Polenta Casserole
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D.I.Y. Plant-Based Casserole

Recipe Contributed by Chef Mareya Ibrahim
Casseroles are one of the ultimate comfort foods. However, your typical recipe is probably loaded with refined grains, meat and cheese. It’s simple to turn this empty-calorie bomb into a plant-based meal that is rich in fiber, phytonutrients, quality protein and healthy fats. Technically “casserole” refers to the dish you serve it in—so why not pile some plant-based goodness in a casserole pan tonight?

Base Ingredients:

Noodles, noodle substitutes, starchy base or toppings
(Choose one favorite from the list below, or use whatever you have on hand, most suitable to which of the three casserole construction methods you’re using)

Noodles (approximately 1 cup):

  • Gluten-free noodles, cooked
  • Eggplant, cut into ribbons
  • Zucchini, cut into strips

Starchy bases or toppings (approximately 1 cup):

  • Root vegetable purée (sweet potatoes, turnips, or parsnips, cooked)
  • Whole grains (such as quinoa), cooked
  • Polenta

Binding liquid (1 cup):
(Choose one favorite from the list below, or use whatever you have on hand)

  • Marinara or tomato sauce
  • Vegetable stock
  • Puréed squash or sweet potato (thinned with water or stock)
  • Non-dairy yogurt

Vegetables (2 cups):
(Choose two or three from the list below, or use whatever you have on hand)

  • Green beans
  • Cauliflower, chopped or broken into small florets
  • Broccoli, chopped or broken into small florets
  • Bell peppers (any color), sliced or diced
  • Carrots, sliced or diced
  • Celery, sliced or diced
  • Parsnips, diced
  • Turnips, diced
  • Sweet potatoes, diced
  • Peas (shelled)
  • Organic corn (off the cob)
  • Squash, cubed
  • Asparagus

Cheese substitute (1/4 to 1/2 cup):
(Choose one from the list below or whatever you have on hand)

  • Non-dairy cheese (such as Daiya)
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Homemade cashew cheese

Protein (1 cup or 8 ounces):
(Choose one from the list below or whatever you have on hand)

  • Beans—kidney, garbanzo (chickpeas), or white Northern beans, whole or puréed. (If using beans from a BPA-free can, use 1 cup. If cooking beans from starch, start with 1/2 cup dry).
  • Organic tempeh, cubed or sliced
  • Organic tofu, cubed or sliced

Seasoning, to taste:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Basil, fresh or dried
  • Oregano, fresh or dried
  • Thyme, fresh or dried
  • Rosemary, fresh or dried
  • Black pepper
  • Sea salt

Other essential ingredients (1 Tbsp):

  • Olive or coconut oil for sautéing

General Instructions:

There are three basic ways to build a casserole:
Method 1:

  1. Layered (similar to a lasagna)
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 350° F.
  3. Prepare noodle/noodle substitute, and any vegetables that need to be sautéed or otherwise pre-cooked.
  4. Spread a layer of noodle/noodle substitute on the base of the casserole dish.
  5. Over the noodles, add a layer of vegetables, protein and 1/4 cup of binding liquid.
  6. Repeat until dish is full. Top with cheese alternative and seasoning.
  7. Cover with foil and bake at 350° F for 40 minutes, remove foil and bake for 20 more minutes.

Method 2:

  1. Jumbled (similar to a baked macaroni and cheese)
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 350° F.
  3. Prepare noodle/noodle substitute, and any vegetables that need to be sautéed or otherwise pre-cooked.
  4. Toss noodles/noodle substitute, vegetables and protein together with binding liquid.
  5. Fill casserole pan with tossed ingredients.
  6. Top with cheese alternative and seasoning.
  7. Cover with foil and bake at 350° F for 40 minutes, remove foil and bake for 20 more minutes.

Method 3:

  1. Bi-Layer/Topped or Bottomed (similar to a shepherd’s pie or the Polenta Casserole recipe below)
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 350° F.
  3. Prepare starchy vegetable, and any other vegetables that need to be sautéed or otherwise pre-cooked.
  4. If starch layer is on the bottom:
  5. Lay it out first in the casserole dish. (Polenta or whole grains are good choices for base layers).
  6. Top with vegetables, protein, binding liquid, cheese alternative and seasoning.
  7. If starch layer is on the top:
  8. Fill the casserole dish first with vegetables, protein, binding liquid, cheese alternative and seasoning.
  9. Top with starch layer. (Mashed or puréed sweet potatoes or other root vegetables are good choices for starchy top layers).
  10. Cover with foil and bake at 350° F for 40 minutes, remove foil and bake for 20 more minutes.

Renowned chef Mareya Ibrahim created this take on the basic casserole for Thrive Forward. With polenta as the base, and nutrient dense vegetables to support, she finds this just as satisfying as traditional versions. (This recipe follows the bi-layered/bottomed method of construction)

Polenta Veggie Bake Casserole

Contributed by Chef Mareya Ibrahim
(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

Noodles, noodle substitutes, starchy base or toppings:

  • 14 oz. prepared polenta (in a tube), or polenta from scratch (recipe below)

Binding liquid:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups Italian-style tomato sauce, no salt added

Vegetables:

  • 1 eggplant, raw, unpeeled
  • 2 medium zucchini with skin, raw
  • 12 oz. spinach, raw

Cheese substitute:

  • 1/2 cup Daiya dairy-free mozzarella cheese (or other non-dairy cheese)

Protein (optional):

  • 1 cup white Northern Beans, cooked
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary

Seasoning, to taste:

  • 1/2 cup basil, fresh
  • 1 tsp salt (or reduced sodium alternative, such as LoSalt)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Other essential ingredients:

  • 1 tsp olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  2. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. Dice eggplant and zucchini into small cubes. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, zucchini, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.
  4. Add spinach; cover and cook until wilted, stirring once, about 3 minutes (if the pan is quite dry, add a small splash of water, no more than 1 teaspoon, to help the spinach wilt).
  5. Stir marinara sauce into the vegetables and heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in basil.
  6. Optional: purée beans with garlic and rosemary. Set aside.
  7. Place polenta slices in a single layer in the prepared baking dish, trimming to fit if necessary. If using optional protein, spread a thin layer of bean purée over polenta slices. Top with the eggplant mixture and sprinkle with the 1/2 cup cheese.
  8. Bake until bubbling and the cheese has just melted, 12 to 15 minutes. Let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

To make polenta from scratch:

To make polenta, follow this recipe below. You could substitute quinoa for the base of this casserole but it will not have the same consistency as the polenta disks.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt (or reduced sodium alternative, such as LoSalt)
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably organic)
  • 1 Tbsp Earth Balance (or other non-dairy) butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon of salt.
  2. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, about 15 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and mix in non-dairy butter.
  5. Allow to cool. Spoon polenta onto plastic wrap and roll into a tube. Place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Once thoroughly chilled, cut into disks and layer into casserole.

Contributor

Mareya Ibrahim is The Fit Foody—an award-winning entrepreneur, chef, author and inventor and the creator of eatcleaner.com, the premier lifestyle destination for fit food. Her book The Clean Eating Handbook is touted as the go-to guide for achieving a balanced approach to eating clean. She is a featured chef on ABC’s Emmy-nominated show Recipe Rehab and is a clean food expert for eHow.com, Livestrong.com and San Diego Channel 6 News. Her backpage column, The Fit Foody, appears in Edible Orange County Magazine. Sign up for her free newsletter at www.eatcleaner.com.