Cheesy Roasted Lentil and Veggie Casserole

Depending on where a person calls home, the New Year may be ushered in with black-eyed peas, pickled herring, or pork and sauerkraut. But while the holiday meal might differ from region to region, the conversation everywhere will likely include at least a brief mention of losing weight or exercising more.

So why do we make New Year’s resolutions anyway? (Perhaps the better question is why we make resolutions when we tend not to keep them!)

I read recently that New Year’s resolutions can be traced back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. For those who need a refresher as I did, my younger son informed me that the city of Babylon was located south of Baghdad in modern-day Iraq. In those days, resolutions were externally focused—usually made to the gods–but modern day resolutions trend towards self-improvement. Not surprisingly, losing weight and exercising more usually top the list.

Various polls offer a range of discouraging numbers, but we need only observe the drop in attendance at our local gyms after the initial January surge to know that good intentions can be really hard to keep.

Several years ago, a nutritionist friend of mine shared a piece of advice that I thought would be helpful as we wrestle with what, if anything, to change in the weeks and months ahead. It was the following quote from a book by Leo Babauta called The Power of Less:

“Research has shown that when people try to change a single behavior at a time, the likelihood that they’ll retain that habit for a year or more is better than 80 percent. When they try to tackle two behaviors at once, their chances of success are less than 35 percent. When they try for three behaviors or more, their success rate plummets to less than 5 percent.”

So while the desire for a fresh start is logical as we usher in a new year, it seems that less may truly be more. I also thought it might be fun to consider resolutions that aren’t tied into how we look but that may actually improve how we feel. Through an informal poll, I received a variety of answers–some serious, some funny–but all a refreshing change of pace from the typical resolutions.

  1. Read more books
  2. Don’t send a text to someone sitting in the next room…or the same room
  3. Separate colors from whites when doing laundry
  4. Recycle more
  5. Do a crossword puzzle every day
  6. Be on time
  7. Schedule more family dinners
  8. Buy a different vegetable every week—and eat it
  9. Don’t make any resolutions
  10. Find a reason to be grateful every day

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I first served this veggie-rich, meatless meal many years ago when I was craving a dietary detox after weeks of holiday indulging. I anticipated that it would bring protests from the troops, but it was greeted with positive reviews.

Soon after, a friend mentioned that she had never in her forty-plus years eaten a lentil. When she heard that my two boys liked this recipe, she figured it was time to try. Not only does she now make this wholesome dish regularly, she reported that it was her family’s pick for their final meal prior to a kitchen renovation project.  Who would have guessed?

Cheesy Roasted Lentil and Veggie Casserole
I typically use grated cheddar, but Gruyere or an Italian blend are nice options, too. I was recently thinking that a combination of feta for flavor and mozzarella for gooeyness would also be delicious. To make the preparation super simple, cook the lentils up to a day or two in advance and refrigerate. I often chop the cauliflower and other vegetables ahead of time, too, and store in a plastic container or bag in the fridge.

Yield: 6 servings
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup dry lentils, rinsed (I prefer brown lentils in this recipe)
  2. 1 medium head (not more than 2 pounds) cauliflower, cored and chopped into bite-size florets
  3. 8 ounces mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size
  4. 2 cups lightly packed kale leaves, chopped
  5. 1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  6. 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  7. 2 tablespoons milk
  8. 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon if using ground thyme)
  9. Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (I use about 3/4 and 1/4 teaspoon, respectively)
  10. 1 large tomato, sliced and halved (or 1/2 – 3/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved)
  11. 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Instructions
  1. Bring approximately 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the lentils, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, give or take, or until the lentils are tender. (I like to keep just a little “bite” to them. Taste early, as some varieties will cook faster, and remove from the heat when the lentils are cooked to your liking.) Drain well. Tip: The lentils may be prepared in advance and refrigerated.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and grease a 9×13 or similar 3-quart baking dish.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, thyme, salt and pepper.
  4. In a very large bowl, combine the lentils with all of the vegetables except for the tomato. Do not mix in the cheese either.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the veggie mixture, and toss until evenly coated.
  6. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared baking dish. I find it easiest to use my hands and allow most of the lentils to settle to the bottom. This way, they will bind with the egg mixture and form a tasty bottom layer.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the veggies are becoming tender but still crisp. Remove from the oven, top with the tomato, and sprinkle evenly with the cheese.
  8. Return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the veggies are tender and the cheese is melted. All ovens vary but, in my oven, 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes yields vegetables that are lightly golden yet still crisp-tender.
Notes
  1. *For more flavorful lentils, you may also wish to add 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to the cooking water once it comes to a boil. Most of this will be drained off, but it will add an extra level of seasoning to the dish.
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen http://fountainavenuekitchen.com/
I just love the vibrant colors in this all-in-one meal.  Tomatoes and cheese are added near the end, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs–or even kale “crumbs” from when you chopped it–will add a little extra glamour to the finished dish.  

Allowing most of the lentils to sink to the bottom of the baking dish when you transfer everything from the mixing bowl allows the lentils to bind with the egg mixture and become meaty and satisfying.  

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Comments

  1. Stacy

    Ok, so I took Nom Eat Nom’s coconut oil and egg combo with the lentils, added red pepper, onion and kale, then topped with leftover mashed potatoes and gruyere cheese and baked. Yum! Thanks for the inspiration! ~Stacy, Humble Spoon

    Reply
    1. Ann

      …And thank you for sharing your delicious adaptations, Stacy! Love the mashed potato idea: ) One of my favorite things about this recipe is how versatile it is, and your comment is a testament to that!

      Reply
  2. Belladevil

    This is unbelievably flavorful. I had to keep looking back to remind myself that there is no oil or butter in the recipe — so good!

    Reply
  3. Beverley

    OH yes please…going to make this one on Sunday thank you , that’s dinner sorted 🙂 Your recipes are such a delight to make and so delicious xoxo

    Reply
    1. Ann

      Oh, Beverley, you just made my day! Thank you for the thoughtful comment and I hope you enjoy. Sending best wishes and a big hug across the ocean!

      Reply
  4. Jean

    This looks scrumptious. I am going to try it as soon as the snow is done and I can get out to get a couple of ingredients. This will be a dish that keeps on giving as you can vary the vegetables and seasonings. The lentils, eggs and cheese will always provide the protein foundation. Great good stuff! Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Ann

      Thank you, Jean. This has been quite a winter, that’s for sure! I hope you are able to get out soon and that you enjoy this recipe many times over!

      Reply
  5. Natalie

    Tried this for the first time today and it was very good! Felt a bit nostalgic while I was making it, as I used my mom’s vintage Pyrex and Fire King mixing bowls. The Pyrex bowl is as old as I am! I also tried your Roasted Chickpeas recipe, and loved them, as well!

    Reply
    1. Ann

      I remember those bowls from my mother and grandmother’s kitchens, Natalie. Love them! And I’m glad you enjoyed both recipes!

      Reply
    1. Ann

      Thanks, Kristie! We really love this recipe although I have never frozen it. I always enjoy any leftovers for lunch, but perhaps someone else will mention if they’ve tried.

      Reply
  6. Jean Post author

    This is really good. I add a bit of cumin to the egg and do some of the baking covered. I have been known to have it for breakfast.

    Reply
  7. Jessica Post author

    I tried this out to take to a party hosted by a vegetarian friend and I loved it. I am making it for dinner again tomorrow. BTW, my husband thought it was awesome too. I am going to peruse your page often!

    Reply
  8. Lori Post author

    Made this tonight for a Rose Bowl party. It turned out better than the game! Loved using a very sharp cheddar… may try with feta next time.

    Reply
  9. Laura Post author

    I made this tonight with black beans as you had previously recommended to me and it was delicious…a very good combination of flavors! I used a 15.5 ounce can of the Goya brand of black beans labeled low sodium. I rinsed and drained them. The amount of beans was just right. I also used baby bella mushrooms instead of white ones.
    I have never used kosher salt, so I just used regular salt. But since I think kosher salt is a coarse ground salt, I lowered the amount of regular salt (which is fine ground) to be between a ¼ teaspoon and a ½ teaspoon instead of the ¾ called for in the recipe.
    Next time I make this, I might add an additional vegetable, maybe a handful of sliced carrots or parsnips. I also thought that maybe a small sprinkling of capers might be interesting.
    My husband and I ate half of it tonight and will have the other half tomorrow, so for us, it made four generous main portions. If we had it as a side dish, I’d get more servings out of it.
    In my oven, I baked it for 20 minutes, added the tomatoes and cheese and baked it for 12 more. Vegetables were tender crisp…just right.
    Thank you for this recipe, and I hope others are making and enjoying it as much as we did!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you very much for the feedback, Laura. I’m so glad this went over well and think the black beans would be perfect for those who don’t like lentils or prefer a quicker option…plus it’s always nice to have variety! Hope you enjoy the leftovers just as much!

      Reply