We’ve been back in the Lower Mainland for a month now, and already I’ve fallen back into an annoying habit. It’s the same habit many locals also seem to be guilty of: the tendency to feel utter shock over the weather conditions. Those who know the Vancouver area know it rains A LOT here. That being said, one would assume we would have an irreverent, or at least cavalier, attitude toward the wet stuff. However, I’ve lived in the area most of my life and can say that for the majority of us, this simply isn’t the case.
Whenever it rains I’m inevitably drawn into a reflective state where I’ll marvel at the rain’s various attributes: its duration (‘It rained all night and it’s still raining this morning!’), intensity (‘I couldn’t sleep last night the rain was hitting the roof so hard’) and type (‘Is it just me or is it raining sideways right now?’). From Winter to Winter the rain is always the same but somehow it never succeeds in losing its novelty. Just the other day my SO – who works outside, the poor bastard – walked in the front door of the RV and asked, ‘Is it always this wet here?’. To which I responded, after taking a moment to think, that I couldn’t remember. It’s like we have weather amnesia.
This time of year we’ll get the odd break in the weather, but somehow these days pass through our consciousness – if not unnoticed, then without regard as to their freak nature. Last Tuesday was gorgeous here – 10C and sunny – but somehow I made it through the day without being struck in any meaningful way by the appearance of the sun. But surely enough, when the rain started up again the next day, I found myself dully remarking to no one in particular that I couldn’t believe it was raining again – like I’d suffered a personal affront – before stepping into my Hunter Wellingtons and hauling my laundry over to the laundromat.
The upside of the soggy weather in these parts is that I get to work on creating lots of comfort food dishes, like the casserole featured here. I love a good casserole but casserole recipes that are both vegetarian AND healthy are a rarity. Often they’re laden with cheese and cream sauces, both of which taste good, don’t get me wrong – but usually leave me feeling like I’ve maxed out my salt and cholesterol intake for the year. Wanting a healthier but still hearty alternative, I tried my hand at a simple cashew-based cream sauce – with resounding success, I must say!
The texture is similar to a dairy-based sauce, and the taste has the same richness, but without the bad fats. I added roasted red peppers to give the sauce a subtle sweetness and paprika for smokiness – and when baked in the oven with sweet potatoes, cauliflower and shallots, a thing of comfort food beauty was born. This recipe got an enthusiastic stamp of approval from my staunchly omnivorous SO, who was fully shocked that what I’d given him to eat was vegan. I like being tricky like that!
Recipe: Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Casserole | With Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Sauce
Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Sauce
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into quarters
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
For the rest
- 1 medium sweet potato, sliced into thin medallions
- 2 shallots, finely sliced
- 2 cups cauliflower, chopped into small florets
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh cilantro and parsley for garnish (optional)
Soak cashews: Place cashews in a medium bowl and cover with 2 cups of cold water. Refrigerate for two hours. Remove from fridge, drain and set aside until needed. While cashews are soaking, prepare roasted red peppers:
Roast red peppers: Preheat oven to 400C. Place quartered peppers in a baking dish and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and arrange peppers into a single layer. Place in oven for 45 minutes or until flesh is tender and skin is blackened, tossing twice. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once peppers are cool enough to handle, carefully peel off skin and discard.
Finish sauce: Place cashews, roasted peppers, vegetable broth, water and spices in blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Set aside until needed.
Assemble casserole: Preheat oven to 375F. In a casserole dish with lid (I used a circular dish that’s about 8″ in diameter and 5″ deep), ***layer 1/4 cup of cashew cream sauce. Layer 1/3 of sweet potatoes and 1/3 of shallots. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Layer another 1/4 cup of cashew cream sauce, then layer 1/3 of cauliflower. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Repeat from *** another two times, ending with the remainder of sauce.
Cover casserole and place in oven for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tenders and sauce is hot and bubbly. Remove lid, set oven to broil and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until cauliflower is brown and caramelized. Remove from oven.
Serve, topping each portion with fresh cilantro and/or parsely and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!
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