Alex Snodgrass is a bit of a phenomenon. The Dallas food writer specializes in nutritious and doable family-style cooking, loosely operating within the universe of the Whole30 Program elimination diet. Her recipes are not entirely Whole30-compliant, but many of them are, or else they can be adapted to work under the program’s strict parameters. People are drawn to her dishes because they pack in a ton of flavor; as she writes on her website, “I am from Texas and us Texans like big bold flavors—so I never skimp on flavors with my healthy dishes.”

The formula of healthy-yet-tasty works. Snodgrass boasts more than 388,000 Instagramfollowers, and recently her first cookbook, The Defined Dish: Whole30 Endorsed, Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes, hit the New York Times best-seller list. The book focuses on the idea of “Nourish. Not punish,” meaning that while Snodgrass aims to eat healthy, she also doesn’t beat herself up about it when she doesn’t. ”I’ve got two beautiful young girls who look up to me,” she writes in the book’s introduction, “and I can only do my best each day to set a good example for them and encourage them to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.”

January-monthly-cookbook-alex-snodgrass Defined Dish

Alex Snodgrass.

Kristen Kilpatrick

Snodgrass was the guest on a recent episode of Texas Monthly’s National Podcast of Texas, where she discussed the struggle of making King Ranch casserole healthy: “Whenever you’re trying clean recipes for the kind of dishes that we’re used to making with condensed soups in the South, the healthier swaps can make things really watery really easily.” But because King Ranch—named, like many things, after the historic Texas ranch, of course—was her favorite of all the casseroles she grew up on, she was determined to do it.

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Her solution? Go mini. The result is a recipe for personal-sized casseroles, which get extra bonus points for being adorable. And while it’s not totally Whole30 compliant—the corn tortillas are a no-go under the program’s rules—it is gluten-free and very tasty. It’s all in fitting with the theme of nourishing, not punishing. As Snodgrass writes, “Who knows if the perfect balance is ever really attainable, but we can all do our best, and that’s enough.”

Mini King Ranch Casseroles

Serves 5

SAUCE:

2 tablespoons ghee
2 tablespoons arrowroot starch
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, such as Ro-Tel

CASSEROLE:

5 gluten-free corn tortillas, halved and cut into ½-inch slices
3 cups diced rotisserie or cooked chicken
½ medium red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced (½ cup)
½ large jalapeño, seeded and finely diced (2 tablespoons)
2 cups shredded mild cheddar and Monterey jack cheese blend
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray five 8-ounce ramekins or cocottes with cooking spray.

2. To make the sauce, heat a small saucepan over medium heat and melt the ghee. Add the arrowroot, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and cumin and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring, until the spices are toasted, about 2 minutes. While whisking, slowly pour in the broth and cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the diced tomatoes and green chiles along with all the can juices. Set aside.

3. Fill the bottom of the ramekins with half of the sliced tortillas. Layer over them half of the chicken, bell pepper, and jalapeño. Pour ¼ cup of the sauce into each of the ramekins, then sprinkle with 1 cup of the cheese. Repeat by layering the remaining tortillas, chicken, bell pepper, jalapeño, and cheese, and top off with the remaining sauce. Place the ramekins on a large baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake, uncovered, until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned, 18 to 20 minutes. Let the casseroles cool for 8 to 10 minutes before sprinkling with the cilantro and serving warm.

Mini King Ranch Casseroles is excerpted from The Defined Dish: Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes© 2019 by Alex Snodgrass. Photography ©2019 by Kristen Kilpatrick. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.