Sunday, April 29, 2012

Vegan Tator Tot Casserole

My apologies for not blogging recently.  I had surgery and then my computer got a virus, so I haven't been able to share some recipes with you.  I will try in the next day or so to get you at least FOUR recipes with photos.  Please forgive me!!

Last night I was looking for something to sweeten up my husband.  I really wanted to get on his good side, and you know that saying about the way to a man's heart....

He is a comfort food junkie, and he loves what I would refer to as "kid" foods.  I started thinking about when we were meat eaters and what his favorite dishes were then.  He loves him a casserole--anything with meat and carbs all mushed up into one.  So I settled on a Tator Tot Casserole.

Tator Tot Casserole is one of those things you either love or hate, and if you love it you have the way you love it and that's that.  There are a hundred differing ideas how to make it, so I won't post an official recipe.  But I will help you VEGANIZE it so you and your family can enjoy it again.

Our "traditional" version was layered: Venison with Cream of Mushroom Soup on the bottom, Mixed Veggies next, Cheese (American or Cheddar and lots of it), and then Tots on the top.

So how the hell am I supposed to veganize all that meat and cheese?!?  To be honest, I really was nervous as I started cooking last night that this might end up as bad as the Eggplant Parmesan Incident of 1999.  (That's a long story, but trust me, it wasn't good.  And it's something I will never, ever live down.)  But I took it slow and made every effort to taste my food as I cooked.  It would be pretty easy to ruin this dish with salt since it's possible to use broth in the TVP and a soup base in the gravy.  So make sure you are tasting and going easy on the salt to start.

Start with a greased baking pan (9x13") and layer the following:

MEAT/GRAVY/SOUP MIXTURE:  I reconstituted 2 cups of TVP (textured vegetable protein) in boiling water.  You can reconstitute it in your favorite veggie broth, too, if you like the flavor better.  But I didn't want any extra sodium.  Pour the boiling water over the TVP, stir, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.  I considered sauteing some mushrooms, onion and garlic to add to the mix, but I didn't want to dirty a pan.  Feel free to add in whatever you like.

I made a creamy mushroom gravy with a simple roux, Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base, unsweetened Soy Milk, and 2 tablespoons vegan mayo to make it a little creamier.  If you don't make gravy I can teach you.  OR you can purchase a vegan mushroom soup or vegan cream of mushroom, cream of celery, etc. soup and add that as your gravy.  For the 2 cups of TVP, you want about 2-3 cups of gravy.  TVP soaks it up more than meat, that's why I use more than a traditional recipe might call for.  If you like it saucier, add more.  Adjust to your liking. This is a good time to taste and adjust flavors.  Maybe a little Worstershire sauce or onion/garlic?  Maybe some seasoned salt?

GF NOTE: I'm very confused because I don't think TVP is gluten-free even though it is made with soy flour. I suggest you double check whether or not that is safe if you require a GF diet. You can purchase or make a gluten-free version of gravy very easily.  I used a vegan butter and brown rice flour roux as the thickener, then add broth and soy milk.  If you are purchasing the soup mix, just be sure to read your labels.

Stir the TVP into the gravy and make that your bottom layer in the casserole dish.

VEGGIES:  I just dumped a bag of frozen mixed veggies on top of the TVP/Gravy mixture as my second layer.  You can use any veggies you like.  My son likes it all green beans.  My family also likes it with corn and Lima beans (I know they're weird).  Use fresh or frozen if possible.

CHEESE: I skipped it even though I had vegan cheese in the frig. I'm holding onto that cheese for pita pizzas this week and didn't want to make another trip to the store.  So no cheese for us last night.  Add some vegan cheese of your choice if you like, but it was pretty good without it. Just sprinkle or lay a thin layer over the veggies.

TOTS:  Again, I just dumped a bag of frozen tots as my top layer.

BAKE:  I normally bake mine at about 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes.  (Watch that your tots don't burn if your oven is a hot top one.)  To check if it's done, I take a small bite out of the middle to so I know the veggies are hot and the tots aren't still frozen. 

SERVE:  Growing up, my mom always ate tot casserole with Western Dressing on it.  I don't know why, but that's how I like it.  My husband also likes it that way (it's a little sweet) but the kids just have a little ketchup on the side for dipping the tots.  We also had a big spinach salad and some fresh fruit for supper. 

Good, hot, comfort food.  Can't beat it.  And, as far as buttering up my hubby... it totally worked.

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