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Vegetarian Black Beans & Rice Casserole

Veg Black Beans &  Rice Casserole main
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If you like casseroles, but are looking for a lighter take on these heavy dishes, look no further than this Vegetarian Black Beans & Rice Casserole. I love this dish for a few reasons. First, it is gorgeous and since we “eat with our eyes” by surveying our meal before and while tasting it, this colorful culinary creation is mighty enticing. Second, it’s really healthy for you. I use brown rice for a ton of whole grain and high fiber goodness, black beans for their digestive system benefits and protein without much fat, carrots for their cardiovascular health benefits and tomatoes for their antioxidant goodness. This recipe is such a favorite in my home that my daughter frequently tells her “babies” that she is cooking them a casserole for dinner that is “so yummy.” Aw, that little one knows the way to this foodie mama’s, heart, huh?

Before you make this recipe, you must know that it takes around two hours from start to finish, so this is not a quick and easy weeknight meal. But, as my husband says, “It sounds complicated but it tastes amazing!” One way you can make prep time more manageable is to make this dish over a few days so that on the night you want to eat it, you only spend around 15 minutes assembling the casserole and 25-30 minutes baking it. To make this dish ahead of time, prepare the different components (rice, tomato sauce and bean mixture minus the grated carrots) up to 3 days ahead of time and store them in air-tight zipper top bags or containers in the refrigerator until you are ready to build the casserole. The night you want to make it, turn on the oven and jump to the last step of this recipe entitled “To Build the Casserole”.

Two tips and ideas before the recipe:

1. When buying canned goods for this recipe (or ever, really) it is advisable to do your research and find brands that use a BPA-free lining in their cans. BPA is a chemical found in plastics and resins that leaks into the food of canned goods—especially acidic foods like tomatoes. It’s been linked to a variety of negative health concerns such as an increased risk of cancer and heart disease and changes in hormone levels. These risks become increased for children.

2. Your little Sous Chef can help you prepare this dish. A younger Sous Chef can help (with your support) by swishing the carrots around in cold water to wash them, measuring out the rice, water and cheeses and sprinkling the cheese mixture over each layer of the casserole as you build it. An older Sous Chef can help by doing all of the above with more independence as well as grating the carrots, rinsing the beans, stirring the bean and carrot mixture with the rice and helping to build the casserole by dunking the tortillas in the tomato sauce and spreading the beans and rice mixture for each layer. Just remember that freshly washed hands are a must when helping out in the kitchen.

Vegetarian Black Beans & Rice Casserole

Ingredients and Method: (Serves 8-10)

For the rice:

  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2 cups water

Combine the rice and water in a medium, lidded saucepan and bring to a boil. Once it boils, stir once, cover and reduce the heat to simmer for 50 minutes. Once it has finished cooking, remove the saucepan from the heat and keep covered for an additional 10 minutes. Then fluff the rice with a fork and set it aside.

For the tomato sauce:

  • 2-3 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Salt, cumin, paprika and pepper, to taste
  • 32 ounces canned, chopped or pureed tomatoes
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped

While the rice cooks, begin the sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat some vegetable oil over medium heat. Add in half the chopped onion, 2 pinches of salt, stir and sauté for around 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Stir occasionally so the onions don’t burn. Add the crushed garlic and stir. Cook for around 30 seconds and add the chopped tomatoes, some salt and stir. Turn up the heat and allow the mixture to come to a low boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Taste, add salt, pepper, cumin and paprika to taste. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings again. Stir in the parsley and turn off the heat. Cover with a lid and set it aside.

For the beans:

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • ¾ pound raw carrots, grated
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt, cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika and pepper, to taste

While the rice and the sauce cook, prepare the beans. To a medium saucepan, add some vegetable oil and turn the heat to medium. Add the chopped onions and a pinch of salt, stir and sauté for around 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Stir occasionally so the onions don’t burn. Add the crushed garlic, stir and let cook for around 30 seconds. Add the beans and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine, then cover and cook for around 5 minutes. Add in cumin, paprika, cayenne and black pepper. Stir, cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the grated carrots, cover and turn off the heat. After about 2 minutes, taste the carrot and bean mixture and add spices as desired. Add the rice into the bean mixture and stir well to combine.

To build the casserole: 

  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • 1½ cup low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1½ cup low-fat monterrey jack cheese, shredded
  • 18 corn tortillas (try to find a brand that uses non-GMO corn)
  • Prepared tomato sauce
  • Prepared beans and rice mixture

Heat the oven to 350°

Mix the 2 cheeses in a large bowl. Set aside around ½ cup of the mixed cheeses for later. Stir the tomato sauce and line the bottom of a deep 9×13-inch baking pan with a layer of the sauce-you’ll use around 2 cups. Next, add a layer of 6 tortillas, overlapping them so they cover the sauce. Then add half of the beans and rice mixture and spread it out into an even layer. Next, add a layer of cheese using half of the cheese and spreading it out over the beans and rice mixture. Dunk 6 tortillas in the sauce and use them to cover the cheese layer. Overlap the tortillas so they cover all of the cheese. Add the rest of the beans and rice and spread them out into an even layer. Add the second half of the cheese mixture and spread it out over the beans and rice mixture. Dunk the 6 remaining tortillas in the sauce and overlap them to cover the cheese. Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the tortillas, top with the reserved cheese and bake for 30 minutes. Top with parsley before serving and enjoy!

Happy Cooking!

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