Growing up, like many families, we used holidays as a time to gather together. My parents, two sisters, and I would almost always drive to my aunt’s house to spend the day with my aunt, uncle, and cousins catching up on each others’ lives, telling stories, playing games, watching sports, doing puzzles, and, of course, sharing a meal together.
Everybody pitched in to help in one way or another, partly to help prepare the food, but mostly as an excuse to just be together. My aunt’s little kitchen would be packed full of people, popping in and out. We would be handing utensils and ingredients over heads and behind backs and murmuring “excuse me’s” while squeezing through to get to the refrigerator. It was crowded and slightly chaotic, but we all loved every minute of it.
Just being able to see our extended family was a treat, but my aunt was always extra thoughtful in her planning, making sure each person felt cherished. On Easter, she would assemble mini baskets full of candy to set at each place. She would make place cards with each of our names on them and, without fail, she made sure that I was sitting next to my favorite cousin. And she always made me my very own Cheesy Potato Casserole recipe.
See, my family is all from New Mexico, and green chiles are the thing there. They are a normal household staple that is used to top burgers, stir into scrambled eggs, simmer in stews, chop into salsas, and mix into casseroles. They’re a part of New Mexican culture. It was not uncommon to walk into a friend’s house and see strings of dried chiles hanging from the ceiling or made into a wreath. We even had a strand of Christmas lights that was shaped like chile peppers!
The problem was, I was extra sensitive to spice when I was younger. Even mild salsa was too spicy for me, so I avoided green chiles whenever I could, which as you can tell, was pretty difficult to do! I would spend half of my time at the table picking the little pieces of chile out of my food. But not at my aunt’s house.
This casserole appeared almost every holiday. My aunt would make two entire pans of it, one with green chiles and one without, even though I was the only person out of the 10 or more people there that didn’t like green chiles. It always made me feel so special. Because of that and many other reasons, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods!
Thankfully, I (mostly) grew out of my intolerance to spice, and I now embrace my green chile New Mexico heritage so I always add green chiles to the casserole now, among many other things! This is a dish that is very quick and easy to prepare plus you can make it ahead of time, which is really helpful when you’re entertaining. All you have to do the day of the meal is pop it into the oven. It’s a perfect hot, creamy, cheesy dish for chilly fall or winter nights, and it is a fantastic side dish to accompany a holiday honey ham or roasted turkey. And it’s easy to accommodate picky eaters, as proven by my aunt’s response to my previous green chile aversion.
I will never forget how thoughtful it was that she would make a dish specifically for me. Even more than the food, it’s the care and consideration that I try to capture and carry on in this dish, and all of the dishes, that I make for others. Obviously, I love for people to like the taste of my food, but my bigger goal is that they’ll walk away feeling loved, appreciated, and blessed.
- 1 pound, 12 ounce bag of frozen potatoes O’Brien, thawed
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1-10.5 ounce can cream of chicken soup
- 10 ounces Velveeta, cubed
- 1-7 ounce can diced green chiles, drained
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 ºF.
- Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Pour into a greased 9” square pan.
- Bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring once halfway through the cooking time.
Originally posted on Culicurious on August 19, 2014.