Have dinner for breakfast! Cut each portion of casserole in half and serve alongside scrambled eggs. You could also cut the casserole up into even smaller pieces and use them as a filling for a breakfast burrito. It’d go great with some scrambled eggs and hash browns in there too.

Recipes That Go Well with This Enchilada Casserole – This casserole is very filling and substantial on its own, so I don’t typically serve anything with it. If you’d prefer to serve it with some kind of side dish, three great options are my Simple One Pan Super Garlicky Green Beans, my cooling Quick & Easy Quinoa Tabouli, or a salad of mixed greens.

angled overhead shot of baked casserole and some of the casserole served on a plate

Recipe Notes

Storage – Store leftovers of this enchilada casserole in an airtight glass or plastic container in the refrigerator. Stored properly, the leftovers will stay good for up to 7 days.

Reheating – You can reheat this casserole either in the microwave or in the oven. For the microwave, I like to pull the leftovers out about 30-45 minutes before serving. This way the leftovers can slowly warm up on their own a little bit. Then, I’ll zap it in the microwave for about 60-90 seconds for each serving. If I’m serving lots of portions at one time, I prefer to reheat this enchilada casserole in the oven. I typically warm it in a 350 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes. If you use the oven method, be sure to cover the casserole with aluminum foil; it will help prevent the cheese from burning.

Servings & Nutrition – One regular serving of this Hearty Cheesy Enchilada Casserole is 1/8 of the casserole; for a larger serving, cut the casserole into 6 equal pieces. This recipe makes 6-8 servings. Each 1/8 of the casserole has approximately 475 calories, 31 g of carbohydrates, 31 g of protein, 25 g of fat, and 6 g of sugar. For the full recipe and additional nutritional information, please see the recipe card below.

How to Make Hearty Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

Step 1. Make your boxed rice and beans as directed on its boxed packaging and then set aside.

Step 2. Add the ground beef to a skillet over high heat and begin browning the meat. As the beef browns, use a spatula or spoon to break the meat into small crumbles. I like to use this chop and stir type utensil because it breaks the meat apart super quickly compared to when I use my spatula or spoon.

brown the ground beef and then add in the onions and peppers

Step 3. Once the ground beef has been almost fully browned, add the diced peppers and onions to the skillet. Continue cooking until the onions start to become clear.

Step 4. Once the onions start to become clear, add in 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of the enchilada sauce to the meat and veggie mixture. Stir to combine well and ensure that all of the veggies and ground beef are evenly coated in the sauce. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onions are fully cooked and clear.

when the onions start to turn clear add in some enchilada sauce to the mixture

Step 5. In the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan or baking dish, spread about 1/3 of a cup of the enchilada sauce.

add a layer of enchilada sauce and then tortillas

Step 6. Add a layer of your tortillas to the dish, making sure that most of the bottom of the dish is covered. As you can see in the photo above, depending on the size of your tortillas, you may need to cut a tortilla in half to better cover the bottom of your baking dish.

Step 7. Now, add a third of your meat mixture to the baking dish. Make sure to evenly distribute the meat mixture throughout your dish.

layer the ground beef mixture and the rice and beans in the casserole

Step 8. Next, add a third of your boxed rice and bean mixture to the baking dish, also making sure to evenly distribute it.

Step 9. Pour another 1/3 of a cup of the enchilada sauce over everything in the baking dish and then top with 1/2 cup of your shredded cheese. Repeat layering these ingredients until all are in the baking dish.

layered enchilada casserole topped with shredded cheese and then baked until the cheese is melted

Step 10. Bake your enchilada casserole in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese has fully melted. Once the cheese is fully melted, remove the casserole from the oven and let it stand for about 5 minutes before cutting into it to serve.

overhead shot of baked casserole and a piece served on a white plate

If you make this recipe, tag me in your photos on Instagram—I love seeing what you guys decided to make!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this cheesy enchilada casserole ahead of time?

Yes, you can make this enchilada casserole up to 4 hours in advance. Any longer ahead of time and you risk the tortillas soaking up too much of the enchilada sauce and getting soggy.

Does this enchilada casserole freeze well?

Yes, actually it does. Once the casserole is baked, the tortillas have soaked up all of the juices that they’re going to so there’s no need to worry that they’ll become a soggy mess when it comes to thaw frozen servings of the casserole.

How do I freeze an enchilada casserole?

I prefer to freeze enchilada casserole by the serving rather than in the baking dish. The best way I’ve found for freezing individual servings is refrigerating the cooked casserole, then cutting it into the number of servings I want, wrapping each serving tightly in at least two layers of plastic wrap, and then placing the wrapped casserole servings inside of a freezer safe ziploc bag. I’ve had success with them staying fresh this way for up to about 3 months. If you want to really make sure you get all of the air out, you can use a vacuum powered system like a FoodSaver instead of wrapping the casserole servings in plastic wrap. I generally like this method as well because the FoodSaver plastic is freezer safe, therefore I end up using less single-use plastic products.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

enchilada casserole served on a plate and topped with a dollop of sour cream and fresh tomatoes

Hearty Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Using boxed or homemade rice and beans is an easy way to add lots of protein and complex carbs to make a cheesy enchilada casserole a hearty, filling meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 lbs ground beef
  • 2 cups red enchilada sauce
  • 1 box of your favorite rice and beans
  • 3/4 cup diced bell pepper
  • 3/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 cups of shredded cheese
  • 8 medium flour tortillas

Instructions

1. Make the boxed rice and beans per the instructions on the packaging. Once done, set aside.

2. While the rice and beans are cooking, add the ground beef to a large skillet over high heat. As the meat browns, use a spatula or spoon to break the meat apart into small crumbles.

3. Add the peppers and onions to the skillet and cook until the onions start to become translucent.

4. Add in 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce to the skillet and mix well to ensure the meat and veggies are evenly coated. Continue cooking meat mixture until onions are fully clear.

5. Spread 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Then, add a layer of tortillas to the bottom of the dish.

6. Top the tortillas with 1/3 of the meat mixture and 1/3 of the cooked boxed rice and beans.

7. Pour 1/3 of a cup of enchilada sauce over the layers of ingredients and then top with 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.

8. Repeat layering the ingredients until all are in the baking dish.

9. Bake the casserole at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

10. Remove the casserole from the oven and let stand 5 minutes before cutting into it to serve.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1/8 of the casserole
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 475Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 91mgSodium: 1000mgCarbohydrates: 31gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 31g

This nutrition data is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. Please keep in mind that your specific nutritional values may vary based on the brand of ingredients you use to make this recipe.

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About photo

Hey there! I’m Krystal, the sassy-mouthed, self-taught, home cook behind the content here at Sweet, Savory & Sassy. I have a deep love for sharing food with people and showing folks just how easy it really is to make dishes that will bring a little extra joy to those you love. There’s nothing like making something special for friends and family and seeing their face light up in delight during that first bite!
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