The Goddamn Healthiest Thing I Have Ever Made

Seriously, guys.  I’ve done it this time.  I have cracked the code for making a really satisfying, really (really, REALLY) tasty meal that is not only low in fat and calories and high in protein but so chock full of nutrition that I’m about to have vitamins and minerals pouring out of my eyeballs.  Not to mention fiber . . . there is a literal shit ton of fiber in every deliciously saucy serving of this beauty.

What am I talking about?  The newest casserole I have added to my library of vegan food.  It’s actually inspired a frozen food item my mom buys for me when I’m at my parents’ house.  Kashi makes some frozen meals and a few of them are vegan (and even say so right on the package).  One of them is called a “Mayan Harvest Bake.”  And it’s definitely my favorite.  It has Kashi’s patented (I assume) blend of grains with black beans, kale, sweet potato hunks, and plantains all covered in this smoky, spicy sauce.  It’s actually a really good for a frozen vegan meal.  So I wondered if I could make something like that myself.

The fact is, I just got back from spending a week and a half at my parents’ house for Christmas/New Years/My Birthday et cetera.  My parents eat a lot of processed food.  So when I’m there, it’s basically MorningStar Farms riblets and sweet potato fries for me.  I do cook when I’m there, but not nearly to the extent that I do when I’m at home.  Hell, when I’m there, I cook more fresh food than my parents do.  Anyway, I’ve gotten back here and I’m craving ridiculously healthy food.  I haven’t gotten to the store yet, so mostly I have the dry food left in my cupboards from two weeks ago and whatever groceries my mom decided I needed to bring back to Duluth with me.  Even so, I wanted nothing more than to make something to kind of detox my system from the week and a half of surviving on super market vegan food.

So what I came up with, considering the limitations of my refrigerator, I think to be truly inspired.

Healthy MoFo Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup Quinoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet potato in 3/4 inch chunks
  • 1 10 oz package frozen spinach (Thaw this a bit, just enough to get it out of the package easily.  If you have the kind in a plastic pouch you can run some hot water over it in the sink)
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/4 inch thick coins
  • Salt and Pepper

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or faux chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Start by boiling the 1 cup of water in a small sauce pan, rinse your quinoa in a sieve and dump it in the pan with the water (it doesn’t actually have to be boiling before you put the quinoa in) and cover.  When it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer.  This should take around 10 minutes to cook, remember to give it a stir or two.  Meanwhile, heat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Then lightly spray an 8×8 inch or 9×9 inch pan with cooking spray.

Next, in a medium sauce pan place the 2 cups vegetable broth (or 2 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of veggie bullion).  Put this on the stove to boil.  Now, rinse your lentils.  I used french lentils, but you can get away with the plain green ones if you like.  Just don’t use split red lentils or everything will go all wrong.  When the broth is boiling add the lentils and the bay leaf.  Cover everything up and turn the stove down to a simmer.  This one will take around 20 minutes, be sure to stir this pot a couple times, too.

By now your oven should be hot.  Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray.  You can spray right on to the cookie sheet if you want, but I find that cooking spray turns into a gross sticky mess when you do that.  Also, the foil saves you from washing the pan.  Spread the sweet potato chunks on the pan and season them with some salt and pepper. A couple pinches of salt and like 10 grinds of pepper should do it.  Put this into the oven.  I didn’t time this part, I’m sorry.  You’ll want to cook these until they’re soft when you poke a fork into them.  They were done right before my sauce was done . . . so . . . probably around 20 minutes.

Okay, so now your quinoa is probably done cooking.  The grains should be a bit toothsome, but soft and all of the liquid should be absorbed.  Spread this in the bottom of your square pan.  The layer will look a bit thin, but trust me, any more and this casserole would overflow the pan.  Now rinse out the small sauce pan and put about 1/2 an inch of water in it.  Put this on the stove and bring it to a simmer.  Add the spinach and the carrot.  Once the spinach is thawed and the pan comes back to a simmer, cook this, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until the carrot is soft, but not mushy.  When this is done, pour it into a large sieve and press out the extra water.  Press out about 75% of the water or your casserole will be wet and soupy.  Ick.  Spread the carrot and spinach out over the quinoa.  Dont worry about getting it too even, it’s totally cool if you can see the quinoa through the spinach layer in parts.

After all this, the lentils ought to be done.  Most of the liquid should be absorbed and the lentils should be soft.  Fish out the bay leaf, shake the lentils off of it and set it aside (we’re going to use it in the sauce).  If there’s a lot of liquid left in the pan, you can drain them, but I didn’t have to, a little bit of liquid is okay.  Pour the lentils over the spinach and spread them out evenly.

On to the sauce.  Rinse out the small saucepan again and dry it well.  Put it on the stove over medium heat.  Add the 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan and get it nice and hot.  Add the finely chopped onion and saute it until it starts to turn translucent.  Add the garlic and cook that for about one minute more.  Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, and coriander.  Cook this, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds to give the spices a nice toast.  Add the vegetable/faux chicken broth (or 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of bullion like me), and the bay leaf you fished out of the lentils, bring this to a simmer.  While this is coming up to temperature, check on your sweet potatoes.  if they’re nice and soft when you stick a fork into them, get them out of the oven and set them aside.  If not, let them go for about another five minutes or until they’re done.  Once the contents of the saucepan are simmering, add the cocoa powder and stir well.  Simmer this for around 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Now add the tomato paste and the agave nectar.  The sauce should thicken up a bit.  You don’t want it too thick or it won’t seep down into the goodies in the casserole.  You also don’t want it too thin or it won’t coat the top nicely.  You want it roughly the thickness of a thin gravy.  Let this simmer another 5 minutes.  Add salt to taste.

If your sweet potatoes weren’t done before, they’re probably done now.  Get those out of the oven and scatter them on top of the lentils in the baking pan.  Now pour the sauce over the top of everything, making an effort to spread it around so everything gets evenly sauced.  Cover the square pan with aluminum foil and put it in the 375 degree oven.  Bake for 45 minutes.

This will serve 4 people very nicely, 3 people if they’re REALLY hungry.

Now . . . Nutrition facts!

This is the data for a serving of 1/4 of the dish.  I analyzed this on the Calorie Count Recipe Analysis thing.  It’s a totally useful tool.  Though, it didn’t have agave nectar in it’s library of ingredients, so add about 15 calories for each serving.  Instead of 419 calories, it’s 434.  See what I said about vitamins and minerals pouring out of my eyeballs?  This dish is literally packed to the brim with nutrition and is absolutely New-Years-resolution diet friendly.  One caveat:  there’s a lot of sodium in this recipe.  I’m guessing it’s from all that broth I used.  Use low sodium varieties if this concerns you.  I have freaky low blood pressure, so I salt things liberally . . . don’t do that.  Unless of course you, too, have freaky low blood pressure or you just don’t care.  Then do whatever you want. (Disclaimer:  Kate B., The Classy Vegan, is not a doctor and really barely knows a damn thing about the relation of the sodium content of one’s diet and one’s blood pressure levels other than the TV says there’s a positive correlation.)

Notes:

You can use fresh baby spinach or chopped fresh kale instead of the frozen spinach.  Just steam roughly the same amount by weight with the carrots.  The Kashi thing I referenced earlier has pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) on top of it.  Totally do that if you want.  Put about 1/4 cup on before the casserole goes in the oven.  They’ll add a great crunch and smidge more protein.  I would have, but I didn’t have any in my cupboard.  Also, you can blend the sauce with an immersion blender (or in a regular blender) if you want a smoother consistency.  I like mine a bit more rustic.  Also, I’m lazy.

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