12 Sep 2013
These days my cooking ventures are entirely vegan and gluten-free, based on whole foods and as healthy as I can make them. Even though my desserts taste decadent, they’re all made with natural sweeteners (and sometimes, even vegetables!); my main dishes are plant-based and lower fat, offering up antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and high fiber. But the house in which I grew up, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly a headquarters for healthy menus.
Sure, my mother cooked everything from scratch, but just because the ingredients happened to be (for the most part) unprocessed, it didn’t mean she excelled at nutritious meals (or desserts). Fried hamburgers, pasta with cheese and butter, greasy French fries—we had them all. In fact, when I think about the amount of grease, refined flour and refined sugars in those foods, it kind of makes me shiver!
Still, I learned to cook with my mum, so the early recipes I attempted were naturally filled with unhealthy ingredients, too. Although I baked chocolate chip cookies at age six with Mom’s help, it wasn’t until my teens that I ventured to savory dishes. The first time I cooked dinner for the family, I mixed up a classic tuna casserole. You know the one: canned cream of mushroom soup and canned tuna stirred together with macaroni and frozen peas, all topped with crushed potato chips. Talk about salt, sugar and fat on a plate! It was truly horrid in terms of its nutritional value, but boy, did my sisters and I love digging into it.
It’s been decades since I ate it, but I guess I never really lost my affection for Tuna Casserole. As someone who follows a plant-based diet, I don’t desire tuna in my recipes, but the creamy, crunchy mix of pasta and protein in a flavorful base is a combination I still crave. I decided to revamp the recipe for 2013, rendering it plant-based, gluten free and lower fat–yet just as delicious.
If you’re looking for an easy, quick, protein-packed meatless meal, this is the perfect comfort food. You simply mix everything together, pour into the casserole and top with your crunchy topping. After a short stint in the oven, it’s ready—and dinner is served! While it doesn’t taste exactly like the casserole of my teenage years (thankfully!), this is a succulent vegan recipe that everyone will love. In fact, it’s the perfect casserole to start a new family tradition.
Creamy and Comforting Chickpea Pasta Casserole
NOTE: May be frozen.
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
DIETARY TYPE: Gluten-free, vegan
For the topping:
1/4 cup (60 ml) raw natural almonds, with skin
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) Erewhon Corn Flakes cereal
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) paprika
For the Filling:
2 cups (480 ml) pre-cooked rice pasta (elbows or fusilli are nice), room temperature (you can use leftover)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon (15 m) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
3/4 cup (120 g) raw cashews
6 tablespoons (60 g) raw natural almonds, with skin
4 teaspoons (20 ml) white or light miso
1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup (180 ml) vegetable broth or stock
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsweetened plain almond or soy milk
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) paprika
1 cup (240 ml) cooked chickpeas (canned are fine)
1/2 cup (120 ml) frozen green peas
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a 1.5 quart (1.5 liter) casserole dish with coconut oil or spray with nonstick spray. Place the cooked pasta in a large bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the 1/4 cup (60 ml) raw almonds, corn flakes and 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) paprika until the texture of coarse bread crumbs (it’s okay if tiny bits of almond are still visible). Set aside.
In a medium frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onion is translucent, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the onion cooks, place the cashews, 6 tablespoons (60 g) of almonds, miso, lemon juice, broth, milk and final 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) paprika in a blender and blend until silky smooth.
To the pasta in the bowl, add the onion mixture, blended mixture, chickpeas, peas and 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the topping from the food processor (save the rest of the topping to sprinkle on top of the casserole). Stir the pasta until well coated and the ingredients are distributed in the sauce. Turn into the prepared casserole dish.
Sprinkle the casserole with the remaining topping from the food processor. Bake 25-30 minutes, until heated through.
RickiCheck out my latest posts here