Jan 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:


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

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

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.

Jan 8, 2016

"superfoods 24/7" + giveaway

What better time to review a cookbook about superfoods than now, at the beginning of the year when all good resolutions come about? “There is a real superfood buzz in the air right now,” Jessica Nadel observes in Superfoods 24/7 (Amazon, B&N), and she is quite the expert at this new trend. However, eating foods that are high in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and dietary fiber, should not be a bandwagon we jump on, but at the forefront of our everyday eating habits.

That is why Jessica, of the Cupcakes and Kale site and the author of Greens 24/7 (Amazon, B&N), wrote this inspiring book. Superfoods can range from the new upstarts, like chia seeds, matcha, lucuma, to superfoods that you are already eating, but perhaps not in enough quantities, such as broccoli, kale, apples and mangos.

And here comes Jessica, providing us with recipes that are easy to prepare and are whole-foods, not to mention delicious. The recipes range from breakfasts, soups and salads, to small bites, sides, entrees and desserts – it’s all here, for every meal of every day. Once you see how easy it is to incorporate wonderful nutrition into your diet - very deliciously, to boot - you will find yourself feeling and being in a state of better-ness.

I decided to check out Jessica’s book by preparing a few recipes for myself, and I found everything pretty simple to prepare and very tasty.

First I made the Raw Brownie Truffles because who can really beat chocolate as a snack – and it was a component of the breakfast I wanted to make. The truffles were quite delicious and truly easy to make.

Then I went on to top her quick and simple Quinoa Porridge with the Brownie Crumbles and it was so yummy.

After that I tried the Spicy Spinach Coconut Noodles. I loved this dish; it was spicy and coconut-y and very flavorful. Hard to believe it has more than just a few superfoods in it! On top of that, I think the entire dish was ready in about 20 minutes at the most.

Overall, the book is very nice. It has full-color photography via Jackie Sobon and is printed on high-quality paper. The index even includes recipes searchable by a particular superfoood.

This book makes a fantastic New Year addition to your cookbook shelf but, you will find yourself actually using it throughout the year, long after other resolutions have faded and have been forgotten. This is like giving a gift of health to yourself!

Let’s sweeten the superfoods pot – I’m hosting a giveaway for the book! Check out the recipe below for Sunflower Seed and Sprout Pad Thai from Superfoods 24/7, and the enter to win the book, courtesy of The Experiment

To enter to win, just leave a comment about your thoughts regarding superfoods or what superfood you'd like to try the most. For a second chance to win, follow me on Facebook, Twitter or via RSS Feed (via a Reader) and leave a SECOND comment. All the cute buttons for following are available on the top right of this blog, just below the photos of my books. Contest is open to US and Canada addresses and will end January 18 at midnight. Good luck!

Photo by Jackie Sobon


A duo of sunflower seeds and sprouts provides bursts of linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) and amino acids, including tryptophan—most commonly associate with turkey and post-holiday feast relaxation. This option is certainly more exciting, fresh, and flavorful.

Serves 4, gluten-free 

Prep: 15 mins | Cook: 15 mins

14 oz (400 g) flat rice noodles 
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 large carrot, julienned
1 cup (100 g) snow peas
½ cup (70 g) toasted sunflower seeds
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups (170 g) sunflower sprouts
½ cup (10 g) fresh cilantro, chopped, to serve
lime wedges, to serve

For the Sauce:
1/4 cup (60 ml) lime juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) gluten-free tamari
1/4 (60 ml) water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons chili sauce, such as Sriracha

1. Prepare the noodles according to the package directions and set aside. 

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, carrots, and snow peas, and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

3. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the sauce ingredients, whisking to combine. Return the vegetables to the pan, with the noodles, sunflower seeds, and green onions, and stir to mix together and coat in the sauce. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, fold in the sunflower sprouts, and serve topped with cilantro and lime wedges. 

VARIATION: If sunflower sprouts aren’t available, try using mung bean sprouts instead. Broccoli florets are another nice vegetable option instead of—or in addition to—the snow peas. 

Calories (per serving): 461
Protein: 10.7 g
Total fat: 10.0 g
Saturated fat: 3.4 g
Carbohydrates: 82.5 g
Dietary fiber: 4.4 g
Sugars: 4.8 g
Vitamins: A

Credit line: Recipe from Superfoods 24/7: More than 100 Easy and Inspired Recipes to Enjoy the World’s Most Nutritious Foods at Every Meal, Every Day © Quantum Publishing, 2015. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com