Cookbook reviews are serious business. That’s especially true when you’re looking at Raquel Pelzel’s “Sheet Pan Suppers Meatless.”

Pelzel is a three-time James Beard Award nominee for cookbooks she’s worked on, and she’s written more than 20 cookbooks altogether. Still, I was skeptical. Could a James Beard Award-nominated food writer come up with something for a home-schooled cook like myself? That is certainly her goal.

Pelzel says right in the introduction: The goal here is an easy meal. “I want to get a tasty and healthy meal on the table with as little fuss and drama as possible.”

After its blessedly short introduction – do we need a 40-page dissertation on the evolution of Mexican cooking in America to start off a cookbook? – Pelzel gives a little sheet pan advice. Plain metal sheet pans are best, avoid the nonstick kind.

Then we dive into the recipes. The sheet pan recipes were promising and unpretentious. The book draws inspiration from India, Italy and Japan, but it was the spicy dishes that caught my eye. With recipes like Taco Truck Pickles and Sheet Pan Chili, the book offers plenty for the spice-inclined.

But while it aims for unpretentious, there are booby traps in those pages for a novice home cook. The Lentil- and Spinach-Stuffed Squash Halves are simple enough, but who uses a vegetable peeler to shave cheese ribbons? The Cheesy Pizza Twists are appealing, but doesn’t spending an hour to make marinara sauce contradict the goal of an easy meal? The recipes are certainly manageable, but many require a little cooking knowledge and time in the kitchen.

Though I could see it wasn’t going to be a snap, I settled on making Tortilla Rojo Bake, which was described as a Mexican-style lasagna. I wanted an adventure.

“Sheet Pan Suppers Meatless: 100 Surprising Vegetarian meals Straight from the Oven.” By Raquel Pelzel. Photographs by Ken Carlson/Courtsy of Workman Publishing

Naturally, the recipe had to be followed in exacting fashion. This is, after all, a book from a James Beard Award nominee. It was imperative to spend an hour driving to three different grocery stores looking for chile peppers. After Whole Foods and Hannaford let me down, Portland’s La Bodega Latina had me out the door in two minutes with heaping bags of ancho and guajilo chiles.

After an hour spent roasting the chiles, soaking them in water, roasting tomatoes and combining everything, I had made enchilada sauce. It tasted just like every other enchilada sauce you have ever tasted. And there it was, right in the introduction to the recipe: “If you prefer, (use) your favorite purchased enchilada-style sauce.”

Duly noted. At least there were no preservatives or junk in the sauce. And I have to admit, it was nice knowing the enchilada sauce wasn’t drowning in salt like so many store-bought options.

The rest of the recipe comes together easily. You mix cabbage, onion, mushrooms and garlic. Then you roast the veggies. Once the vegetables are roasted, you layer them in a sheet pan with corn tortillas and that laborious chile sauce. If you’ve ever roasted anything before, this recipe is a snap.

With the sheet pan dish still bubbling from its time in oven, I lopped off a section and gave it a try. It wasn’t what I was expecting. While the term “lasagna” connotes creamy cheeses and soft pasta, the rojo bake has a crunchy layer of roasted cabbage that intermixes well with the sauce and tortillas.

The dish came out a little on the thin side. Ever a tinkerer, I mentally added more vegetables to the next batch. Red peppers and fresh tomatoes could easily find a home in this dish. You can’t go wrong.

Except maybe by making that enchilada sauce.

James Patrick can be contacted at 791-6382 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mesofunblog

TORTILLA ROJO BAKE

6 cups very thinly sliced napa cabbage

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

8 ounces mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced

1 serrano or jalapeño chile, stemmed (seeded for reduced heat, if you like) and thinly sliced crosswise

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

18 corn tortillas (6 inches each)

2 3/4 cups Guajillo Chile Sauce (separate recipe; or use enchilada sauce)

3 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend or a combination of mozzarella and Monterey jack cheeses (optional)

4 scallions, thinly sliced

3/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese (optional)

1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, place a rimmed jelly roll-size sheet pan on it and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the cabbage, red onion, mushrooms, chile and garlic in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss to combine. Turn the vegetables out onto the hot sheet pan and roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a heatproof bowl and save the sheet pan (no need to wash it).

Meanwhile, warm the tortillas directly over a gas burner set to medium heat, turning occasionally, or in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until the tortilla just starts to blister and becomes more pliable, 30 to 45 seconds per side.

Spread about 1/2 cup sauce over the bottom of the sheet pan in a thin, even layer. Lay the tortillas in the pan, overlapping them slightly. Cover with one third of the vegetables, spreading them in an even layer. Spoon 3/4 cup sauce over the vegetables, spreading it out as best you can with the back of a spoon. Cover with 1 cup shredded cheese, if using. Repeat two times with two more layers of tortillas, vegetables, sauce and shredded cheese.

Bake until the cheese melts, 15 to 20 minutes. If not using cheese, bake until the tortillas are warmed through and the top layer of sauce looks dry, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve sprinkled with scallions, Cotija (if using) and cilantro.

GUAJILO CHILE SAUCE

8 dried guajilo chiles

1 dried ancho chile

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 pound plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 can (14 ounces) chopped tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups vegetable broth or water

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place a wire cooling rack inside a rimmed sheet pan and place the guajilo and ancho chiles on the rack. Roast the chiles until they are fragrant and begin to darken, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a medium-size bowl and cover with the boiling water. Put a plate on the chiles to submerge them and set the bowl aside for 20 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Remove the wire rack from the sheet pan and line the pan with a piece of parchment paper. Toss the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium-size bowl, then place them on the sheet pan, cut side up. Roast until they are juicy, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the tomatoes to a blender.

Remove the chiles from the water (save the water in the bowl). Discard the stems and slice the chiles open lengthwise. Scrape away the seeds and add the chiles to the blender, along with 1 cup of the reserved soaking water, the canned tomatoes, the garlic, sugar, oregano, cumin, coriander, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Blend at a medium speed until very smooth. Return the sheet pan to the oven to heat it.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the heated pan and pour in the guajillo sauce. (It should sizzle.) Return the pan to the oven, stirring every 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes very thick and pasty, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth and continue to bake until the sauce is thick and lush, about 15 minutes.

filed under: