Creamy Potato Casserole

Creamy Potato Casserole
Potatoes have probably always been my favorite food. I eat a lot of them and I never met a potato I didn’t like. But I’ve been steering clear of creamy potato casseroles for a long time, since they usually mean ingredients we vegans avoid like the plague: butter, sour cream, piles of cheese, and cans of creamed soups. You get the idea.

But this delicious and comforting Creamy Potato Casserole is vegan approved, really easy, and crazy good.

The secret is the sauce.

It’s so flavorful, you can sneak in plenty of healthy vegetables — including ones that might meet with resistance from your family under different circumstances.

This casserole starts with the convenience of frozen hash brown potatoes, which after a long work day can solve a lot of problems. To that, I load as many fresh or frozen veggies as can fit, adding extra nutrition and fiber. And even though the sauce is rich and creamy, the whole casserole remains low in fat.

To make the sauce, just combine the ingredients in a blender until smooth. That’s it. Although it looks like a long list, it’s mostly spices and condiments.

Next, sauté the fresh vegetables for a few minutes. Then combine with the other ingredients, including the thawed hash brown potatoes. Pour the entire mixture into a baking dish. Add the sauce. Cover and bake until golden brown.

Two of the ingredients may need an explanation: nutritional yeast and miso.

Nutritional yeast is a yellow powder with a subtle umami flavor, which many describe as cheesy or nutty. As you can guess from its name, it is highly nutritious and packed with B-vitamins. Just so you know, it has no leavening properties and cannot be substituted with any other type of yeast. Yes, I agree it has an unappealing name. But it has a great flavor and adds a tantalizing dimension. You will find it in the bulk food bins at Whole Foods and Arbor Farms.

Miso is a thick paste made of fermented soybeans, barley, and/or rice, with a unique savory, and almost wine-like flavor. Yellow miso is mild compared with stronger red or brown misos. Look for it in the refrigerated section of health food stores.

This recipe allows for lots of creative interpretation. Use whichever vegetables you have on hand. I like the convenience of frozen, especially during the week, but if you have time, you can certainly dice up fresh potatoes instead. Same with the greens — use fresh or frozen. Whether fresh kale or frozen spinach, every variation I have tried has been fantastic.

Serve this hearty dish on its own, or alongside warmed whole grain pitas and a crisp green salad for dinner. This is also spectacular served for brunch, and I can share from personal experience that leftovers are excellent rolled into warm corn tortillas the next day.

CREAMY POTATO CASSEROLE
Adapted from Susan Voisin’s “Healthy Hash Brown Casserole” from FatFreeVegan.com

Sauce

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons yellow miso
1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
few sprinkles cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Casserole

I large onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
32 ounces frozen southern-style hash brown potatoes, thawed
10 ounces frozen corn, thawed
10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed, and drained
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a 9×13-inch ceramic baking pan.

Place all of the sauce ingredients into a blender, and blend at high speed until smooth.

Heat a large deep non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, along with a few tablespoons of water to prevent sticking. Pan sauté onion until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and bell pepper with a few more tablespoons of water if needed, and continue to sauté until the vegetables become tender.

Add the potatoes, corn, and spinach. Season with salt and pepper. Allow mixture to heat through for a couple of minutes. Transfer entire potato and vegetable mixture to the baking dish. Add the blended sauce mixture, and stir to combine evenly.

Cover with foil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 15 to 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Remove from oven, and serve hot.

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