1.18.2016

dinner to bento: vegetable au gratin casserole



Before I get into today's post, I have to announce the winner of Superfoods 24/7 (AmazonB&N)! The winner is: Sue Hegle! Congratulations! Contact me at zsusveganpantry dot com so I can get your mailing address.






Today's post features another Dinner to Bento meal. That makes 2, so it means that I'm on a roll. If you had seen my first Dinner to Bento meal HERE, you might have noticed that I changed it from Dinner to Lunchbox to Diner to Bento. Why? Because I like it better. I love the term bento, which means meals packed in a lunch container, meant to be taken to school or work. 

While it might seem that is all there is to it, bento also means that the meal is healthy, balanced, thoughtful and appetizing. It means more than just throwing a few things into a container and calling it a bento. It is the art of thoughtfully organizing a lunchbox. Now, don't you like Dinner to Bento better, as well?


This dinner is vegetable-centered and is an easy vegetable casserole in a bechamel sauce. After sauteing some garlic and oregano and cooking the flour, you mix in some non-dairy milk and bring to a simmer.



Thinly slice your vegetables (use a mandolin for the fastest, most accurate way) and layer the veggies in the bechamel sauce, starting with the potatoes. Cook the potatoes in the sauce for about 5 minutes to give them a jump-start.




Then stir in the spinach until it wilts (this happens fast as the sauce is hot), add the onions and then the squash. Press down on the squash until some of the sauce bubbles up. Don't add more liquid, otherwise you'll wind up with soup.


Cover and bake until tender. Add some optional fresh bread crumbs (leave 1/6 of the dish uncovered with bread crumbs; this will be transformed into your bento later), bake until the bread is crisp and serve with a green salad. Here I served it with Creamy Garlic Tahini Dressing.












For the bento portion, you will be creating a Oregano Bean Puree Crostini. Sautee fresh oregano, garlic and lima beans until the beans are fragrant with the herb, about 5 minutes. You can do this while the casserole is baking.

Blend the beans with 1/6 of the vegetable casserole (scrape the bread crumbs off, if you added it) and season to taste. Chill before packing. 



Let's talk bento

Above I wrote of the thoughtfulness of packing a bento vs. packing a lunchbox. There are a few things to keep in mind that will make the lunch be healthy, nutritious, balanced and appetizing.

The traditional bento relies on proportions:

4 parts carbohydrates
3 parts protein
2 parts vegetables
1 part treat

As vegans, you will find that your carbs and proteins might fall into the same categories: beans are both carbs and protein. Same with nuts and seeds. There are a few high-protein exceptions: soy and seitan, but typically don't go crazy adhering to the above traditional proportions. 

Instead, especially if you are using whole grains as your carbs, your proportions will more likely look like:

6 parts carbohydrates (whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts)
2 parts protein (whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, soy, seitan)
2 parts vegetables
1 part treat (sweets, fruit)

Bentos also require color. As we now know, color doesn't just make food look appealing, but it is a great way to ensure you get your proper balance of nutrients; if you eat the color of the rainbow, you are maximizing variety, and therefore gaining your nutrition from a variety of plants. 

Rule of thumb for color? Make sure you have one of each of the following categories covered:

Red/Yellow/Orange
Green
White
Brown/Black/Purple

A note on the White color: if it is typically a white grain you are thinking of (such as rice), consider using whole grain instead. In the example, use brown rice instead of white rice and call it a win. 

There you have it: cover the proportions and the color spectrum and you will have built a bento.

My bento for today is:

Oregano Bean Puree [yellow, carb, protein] served with 
Pickles [the beans need the acid - use pickled onions or jalapenos instead, if you like (green, vegetable)]
Crostini [thin slices of toasted bread (white/brown, carb)]
Salad [green, vegetable]
Carrot curls [orange, vegetable]
Chocolate Chip Banana Muffin Bite [from Everyday Vegan Eats (brown, treat)]

A tip before we get to the recipe: pack your box tightly to avoid shifting of the food. Nothing worse than lovingly and carefully packing the container only to have everything mix up and mash together when the box is moved. Use containers to separate ingredients or vegetable or grain pieces to hold the sections separate. More tips next time!









Vegetable Au Gratin Casserole/ Oregano Bean Puree
Prep time: 30 minutes    Cook time: 60 minutes
Serves 4 to 5


Casserole:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt
1/2  teaspoon black pepper
4 1/2 cups non-dairy milk
Fresh ground nutmeg
2 pounds Russet potatoes, thinly sliced (⅛-inch)
8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
4 slices whole grain bread

Dressing:
4 tablespoons vegan sour cream
4 tablespoons vegetable broth
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons tahini
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2  teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

Oregano Bean Puree:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup lima beans
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs fresh oregano
1/6 vegetable casserole (without bread crumb topping)


1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Heat the oil in a 12-inch oven-safe skillet. Add the flour garlic, bay, oregano, salt and black pepper. Cook until fragrant. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add about 8 grates of fresh nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and add the potatoes. Stir the potatoes around in the sauce to ensure all slices of potatoes are coated. Simmer the potatoes for about 4 minutes.
2. Add the spinach and stir to wilt. Add the onions in a single layer. Add the squash slices as the last layer. Gently press on the squash to bubble up the sauce over the slices. Cover the skillet tightly with a lid or foil and bake for 40 minutes.
3. Add the bread to a food processor and process into crumbs. Add to the casserole, spray with oil and continue to bake, uncovered, until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for 15 minutes. Serve, reserving ⅙ of the casserole.
4. For the Dressing: While the casserole is baking, combine the sour cream broth, vinegar, tahini, garlic, paprika and salt in a small blender. Process until smooth. Serve with green salad.
5. For the puree: Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the beans, garlic and oregano. Saute until the beans are fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bean mixture to a food processor. Add the casserole mixture and process until as smooth as you like. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with crostini (toasted slices of French or Italian bread.

 © 2016 Copyright Zsu Dever. All rights reserved.

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