Ever since the first time I made this scalloped potatoes with beans recipe, I have loved what a hearty vegetarian dish it is. It’s so hearty, in fact, that when I made this for my in-laws last night, my father-in-law said, “If you told me there was beef in here, I would have believed you.”
This isn’t much like your run-of-the-mill cheese and potato casserole. It’s more like a potato chili or thick stew. Whatever you want to call it around your house, you’ll want to make it the main course, not just a side dish, because it’s just that filling. And it’s delicious, too, with the topping of sharp cheddar cheese adding such flavor!
I used to think of this as a pretty healthy main dish. But then I took the “Wolff’s vs. Grocery Store” challenge (you can read about it here and here). The gist: my sister, who also works for Wolff’s, challenged me to do a product comparison, looking at beloved Wolff’s Apple House items next to similar items at my local big box grocery store and exploring the quality and nutrition of each. To keep things simple, I only looked at ingredients lists, even though many times the process, not to mention the quality of ingredients, is far better at Wolff’s.
The simple exercise of reading the ingredients label and looking up ingredients’ potential health side effects has completely changed the way I shop. Now I always read the ingredients list.
But beware! Reading ingredients lists can suddenly make staples of the American pantry look questionable.
Take those soups starting with “cream of….” Major brands of just about any creamy condensed soup will have monosodium glutamate (MSG), which, for some people, has been linked to health problems including headaches. Most condensed soups have heaps of sodium and a long list of artificial flavoring ingredients.
And, as I discovered recently, there isn’t much reason to opt for canned, processed condensed soups because you can easily make a great-tasting condensed soup at home. It’s as simple as blending equal parts butter and flour and then adding broth and milk. You probably even have those ingredients on hand right now!
If you have time to make your own broth or stock, so much the better! Mark Bittman has a great vegetable stock recipe that you can make and then freeze in the quantities recipes tend to call for.
Tip: Measure 1/4 to 1/3 cup stock into muffin tins and freeze overnight. The next day, let the stock thaw for a couple minutes and then pop the frozen portions out and put them in separate bags or containers. Most recipes call for the equivalent of one or two of these frozen portions.
You can also start with dried beans and cook them yourself using the method here. You’re practically homesteading by now. Maybe you can even grow some peas, garlic, basil, potatoes or peppers in our gardens this summer! Sure, it’s time consuming, but there’s real satisfaction in overseeing as many steps of the food prep process as possible. That way, you know exactly what went into each step of the process.
Now, whenever I offer friends and family this new-and-improved version of a favorite vegetarian meal, I will know that it is even healthier than ever.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup broth or stock (chicken or vegetable)
- ½ cup milk
- 1 cup each: frozen peas, chopped celery, chopped onion, chopped green pepper
- 1½ cups red kidney beans (or 1 15-ounce can)
- 1½ cups black beans (or 1 15-ounce can)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil or thyme
- 1 pound potatoes (russet, red, purple, or Yukon gold), sliced
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (for topping)
- In a large bowl, combine everything except the potatoes and cheese. Spoon half of this mixture into the bottom of a crock pot. Top with sliced potatoes, and finish with a layer of the remaining bean mixture.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5. Top each serving with cheddar cheese.