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Old School Dinner
Mar 28th, 2006

Dinner last night was of the old school vegetarian variety, that school of cooking popular in the late '70s and early '80s that is epitomized, at least in my mind, by The Moosewood Cookbook. Dishes were hearty and featured a lot of beans, mushrooms, brown rice, green bell peppers, cheese, avocado, yogurt, and soy sauce.

The inclusion of soy sauce in things such as Mexican-inspired bean dishes always baffled me, but makes more sense now given Western exposure to the concept of umami, or the fifth taste. Soy sauce is high in umami and can be especially helpful in rounding out the flavors in a vegetarian dish and providing a full mouthfeel that might be missing if you're used to eating dishes with meat, which also contains umami though not as much.

So as this dish was a tribute to the days of Moosewood and Laurel's Kitchen, I threw some soy sauce in the beans for old-times sake. The recipe itself was inspired by the sweet potatoes slumbering peacefully away in my fridge and a Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burrito recipe that I made several times a couple years back. There are a couple versions around on the web, this one is actually a Moosewood recipe, although from a later book, Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites. This recipe for Addictive Sweet Potato Burritos is the one I've actually made before, and does include soy sauce! (And mustard!?)

I decided to remove the tortillas from the equation and try to work more veggies into the dish. I have so many vegetables stuffed into my fridge that I had to cancel my box delivery for this week. So the dinner mission for the week: use up the veggies we have before buying new ones. I have trouble with that - I tend to find recipes that look good and want to go buy the ingredients necessary rather than planning our meals around what we already have. But not this week, I'm being good, good, good!

Along with the sweet potato, this casserole gave me the opportunity to use some of the queso fresco I bought this weekend on my not-so-exotic-anymore ingredients binge. Queso fresco is sort of weird to cook with in that it doesn't melt, it just gets a bit toasty on the edges like a Smore-bound marshmallow. I added some cheddar to the mix just to get a little melty cheese action. Queso cotija might work well here too, it's an aged cheese somewhat akin to Parmesan, and it's really good on beans.

Anyway, I'll have to wrap up this link-fest and actually give you the recipe. I tried to list this in regular recipe form with amounts of ingredients and such, but really it's more of a throw in what you've got recipe, so if anyone were to try it out, please don't pull out the measuring cups and spoons. It's just dinner.


Sweet Potato & Kidney Bean Casserole

1 - 2 sweet potatoes
1 tsp of each: cumin, coriander, garam masala
juice of one lime, divided
1 cup chopped sweet bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, or combination)
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic
1 - 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 can kidney beans, drained
crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese plus small amount grated cheddar
1 avocado
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup cilantro, divided
1/4 cup commercial tomato salsa (or more chopped tomato & garlic)


Bring a pot of water to a boil. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices (the short way not the long way). Cook until soft, drain, then mash in the pan with the cumin, coriander, garam masala, 1/2 of the lime juice, and salt to taste. Spray a Pyrex pie pan or small casserole pan with oil and spread the mashed sweet potatoes in the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 375. Saute the bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and onion until soft. Add the tomatoes and kidney beans and cook for another few minutes, adding salt or soy sauce if you'd like. Layer the pepper and beans mixture on top of the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and put in the oven.

While the casserole is baking, lightly mash the avocado with the green onion, cilantro, remainder of the lime juice, and salsa or fresh tomatoes. I like this chunky rather than as a smooth puree.

When the casserole is heated through, the cheddar cheese has melted, and the queso fresco has done its non-melty thing, add the avocado salsa to the top and serve with warm corn tortillas on the side.

-Kymm
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Comments

That sounds delicious. I'll have to try it. I remember the Moosewood Restaurant very fondly from my college days in Ithaca, NY.

-posted by m on Mar 30th, 2006
You know that's so funny - until I read your comment I forgot that I've been to the actual restaurant! I went to Cornell for a summer college program before my senior year in high school. In fact I became a vegetarian because of some rash comments in a philosophy class there - once made I had to back them up and I was a vegetarian for the next five years. I was so thrilled to find the Moosewood restaurant as I had no real idea how to go about eating vegetarian. That was eye-opening eating experience.

Thanks for the memories!

-posted by kymm on Mar 30th, 2006
And because of that rash moment in your philosophy class, I had to figure out fast how to cook vegetarian meals that would also satisfy a meat-eating husband. And when you went off to college, your brother decided he was a vegetarian, too. So that added several years of vegetarian cooking at our house. I still use some of the recipes I discovered then. Several are from the original Moosewood Cookbook. Of course, now that we watch our carbs, I can't do all the pasta-based ones I loved so much. But I still make Moosewood's Mexican Pepper Casserole. And do you remember Mollie Katzen's book The Enchanted Broccoli Forest? The title comes from her recipe that calls for sticking steamed broccoli upright like little trees in a rice/spice/cheese/egg mixture!!! Anyway, that cookbook has a mushroom-yogurt pie that I make sans pie crust.

-posted by Mom on Mar 30th, 2006
Yup, I've got The Enchanted Broccoli Forest on my shelf too. I've got several of Mollie Katzen's more recent ones too. I really like Vegetable Heaven and Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe (a big cookbook all about breakfast, yum!). She's also got a cookbook for kids that I want to try - Salad People, for Preschoolers on Up. I'm going to put that on my library list.

-posted by kymm on Apr 3rd, 2006
© 2006, Kimberly Cooperrider | kymmco@excite.com