A Nod to My Mother: Casserole

I am a girl who grew up on casseroles - sweet potato casserole, broccoli cheese casserole, and squash casserole to name a few. They were the highlight at family gatherings, alongside sweet peas, tomato biscuit sandwiches, and a large red bucket of fried chicken.  But for some reason I have always been reluctant to return to mass quantities of mush, however delicious and flavorful, in my own cooking adventures. But something about Mollie Katzen's scheherazade casserole caught my attention. In an era of "eat this, not that" advice from every direction, diets, cookbooks, nutritional theories and postulations, casseroles are not high on anyone's list of healthy foods. But this one combined several ingredients on my most coveted foods list, namely tomatoes, feta, and cumin. How could a dish that combined these ingredients turn out badly? And so the experiment began. A trip to the store supplied me with raw bulgur, dry soybeans, a beautiful red bell pepper, and white onion (because the spanish and yellow onions just aren't up to par lately). With garlic, olive oil, and spices on hand, that's all you really need.

Scheherazade Casserole 
(Adapted from Mollie Katzen's The New Moosewood Cookbook)

1 c. raw bulgur
1 c. boiling water
1 tbs. olive oil
2 c. minced onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried basil
3 twists of freshly ground black pepper
3 dashes of cayenne
1 large bell pepper, diced
3/4 c. dry soybeans, quick soaked & drained
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
3 tbs. tomato paste
1/4 c. dried parsley
2 c. crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Place the bulgur in a medium sized bowl and add boiling water. Cover with a plate and let stand at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, salt, and other seasonings. Stir occasionally as you saute over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes. Add bell pepper and saute for 5 more minutes.

Place your drained soybeans in a blender with a cup of water. Grind until it resembles a coarse batter. Transfer to your largest mixing bowl.

Add soaked bulgur and sauteed veggies to the soybeans. Stir in the tomatoes, and add tomato paste, parsley, and 1 cup of the feta. Mix well.

Spread into your dish. Sprinkle remaining feta on top. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove and place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes or until the cheese is browned on top.

It is debatable as to whether or not this would make a satisfactory entree. I can see it doing very well alongside a piece of chicken or a mild fish. Also note this dish makes for fantastic leftovers, especially after sitting in the fridge overnight, allowing the flavors to mingle a bit more.

A note on terminology:
If you're from the Dakotas you might refer to this type of dish as a hotdish. If you're British, you might call it a bake. For the rest of us folk, casserole works just fine.

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