Vegetable Relleno Casserole

With less than 5 weeks to go til The Week, I’ve been planting lettuce and beets (from seed and from starters) to hopefully get a good crop come October. For some reason, I have about a .05% success rate with beets. Either the birds get the seeds before they germinate, or conditions just aren’t right in our soil because the ones that do pop up grow veeeerrrry slowly. I check the grains every day- I’m still not sure how to tell when they’re ready to harvest! But I haven’t seen the birds attacking them yet, which will be a (somewhat belated) sign that they’re ready. I also did a round of fertilizer (a magic blend from Island Seed & Feed) to give the plants a boost in these final weeks.

I finally had time over the weekend to do a massive garden harvest/clean-out, and one of the piles consisted of New Mexican green chiles. I bought seeds when I was in NM last year, and actually have a 2-year-old plant that is still going strong from previous seeds! Traditionally, green chiles are roasted and peeled, before getting tossed in every dish imaginable (or more standard green chile sauce, found in every New Mexican restaurant). I tend to not go through the roasting process, instead chopping and adding a fresh pepper into my stir-fry for a bit of heat. But with a stack of 20 peppers, roasting seemed the best way to go.

The thought of whole roasted peppers of course led my thoughts to chile rellenos, and to see if there was a way to make them without stuffing them full of cheese. I came across this fantastic adaptation of chile relleno casserole (much less work than making individual rellenos), which I decided to bulk up with lots of chopped summer squash. I also had the idea to use grated pumpkin to add a bit of creamy flavor – which worked really well, but is definitely optional (grating pumpkin takes some time).

Vegan Vegetable Relleno Casserole

(adapted from http://chezcayenne.blogspot.com/2010/06/chili-relleno-casserole.html)

5 roasted green chiles (or poblanos. Pioneer Woman has a great how-to method on roasting chiles)
14 ounce carton medium-firm or firm, water-pack tofu, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons corn meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 summer squash, chopped
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper, chopped
1-2 cups grated pumpkin (or 3/4 c goat cheese for the dairy lovers)
nutritional yeast

Saute onion and bell pepper til soft, add squash for a few minutes til done. Oil a casserole dish (equivalent to 8×8), place vegetables in bottom. Mix in the green chiles, salt and pepper to taste. Heat saute pan with a bit of oil and saute grated squash for a few minutes. Layer on top  of vegetables, then add a dusting of nutritional yeast.

Puree tofu, water and olive oil in a food processor or blender. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in flour, corn meal, baking powder, salt, turmeric, pepper, and garlic powder. Spread on top of the vegetable mixture. Bake in 400 oven for 30 minutes or until batter is set.

Return from the Wild

If ever I need to be reminded of how fast plants can grow, I go on vacation in August. After 2 1/2 weeks away, the most noticeable growth was in the corn forest and the various grains – particularly the amaranth and millet.  Oh yes – and the piles of squash, tomatoes, peppers on our kitchen counter was one of the best welcomes I could have received. I have never been so happy to eat a simple dinner of zucchini, kale, and fried eggs!

It turns out that its surprisingly easy to feed yourself without meat or dairy while on a road trip. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to prep and bring our garden with us. But I did throw some squash, green beans and tomatoes in the car, and away we went. I thought I’d share a few things that I learned about almost-vegan road-tripping:

1. When eating out on the road, ethnic restaurants like Thai and Chinese are pretty good bets – you can usually get tofu and a fair amount of vegetables, and dairy isn’t a core ingredient. We also ate one night at a Sizzler just for the salad bar!

2. Grocery stores. A few times we made a giant salad of spinach, chickpeas, cukes, tomato, onion ,etc. Zucchini and green beans keep fairly well in the car, and when backpacking I brought along avocado, onion, bell pepper and apples in addition to squash and beans.

3. One of my favorite traveling dinners is inspired by my friend Natalie: tortilla chips with refried beans, guacamole, and salsa. Great protein from the beans, and easily dressed up with other toppings (I added diced squash, kale, and tomatoes one night.) Another camping favorite from this trip was pasta with white beans, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and sundried tomato bruschetta.

4. We are VERY spoiled by our access to fresh, local and delicious produce here in Santa Barbara. There is truly no other place like it (well, maybe Santa Cruz could compete), and I’m so thankful to live here!

We’re about five weeks out from the Eat-VERY-Local week, and I’m feeling optimistic and excited about the challenge. I’ll try and post up a list of all the food we have stocked up so far, but there are still eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, and squash out there in abundance! Plus, I harvested a bunch of walnuts from a tree near the bike path last week that I need to process.

No recipes for this post, but I’ve got a few drafts lined up already. Instead, how about a parting shot from Wyoming?