Mexican lasagna is a dish that seeks to use Mexican flavors and ingredients to mimic traditional lasagna. Most of the time, the dish is made by layering spiced meats, Latin American cheeses, and chilies, as well as salsa and corn tortillas in alternating stacks. Tortillas take the place of the lasagna noodles used in traditional recipes, and spicier cheeses replace the more common ricotta. This results in a similar casserole with a decidedly Latin flair.
The name “Mexican lasagna” is deceptive in two ways: the dish is not Mexican, nor is it actually lasagna. It is wholly a creation of Mexican food lovers in the United States. While the casserole bears some aesthetic resemblance to its namesake Italian dish, the two typically share no common ingredients.
Traditional lasagna is made by layering lasagna noodles — wide, scallop-edged egg noodles, usually — with tomato sauce, seasoned beef or chicken, and a blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. The dish is prepared in a casserole, and is served in deep rectangular slices. Mexican lasagna borrows the casserole stacking method, and is served the same way. The similarities largely end there, however.
Mexican lasagna generally calls for corn tortillas in place of lasagna noodles. Enchilada or taco sauce is typically used in place of marinara, and the meat is spiced with chilies or seasonings. Cooking with taco seasoning is often the easiest way get Mexican-style meat. Rice, salsa, and corn are also frequent additions. Mexican lasagna is a recipe that can easily be altered or varied depending on the cook’s tastes, as well as ingredients on hand.
Mexican lasagna is a relatively recent addition to the American culinary scene. It is primarily a make-at-home dish, and is a common way of repurposing leftover taco or enchilada ingredients. Restaurants rarely feature the dish, largely because it is not really an authentic dish of Mexico or any Latin American culture. Just the same, it has become a popular dish in American celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May celebration of Mexican heritage and pride in commemoration of the turning point of their war for independence at the Battle of Puebla.
It is, of course, possible to make a traditional lasagna in a Mexican style. This sort of dish combines regular lasagna noodles with Mexican flavors like salsa, cheddar cheese, and chili powder. The result is basically a Mexican-style pasta dish. Normally, when people speak of Mexican lasagna, however, they mean the dish made with layered tortillas.