Who doesn’t love a good casserole? They’re the epitome of comfort, a perfect trifecta of creamy, starchy, and delicious. In Utah, the word “casserole” will undoubtedly bring to mind a tray of funeral potatoes… a staple here in the Beehive State traditionally consisting of hash browns, every kind of dairy imaginable, and corn flakes. Even though I’ve called this place home for the past ten years, for me the word “casserole” still brings to mind “hotdish.” Perhaps that word is as unfamiliar to you as “funeral potatoes,” or maybe you too hail from the great white north and grew up on tater tot hotdish. Made with tater tots, cream of mushroom soup, greens beans and beef, this is to Minnesota what funeral potatoes are to Utah. It’s as common there as the snow and thick northern accents.
Despite this book not having recipes for funeral potatoes or tater tot hotdish (the author is from Oregon, which I’m sure has its own regionally unique casserole), it’s filled with all the creamy, starchy, and delicious that you would expect. But it’s also filled with some lighter dishes that you wouldn’t.
Before this book came out, I was fairly certain I’d want to own it to call to in times of need, when nothing will do except a hearty, rich casserole. However, I was so utterly disappointed in the author’s previous book, Vegan Pizza, that I didn’t want to take any chances buying this one sight-unseen. I checked it out from the library first, but am happy to report that it has indeed found a permanent home on my bookshelf. My main complaints with Vegan Pizza (boring and unoriginal recipes, no pictures) were not an issue here.
While it’s not a book I’ll ever cook from regularly (I love heavy comfort food, but it’s not my go-to), I love having it on my shelf for times that call for a crowd-pleasing dish that even unadventurous eaters will go for. Casseroles are social dishes, and as such, I’ve never cooked from this book just for my immediate family. I’ve cooked from this book for camping trips with friends, holidays with extended family, and workplace parties. For friends who just had babies, and friends just because. Anywhere a shareable dish is called for, a casserole is your easiest bet, one dish for everyone to dig in to. Here are a few of my favorite things I’ve made so far.
Shiitake, Rice, and Green Bean Casserole – With two Thanksgiving meals to cook this year, I chose this recipe for the family get-together. While I love to cook with more exotic ingredients and lots of veggies, there’s a time and a place. A family gathering with folks who don’t usually touch vegetables is neither. However, this spin on green bean casserole felt like a good fit for everyone. Homemade cream of mushroom soup (with shiitakes) meets rice and pleases the cousins, while fresh green beans sneak in the fresh factor for me. Soy curls make it even more filling and protein-packed, and leave the guests asking, “This is vegan?” This recipe will likely become a holiday staple in my house. It’s that good.
Pale Ale Stew – I made this in a Dutch oven over a campfire in the middle of the desert during a chilly early spring night. As the sun set and the temperatures plunged, this stew warmed us up from the inside out. I made the gravy base ahead of time, and brought it down in a tupperware. All I had to do was chop some veggies and chuck it all into the Dutch oven. My husband had just bottled up a batch of pale ale homebrew, and it was only fitting that I use it in this stew. However, I failed to overlook that he used very fruity tasting Citra hops, which as you might expect, did not go well with the stew. With a different style pale ale though, it would have been utterly spectacular.
Chickpeas with Rice, Dill, and Tomatoes – I also made this one in a Dutch oven on another camping trip, this time deep in an Oregon forest. Something about Mediterranean flavors and fresh dill felt so bright and comforting in the dark woods. This is one of the less heavy dishes in the book. Just rice, veggies, and a tahini sauce. It was so delicious that I plan to make it again at home (this is a recipe I would make just for us). I had a bunch of collard leaves along on our camping trip, so we ended up rolling some of this casserole up inside of them as wraps, and our bodies thanked us for the extra dose of greens.
Nacho Tots Casserole – Nachos. Tater tots. ‘Nuff said.
So if you’re into rich and creamy comfort food, or you attend a lot of family or social gatherings in which a casserole is as welcome as your smiling face, this is definitely THE book to check out. Where else are you going to find nearly 100 vegan recipes specifically related to casseroles? Nowhere, that’s where.