Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vegan Green Bean Casserole: Soy-Free and Gluten-Free

Before I was vegan, I was dairy free for several years.  I developed a very bad milk allergy in adulthood and it made it hard for me to eat out or with friends, because even a little bit made me really sick.  Holidays were hard because I already had to have separate meat-free dishes when I was vegetarian, and then adding milk free to the mix made it very hard for non-vegans to understand.

So, during the holidays especially, even though I am not soy or gluten-free, I have a special place in my heart for those who aren't able to have childhood favorites because of allergies or dietary choice.

With that in mind, I've been working on holiday recipes that are SIMPLE (even though I love to make complicated and wonderfully complex dishes) and vegan and soy-free and gluten-free.

Last night I perfected my green bean casserole, which was always my job as a kid.  My grandma used to make this big deal like I was so good at reading the directions on the can of fried onions and following the very simple directions.  That was my dish, though, and I took pride in it.

Over the years I've made many variations of this dish.  I've made a gravy with soy milk to use in place of the mushroom soup, I've made a tomato and green bean sauté that was delicious but not at all what others wanted from a green bean casserole, and I've even breaded and baked the onions for my crispy topping.

This recipe does lack that signature crisp, but you can add roasted slivered almonds on top for a great flavor and crunch, if you feel like you need the crispy.

Green Bean Casserole Recipe

Prep time: 10-15 minutes **If you don't have a high speed blender, you will need to soak your cashews for about an hour and drain off water before prep**
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6-8 

4-5 cups green beans cut, cleaned, and blanched* or canned or frozen at room temperature
2 cups mushrooms sliced thinly 
1 1/4 cups raw cashews that have been *soaked for about an hour if you don't have a high speed blender (raw cashew pieces are cheaper and work just as well)
1 yellow onion thinly sliced and 1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped 
2 cups water
2-3 Tbsp coconut or vegetable oil (I've been using grapeseed lately)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  If you are using fresh beans, start a large pot of water boiling (enough to submerge your beans).  
Again, if you are using fresh beans, you'll want to cut the ends off and chop them into bite sized pieces in the size you like.  If you've got little ones who like to help in the kitchen and can use a knife, this is a great job for them.  It's even possible with a butter knife if you are concerned about sharps.  Once your beans are chopped, toss them in the hot water until they soften some.  I like some crispness to remain, but they should be cooked as much as you want them done when the casserole is done, so if you like them soft, cook them to that point.

Next, slice your mushrooms and cook them in about a Tbsp of oil with some pepper (don't add salt now or they will release their water).  You want them to get nice and browned, so stir them some, but you should be able to walk away for a minute to allow them to caramelize (I put my 5 year old in charge of stirring these, and she's very good with that, but use your judgement with your child if you think that's a safe job).  

While your mushrooms are cooking, you can prepare your sauce.  I have  high speed blender, so I am able to use the cashews straight out of my canister, but this still works if you have a normal blender, just soak your cashews for about an hour, drain them, and you are good to go.  Place chopped half onion, cashews, 2 cups water, and about a half tsp salt in your blender and blend until smooth.  Don't forget to check on those mushrooms while the blender is running.  Taste and see if you think it needs more salt, some pepper (remember there's pepper on the mushrooms) or if you'd like to add some nutritional yeast or herbs this would be good.  I've made it with roasted garlic added to this mix too and it's delicious.  

In a baking dish (I use a 9" square Corningware baking dish, but you could use a larger rectangular pan and get a thinner casserole), mix your mushrooms and creamy cashew sauce.  Fold in your green beens so that they are completely covered and spread out, then place in the oven uncovered.

As that cooks, cook your thinly sliced onions in about a Tbsp of oil with salt and pepper at a medium or medium low heat so that they cook slowly, but don't burn.  You're going for a nice caramelization.  

The casserole will rise a bit, brown at the edges, and firm up.  It gets custardy in the center, and much like a pancake, what you are looking for is bubbles coming up through the center.  Serve with caramelized onions around the edges and you've got a new holiday favorite!

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