Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vegetable, Black Bean and Cornbread Casserole

Here we have one of those all too rare mealtime phenomena: a dish that every single person in the house actually likes. It often seems well nigh impossible to make everyone happy, but this casserole comes pretty damned close; even the picky one who only likes potatoes will (usually) eat it. It's a fairly free adaptation of a recipe posted on EatAir last fall or winter; I confess my utter inability to follow any recipe exactly to the letter, and this is a prime example. While my compulsion to tinker is occasionally the result of not having the specified ingredients on hand, it's more often a matter of wondering what would happen if I subbed X for Y, or just thinking that something else might work. In this particular case, it helps that I was starting from a great prototype: black beans, fire-roasted tomatoes, cornbread, how could this possibly be bad?

One of my besetting culinary sins is the urge to add more vegetables to everything, and that is indeed my main point of departure from the original version. I increased the quantity of onions and beans, and added garlic, scallions, celery, yellow squash, mushrooms and some refried black beans. As a rule, I don't usually cook with a lot of canned stuff, but sometimes a person is in a hurry, you know? The beauty of this recipe is that you spend about 15 minutes chopping stuff (which is fun anyway), add some beans and tomatoes, mix it all up, and in under an hour you've got a big, beautiful pan of food. Emphasis on the "big," because this makes a lot. Enough, in fact, to feed the population of my eternally hungry household; it's also one of my go-to potluck contributions. You'll want a big old baking dish to hold it all, and with just some salsa, guacamole and a green salad on the side it's a seriously substantial meal (and the best part is that you can definitely count on leftovers for the following night).

Vegetable, Black Bean and Cornbread Casserole
The Filling
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1-2 tsp. hot chili oil (optional)
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2-3 jalapeno peppers, chopped (canned is fine)
~ 1 cup chopped scallions
~ 1 cup chopped onions
~ 1/2 cup chopped celery
~ 1/2 cup chopped carrots
~ 1 cup chopped bell pepper
~ 1 cup chopped yellow squash
~ 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
~ 1 28 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained
~ 2 15 oz. cans refried black beans
~ 2 tsp. each cumin, regular chili powder
~ 1 tsp. each salt, chipotle chili powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each nutmeg, cinnamon
~ 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
~ 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (nice, but optional)

~Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large pot, heat the oils over medium heat. Add the onions, scallions, celery and garlic, and sauté about 5 minutes.
~ Add the jalapenos, bell pepper, carrots, squash, mushrooms and all the seasonings except the cilantro; sauté another 10 minutes or so, until the veggies are getting soft.
~ Add the tomatoes, beans and cilantro, if using. Mix well, bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking until everything is nicely combined and fairly gloppy (we're going for a sort of sloppy joe-like texture here).

The Topping
~ 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1.5 cups coarse cornmeal
~ 4 tsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1 tsp. dried rosemary
~ 1 15 oz. can lite coconut milk (or 2 scant cups plain soy or other non-dairy milk)
~ 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. agave or maple syrup
~ 2 scallions, sliced

~ In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
~ In a blender or food processor, blend the coconut milk, corn kernels, scallions, oil, agave syrup, and rosemary until smooth.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the mixture from the blender. Stir until thoroughly combined.
~ Pour the bean and vegetable mixture into a greased casserole dish, spread the cornbread batter on top and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, until the top is crunchy and golden brown. Allow to cool and set up for about 20 minutes before slicing into huge slabs and overeating.

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