Casseroles are fun and easy to cook – and the result is always rewarding.
Cooking rich flavored Casseroles when using meat is a piece of cake – but achieving complex and deep flavors in a vegetarian Casserole – this was a challenge. It took me a lot of trying and a lot of failures. Most recipes I found resulted in disasters – mushy vegetables, bland flavors …
When my family members were drawn from their hiding places by the smell (“what’s cooking ? will it be ready for tonight?”) – I knew I got it right.
When cooking – I always think that using your imagination and being creative is a good advice – but in this case – I suggest to stick to the vegetables I used (you can omit the kohlrabi if you cant find fresh small ones). No green vegetables – no mushy vegetables.
One last thing – to get deep “Umami” flavors in vegetarian cooking – I use Vegetarian Dashi stock (based on Kumbo & Shiitake). In this case – I used fresh Shiitake mushrooms instead. You can use either – or even use dried Shiitake (put them in a little warm water for 10 minutes – then add them and the water to the Casserole). But please – do use one of those options !!!
- Onions, Carrots, Potatoes, Kohlrabi, Mushrooms (Shiitake/Portobello)
- Umami Stuff – choose one of the 3 options
- Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
- Dried Shiitake – re-hydrated in warm water – add both mushrooms (cut into cubes) and the water
- Vegetarian Dashi – add it instead of part of the water. The simplest way to prepare it – just place some Kombu and dried Shiitake in a jar – add cold water to cover and let it rest in the fridge for 24 hours
- A few garlic cloves
- Red/Black beans – ready for cooking. Please don’t use canned beans nor frozen pre-cooked beans. The Casserole will cook for a long time – if you start with cooked beans – you will end up with a mush. See my post about preparing dried legumes for cooking
- Tomato puree – Mutti – i’m biased
- Smoked Paprika – Imported Spanish Paprika – do make the effort to find it – its worse it (smells like – “Mom – what are you cooking with bacon ?”)
- Chili flakes – I think its a must – even a very little amount
Heat your oven to 150 degrees celcius.
Put a heavy pot (that can later be placed in the oven) on medium heat – and add a generous layer of olive oil (this is the only fat going into the Casserole – so do be generous).
I work in the following order – each time preparing the next vegetable to join the party while the previous are sweating in the pot (remember to stir the vegetables in the pot gently while preparing the next vegetables).
- Onions – peel and cut to small “cubes” ( I try to cut all vegetables to the same size of my beans – the result is more appealing) – add to the pot and start simmering
- Carrots – peel and cut to cubes – add to the pot
- Potatoes – peel and cut to cubes – add to the pot
- Kohlrabi – peel and cut to cubes – add to the pot
- Mushrooms – remove stems – cut to cubes – add to the pot
- Garlic cloves – peel and dices – add to the pot
When vegetables smell like heaven add
- Tomato Puree – 2 tbsp.
- Smoked Paprika – 2 tsp.
- Chili Flakes – as much as you like
Stir gently to cover all vegetables in a nice shiny red color
- Add the beans
Now add water (if using Dashi – add it now). Water should cover the vegetables + 2 centimeters – remember – we have uncooked beans in there – and casserole will be cooking for a long time.
- Add a generous amount of salt (I use Atlantic salt – I do believe it adds flavor – but this is definitely not a must)
Bring to a boil. Turn of the heat. Cover with a baking sheet and the pots lid on top (the baking sheet helps reduce the evaporation of the liquid). Place the pot in the pre-heated oven for … a long time (2.5 – 3 hours). Although vegetables and beans will be fully cooked in 1.5 hours – we do need that long time to develop flavors and get the sauce “concentrated”.
- Don’t put your pot in the oven and forget about it !!! The first 1.5 hours are safe – but after that – you need to check if there are enough liquids left a few times. We don’t want a soup – but you still need the liquid to be at the vegetables level at the end of cooking. So keep watching and if needed – add some boiling water.
- Use your experience – if liquids are evaporating too fast (not all pots are made equal) – adjust the oven temperature. If I have to leave the house for an hour – I just lower the temperature to 100 degrees – check there are enough liquids – and leave. Casseroles are designed to be forgiving …
- If by the end of cooking – you Casserole is still very “liquidy” – just open the lid and leave it in the oven for a few more minutes to evaporate the liquid. Liquids should be at the vegetables level when done.
- After the first 1.5 hours – taste for salt – i’m pretty sure you will have to add some more
Once ready – take the pot out of the oven and … let it rest !!! Do not eat it immediately – it must be left calmly for at least 2 hours (there is some magic happening in a Casserole after its removed from the heat – ingredients “suck” up the sauce – and flavors “develops”). It will taste even better the next day.
Serve it on your favorite “sauce absorbing platform” – rice/quinoa/mashed potatoes … my favorites is real Couscous (not to be confused with Israeli couscous – nor with those awful instant couscous packages you can buy in any supermarket).