A big spoonful of pure comfort food, Easy Cheesy Mexicali Chili Tater Tot Casserole is an easy meal the whole family will enjoy!
No surprise, this is a fabulous and fun meal that resonates with kids. But when I caught my 78-year-old Dad polishing off the last of this delicious casserole, I knew we had a new family favorite on our hands!
OVEN-READY IN 20 MINUTES!
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
The best part of this hearty meal is that you may use homemade chili, leftover chili (my favorite!), or canned chili as the base. After a few quick additions, and a buttery ‘pièce de résistance’ topping of crispy tater tots, you’ll have a hot dish that’ll always be a little taste of home!
My post today walks you through starting the chili recipe base from scratch. Busy weeknights require quick meals to fit everyone’s schedules. I think this dish will be a big hit for that weeknight dinner (in my humble opinion!) in a deliciously perfect way!
So grab a baking dish and one pound ground beef and let’s get cooking. (Ground chicken and ground turkey also work fabulously in this chili base!)
How This Recipe Came About…
Hurricane season in the coastal United States south means being ready to evacuate when officials say ‘go.’ For this reason, I begin cooking from my pantry and the freezers in January to lessen my inventory.
If we are hit with a hurricane, we won’t stand to lose so much money in the way of food from the power going down. Especially if I’ve managed to empty most of the meat and poultry by way of easy casseroles and quick laid-back suppers.
This is where Easy Cheesy Mexicali Chili Tater Tot Casserole comes in. Sunday dinners are generally a casserole of some sort or another, and on this day, I was aiming to use up a remainder of a big old bag of tater tots.
Easy Cheesy Mexicali Chili Tater Tot Casserole
Do You Have What’s Needed For A Chili Cheese Tater Tot Casserole Recipe? Check The List!
- lean ground beef
- medium onion
- a stalk of celery
- fresh garlic cloves
- Cheddar cheese soup
- corn, either fresh from about 3 ears, canned, or frozen
- red pepper
- green pepper
- green chilies
- picante sauce or salsa
- chili powder
- red pepper flakes
- black pepper
- shredded cheese
optional for garnishing
- green onions
- ripe olives
- sour cream
How To Make A Chili Tater Tot Casserole?
Spray the bottom of a 9×13-in casserole with cooking spray. This meal comes together pretty quickly, so I also preheat my oven at this juncture.
Cook beef in a large skillet over medium high heat along with some chopped onion, celery, and garlic. I let this meat mixture go for 8 to 10 minutes before draining. The meat should be nicely browned.
Once drained, add the meat back to the pan. Stir in some Cheddar soup, a can of corn, a mixture of both chopped red and green pepper, picante (or tomato salsa), some green chiles, a bit of chili powder, black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
The chili cooks over medium heat to medium-low heat for another 5 minutes just to heat it through. I use a big old wooden spoon to stir well and combine and taste for if I need to adjust any seasonings. Wasn’t that easier than opening a can of chili?
You’ll notice I do not specify the use of salt in this recipe. This is because the Cheddar soup generally contains plenty enough. If you taste as you go and find you need salt, add a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce to the mix rather than salt, as it’s way more effective way faster without adding an overage of salt.
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- 9 x 13 inch casserole dish
- large non-stick skillet
- wooden spoon
Ingredients For Easy Cheesy Mexicali Chili Tater Tot Casserole
- 1 pound ground beef lean; may substitute ground turkey or ground chicken
- 1 medium onion rough chopped
- 2 cloves garlic rough chopped
- 1 stalk celery stalk and leaves, chopped
- 2 cans (10 3/4 ounce) condensed Cheddar soup
- 1 1/4 cups corn fresh or canned or frozen
- 1/8 cup red bell pepper very finely chopped
- 1/8 cup green bell pepper very finely chopped
- 1/8 cup green chilies finely chopped
- 1/2 cup Picante sauce may substitute tomato salsa
- 2 teaspoons chili powder mild or hot
- pinch red pepper flakes or additional to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 (16-ounce bag) frozen potato nuggets
- 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar Jack cheese may substitute any shredded cheese you like
optional for garnishing
- green onions chopped, white and green parts
- olives chopped
- sour cream
- Spray the bottom of a 9×13-in casserole with cooking spray. Heat oven to 375°.
- Cook beef in a large skillet over medium high heat along with chopped onion, celery, and garlic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain. The meat should be nicely browned.
- Return the meat mixture back to pan. Stir in both cans Cheddar soup, corn, the chopped red and green pepper, picante (or tomato salsa), the chopped green chiles, chili powder, black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Continue cooking over medium to medium low heat for an additional 5 minutes, stirring to blend well.
- Taste for seasonings. NOTE this recipe does not specify the use of salt; if your mixture requires salt upon tasting, add 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and re-taste for seasonings; Worcestershire sauce will get you to that salty and umami taste without having to add an overage of salt
- Add the meat mixture to the prepared casserole dish and top with the frozen tater tots in a single layer. You can line them all up or scatter them.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until tater tots are a deep golden brown and chili is bubbling up between the tots. Sprinkle with the shredded Cheddar Jack and bake another 10 minutes until the cheese has melted.
- Remove the casserole from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. The casserole will be too hot beneath the tater tots to simply dig right in.
- Plate individual portions and offer chopped green onion, chopped green chiles, chopped olives, extra shredded cheese, or a dollop of sour cream tableside.
Please note that the nutrition information provided above is approximate and meant as a guideline only.
Scrape the lot into the prepared casserole dish and top with the frozen tater tots in a single layer. You can line them all up or scatter them as I have to allow for the chili to bubble up in between them as the casserole bakes.
I bake this ensemble in the preheated oven for 45 minutes before sprinkling with a shredded melty cheese like Cheddar and Pepper Jack. You can use any shredded cheese you like in this recipe, so be creative. Taco-seasoned shredded cheese is VERY good!
Bake another 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and the baked tater tots are golden. Remove the piping hot casserole from the oven and allow it to stand for 10 minutes before diving in. The chili in the bottom of the pan will be screaming hot. Giving it 10 minutes will NOT endanger it getting cold, trust me!
I like to plate up so my eaters can top individual portions for themselves with chopped green onion, chopped green chiles, chopped olives, extra shredded cheese, or a dollop of sour cream.
Easy recipes like this one become favorite recipes for kids when they can be a part of choosing their own toppings. I find this version of chili to have the consistency of sloppy joe, and the casserole itself reminiscent of those diner chili cheese fries we all remember growing up.
Modifying The Norm To Make It Not Entirely Average
It’s not so much what you could add to this to make it better, rather modifying for your eaters. I did this to appease some kiddos we had visiting. The adults ate ribs, while I added grilled and cooled sliced hot dogs to the meat mixture, and a block of cream cheese in lieu of one of the two cans of Cheddar soup.
The kids (and at least 4 of the dads!), ate this like a dip with corn chips on the side. I was told they thought it tasted a lot like chili dogs! Crazy, but there wasn’t any leftover, so it must have ranked!
Can Chili Tater Tot Casserole Be Made Ahead?
Yes! And in fact, if preparing this casserole during cooler weather, feel like you can bring out the slow cooker to get a jump on the chili base up to two days ahead. I do this very often because I love leftover chili after it’s cooled and thickened and really had a chance for all of the components to get happy with one another.
Can Easy Cheesy Mexicali Chili Tater Tot Casserole Be Frozen?
I have already touched on how this casserole may be made ahead by several days, prepared in the crock pot, and modified to satisfy little kids. Freezing this casserole is the next best part of the recipe, as the casserole may be baked in full, wrapped in foil, and frozen for up to 2 months.
To thaw, simply place in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to bake, uncover and allow 20 minutes for the casserole to come to room temperature while you heat oven. Follow the recipe card as instructed. Refrigerate any remaining casserole.
If You Like This Recipe…
…you might also like:
- Crazy Good French Onion Noodle Casserole
- Tailgater Frito Pie
- A Baked Spaghetti Casserole
- Creamy Chicken Alfredo Casserole
YES, and Americans consume 70 million pounds of this bite-sized cylindrical grated potato product annually! YES, REALLY! Tater tots were invented in the Ore-Ida Laboratories back in 1953 and the name trademarked shortly thereafter. Apparently, it did not take folks very long to catch the ‘tot buzz!’
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