Sunday, December 19, 2010

Unique Veggie Casserole

It was a mistake. Well, lots of mistakes. But all good ones.

I had about an hour of free time this morning--only an hour. This week has been consistently tiring and fast-paced, and my cooking time has suffered because of my busy holiday schedule. So after I had to throw away a whole package of neglected baby bella mushrooms, I looked at the amount of produce in the refrigerator and said, "Sunday morning, I have to wake up early and use some of this, before it's all wasted."

I had two large eggplants and four squash begging to be cooked, so I used AllRecipes's ingredient search and found Easy Eggplant Dish, which could definitely be prepared and cooked in an hour. Glancing over it, I thought I had all the ingredients and set about dicing the eggplants and squash. To my fellow vegan cooks, a piece of advice about dicing and cubing vegetables. There are some, such as zucchini and leek, that need to be diced into bigger portions to maintain the taste; others, like eggplant squash, can be chopped into miniscule bits and still suffice for a recipe.

To clear out my refrigerator, I had decided to double the ingredients, and, to my dismay, I realized I had only half a cup of sliced mozzarella cheese, which is what the recipe initially called for, but I thought that since I was doubling the ingredients, I ought to double the cheesy topping, too. We had four other kinds of cheese--American slices, shredded Swiss, grated Parmesan, and blocks of cream cheese--so I crumbled two slices of American cheese and filled the rest of the desired one cup portion with Swiss and Parmesan. My bartending personality came out a bit--I shook the different cheeses in a cup to mix them well, the same as one would do with a cocktail shaker. The result was very pleasing! I had worried the Swiss might overwhelm the recipe, but the four-cheese mix just tasted excellent, with no particular flavor distinguishing itself from the other cheeses. I do think mozzarella alone would have been satisfying, and I would recommend using more cheese than the recipe calls for. After all, who ever heard of having too much cheese?

I also discovered that I only had one onion in the pantry, where I needed at least two in order to double the ingredients. However, I had a lone red bell pepper in the refrigerator, waiting to be used, and decided, "Why not compensate for the lack of onion by adding another uniquely tasting ingredient?" I actually think a yellow bell pepper would have complemented the recipe better, but as it was, the red made it just pop deliciously. (A side note...why is it that those pesky, meat-eating, live-in boyfriends can't ever use groceries you don't use in 99% of your recipes, i.e., onions and mozzarella cheese?! Why don't they take some of the damned crookneck squash off your hands ever?!) Another side note: I made few other adjustments to the recipe--I used bread crumbs with Italian seasoning, added in oregano and salt, and instead of buttery crackers, I crumbled up Toppers Garlic & Herb crackers.

So, how did this messy recreation of "Easy Eggplant Dish" turn out? Very un-eggplanty, which might make it more appetizing for omnivore company, who for some reason often seem to think eating eggplant is the same as swallowing rat poison. With the green chiles, the recipe was certainly spicy and did not need any pepper added. I would describe it as seasoned, spicy, and filling, and, thanks to the crumbs, textured. However, I felt that the presence of the bread crumbs and the crackers was almost overwhelming--the next time I make this dish, and I can see myself making it again, I will use smaller portions. I feel like this could easily be turned into a nice casserole, maybe by using cream of mushroom soup. The bell pepper was an excellent addition, and I actually think that adding a chopped leek and a chopped carrot would also be enjoyable. My biggest regret about the recipe is not cooking it with minced garlic; although the recipe didn't make the suggestion, I believe that's the ingredient this dish is really missing.

A suggestion: make this dish as a side for dinner some night. Soup, green beans, and carrots would all accompany this well and make for a very filling and interesting meal--with a casserole-like dish that's very, yes, unique.

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