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Deconstructed Green Bean Casserole

The traditional green bean casserole found on many dinner tables on Thanksgiving takes a lot of ridicule.  And it’s no wonder, considering that the original recipe calls for canned mushroom soup, canned green beans (although there is a frozen green bean version), and canned fried onions. The resulting casserole, although it has a certain retro comfort food appeal, is not the healthiest, nor is it the tastiest, if what you want to taste are green beans as opposed to sodium.

I’ve created many healthier versions of the casserole, using fresh green beans and healthier sauces — one recipe even uses pureed white beans in the sauce.  But it still remained a casserole, and the green beans, while tasting much better, still didn’t shine as much as they deserved. That’s why this year, I’m deconstructing the venerable casserole.

I know a lot of people roll their eyes at the whole “deconstruction” thing, but it’s a perfect way to describe this dish.  Essentially, I’ve taken the elements of the casserole: the green beans, mushrooms, sauce, and onion rings (in this case, shallot rings) and let each element stand on its own, allowing you to combine at will.  For my own part, I’ve enjoyed sampling each flavor on its own, as well as taking various bites that included a little of all or most of the elements.

I’ve provided two ways to cook the green beans initially — the more traditional steamed method which brings out the wonderful natural flavor of the beans (just be sure to watch them carefully as they can go from too firm to too soft in a matter of seconds.)  I’ve also included the option of roasting the green beans before adding to the “casserole” — roasting give the beans a totally different character, both in terms of flavor and texture.
To give you an idea of how they look, the photo above in the casserole dish shows the steamed beans, while this is a photo of the roasted beans:

And this photo shows a portion of steamed beans served in a very frou-frou manner, flanked by its own little bowls of mushrooms sauce and crispy shallot rings — just in case there’s anyone who wants to serve their Thanksgiving dinner in separate courses (!).  Probably not the best way to serve a table full of hungry people. 😉  (and can you just imagine the pile of dirty dishes???)

Here’s the recipe:

Deconstructed Green Bean Casserole
Note: Instructions are provided for either roasting or steaming the green beans.
1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed
3 medium shallots, cut into thin rings
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces mushrooms (cremini or shiitake are good), sliced
1/2 cup minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour)
1 cup mushroom broth (use a porcini or other mushroom bouillon cube)
1 cup plain unsweetened nondairy milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°F. 
1. To steam the green beans: Place the green beans in a steamer pan over boiling water. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the green beans are just tender. Remove from the steamer and set aside.
To roast the green beans: Spread the green beans in a single layer on an oiled rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast until tender, about 30 minutes, turning once about halfway through. Set aside.
2. Arrange the shallots on an oiled baking pan and roast until golden brown, about 20 minutes, turning once about halfway through.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute until softened and slighted browned.  Remove the mushrooms from the skillet and set aside.  In the same skillet, over medium heat, add the onion, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, marjoram, and thyme.  Stir in about half of the reserved mushrooms and sprinkle with the flour. Stir in the broth, stirring to thicken.  Stir in the nondairy milk and simmer, stirring, until thick, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a casserole dish. 
4. Arrange the reserved mushrooms on top of the sauce, then arrange the green beans on top of the mushrooms, with the roasted shallot rings on top.  Serve hot.  If making ahead, the casserole can be refrigerated and then covered and reheated in the microwave or the oven until hot.   
Serves 4 to 6
There’s lots more coming up in the next week to help you make a delicious and cruelty-free Thanksgiving meal that everyone will enjoy.  For another amazing side dish, check out my recipe on OneGreenPlanet for Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Crispy Kale Ribbons, complete with a holiday variation. (Please “Like” this recipe on OneGreenPlanet, and share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I will be participating in the VegNews Twitter Chat tomorrow night at 6pm PT/9pm ET. Join Julie Hasson (@everydaydish), Annie Shannon (@AJShannon), and me (@GlobalVegan). Let’s chat turkey (free)!

Mac and Cheddar Cauliflower

On this “Food for Thought” Thursday, the subject is cauliflower, specifically Mac and Cheddar Cauliflower. I don’t mean mac + cheddar + cauliflower – I mean macaroni with “cheddar cauliflower” – a gorgeous pale orange colored cauliflower that proved to be an ideal ingredient in my latest foray into the developing the perfect vegan mac and cheese.

In mac and cheese recipes over the years, I’ve used everything from potatoes and carrots and roasted red, orange, and yellow peppers to add that “cheesy” color to mac and cheese.  I had been experimenting with a new version using cauliflower anyway, so when I saw the gorgeous orange crucifer labeled “cheddar cauliflower” I knew I had to get it and how I’d be using it.

Here, then, is the recipe for “Mac and Cheddar Cauliflower” – of course the recipe works just as well with white cauliflower – the pimientos, mustard, and nutritional yeast all combine to add color to the dish, but if you’re fortunate enough to find a cheddar head, it’s really fun to use in this mac and cheese recipe. As you can see in the photo, the top of the casserole is strewn with extra pieces of roasted cauliflower goodness.

Mac and Cauli
I realize there are a lot of “or more”s in this recipe – that’s because you get to make mac and cheese just the way you like it – as saucy as you want it, as cheesy as you like.  You can even add some shredded Daiya cheddar if you want to, but I’ll take my cheddar…cauliflower!

1 small (“cheddar” or white) cauliflower, cored, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
12 ounces elbow macaroni
2/3 cup cashews, soaked for 4 hours or overnight, then drained
2 cups vegetable broth, or more
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup nutritional yeast, or more
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimientos, drained
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more
1 teaspoon yellow mustard, or more

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Arrange the sliced cauliflower on an oiled baking sheet and roast until soft and lightly browned, turning once, about 20 minutes.  Set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
White the cauliflower is roasting, cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain well and set aside.
In a food processor or high-speed blender, combine the cashews and broth and blend until smooth.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer.  Transfer the onion mixture to the food processor with the cashew mixture. Add 2 cups of the roasted cauliflower and puree until smooth. Add the nutritional yeast,pimientos, lemon juice, and mustard.  Season to taste with salt and pepper — the amount of salt needed depends on how salty your broth is.  I usually add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to start. Process to blend well, then taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed. Now, here’s the part where personal preferences comes into play:
·        If you prefer a thinner sauce: add up to 1 cup of additional vegetable broth or your favorite plain unsweetened nondairy milk. 
·        If you want a “sharper” flavor: add more lemon juice and/or mustard, a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Now for the final texture preference:
For a non-saucy (but flavorful) texture, transfer all of the cooked pasta to a lightly oiled baking dish. 
For a saucy texture, transfer one-half to two-thirds of the cooked pasta to the baking dish and pour in the sauce, stirring to coat. It will be very saucy, but the pasta will absorb some of the sauce. 
If you like a saucy texture with no crumb topping, cover tightly and bake for 20 minutes or until hot. If you like a crunchy crumb topping, sprinkle the top with toasted panko crumbs and bake an additional 10 minutes.
For an even saucier version, omit the baking step altogether, and combine the pasta and sauce on top of the stove (in whatever proportions you prefer) and heat until hot. 

Note: If you were able to find cheddar cauliflower, sprinkle the top of the casserole with any remaining “crumbs” of roasted cauliflower – it tastes delicious and looks good, too!

Another note:  To add some color (and more veggies) stir in 1 to 2 cups of a cooked green vegetable such as chopped broccoli or asparagus, or thawed frozen green peas.

While we’re on the subject of cauliflower, be sure to visit OneGreenPlanet for my recipe for Cauliflower Picatta. It’s so delicious, it could make a cauliflower lover out of almost anyone.  Try it and see. (Also please “Like” the recipe on OneGreenPlanet and share it on Facebook and Twitter.)