About a week ago, our friends announced they would be in town, spending Saturday afternoon and night with other old friends, and then they wanted to see us on Sunday morning. So, we thought about it, and decided we would make them brunch. I decided to make a vegan strata (by the way, in hubby’s home state of Minnesota, they use the term “egg bake” instead of strata, but that seems completely inappropriate for a vegan version), and hubby’s reaction was, “I don’t think they’re vegan.” They’re not, but they are “meat reductionists” and hubby can’t eat dairy or eggs. I found this great recipe, and Saturday morning we went to the grocery store and got everything we would need for this fabulous brunch (including hubby’s dream of vegan cream cheese and smoked salmon on garlic-rubbed ciabatta, with a side of orange juice). Since this recipe needs time to sit for flavors to meld and the bread to fully soak, I started working on it on Saturday afternoon. I was partway through prepping ingredients when hubby got a text saying our friends weren’t coming after all, because their daughter (who was supposed to come along) was sick. We decided I’d make the strata anyway, and we could have it ourselves on Sunday morning. Prep is time consuming, so pay attention! This recipe is minus animal products, minus lactose, minus troublesome fiber, and minus high smartpoints.
Egg Bake Strata
2 medium zucchini, sliced into thin rounds (the original recipe says “thin rings,” but I’ve never encountered hollow zucchini)
3 campari tomatoes (the original recipe calls for one medium tomato, but we were getting camparis for another reason anyway), seeded, all the juice squeezed out, and diced
1 onion (I decided on a relatively small, sweet onion), finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, pressed through the garlic press (the original recipe says “crushed”)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp (that’s 4 tsps for any of you conversion fans out there) olive oil
1 jalapeno (the original recipe says “moderately hot chili pepper like jalapeno”), stemmed, seeded, and minced
10+ basil leaves
1 cup cashews or cashew pieces (in the bulk section, the cashew pieces were considerably cheaper, so I got those, it’s not like you’re using them for decoration and need them whole)
zest of one lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks, and boiled (I weighed them after peeling and got 2 lbs 4.5 oz)
4 sage leaves, finely minced
5 oz good, crusty bread (I used ciabatta; the original recipe called for “5 slices of bread” and said you could use pretty much any type), cut into cubes
salt and pepper to taste
First, get the cashews soaking. To do this, put them in a bowl and cover them with water. Let them sit at least 30 minutes.
Then, drain off the water into a liquid measuring cup and add enough to get you to 2 cups. Now put the water, the cashews, the lemon juice, the 10 basil leaves, and the jalapeno in a blender and blend until smooth. This is cashew cream. Yes, it looks like melted mint ice cream.
Meanwhile, get the potatoes boiling. For this, I consulted Alexa, who was no help, so I consulted my mom, because her mother made boiled potatoes for every dinner every day. I did remember the part about putting the cut potatoes in the pan with a lot of water as you cut them, then draining out the water, and adding new water to boil them in (this reduces some of the starch). Then put them on high on the stove, with the lid on, and once they actually come to a boil, let them boil for at least 10 minutes before poking them with a fork to see if they’re done (if the fork goes in easily or causes the potato to fall apart, they’re done). Keep checking every few minutes until they’re done, then drain them and return them to the pan. Now you get to make mashed potatoes! Add the 1 Tbsp olive oil, the sage, and the lemon zest, and mash with your favorite mashing tool (mine is a Foley food fork).
Meanwhile, put a large frying pan (I used non-stick) on the stove on medium heat (the original recipe doesn’t specify), and add the 1 tsp olive oil. Add the garlic, and saute a few seconds, but don’t let it brown. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, onions, Italian seasoning, and some black pepper. Saute about 5 minutes or until the zucchini is soft, but not mushy. If there’s extra liquid left in the pan (there was for me), turn the heat up to high and let most of it boil off.
Get out your biggest bowl. I have this giant blue bowl that my mom sent me off to college with to catch the popcorn coming out of the hot air popcorn popper she also sent me off to college with. That bowl has been incredibly useful since that time (and hubby still sometimes eats popcorn out of it). Anyway, in the bowl, put the sauteed veggie mixture, then the cubed bread, then half the mashed potatoes, and mix it all up. Find your favorite 9″ x 11″ baking dish (the original recipe says 9″ x 2″, but the photos give away the real dimensions). Put this mixture in the dish evenly, lightly packing it in. Pour the cashew cream directly from the blender all over the mixture in the baking dish, and push down on any bread that’s sticking up so it’s completely covered. The original recipe uses the verb “scatter,” and I can’t think of a better way of describing it, so scatter the remaining mashed potatoes over the top of the green gooey mess you have created. Here’s what it looked like before it went into the refrigerator:
This is what it looks like at this point. Put a lid on it, if your dish has one (mine does), or cover it with plastic wrap. Put in the refrigerator overnight for the flavors to all combine and the bread to soak up all the green goo. Here’s what it looked like when it came out of the refrigerator:
The next morning, take it out of the refrigerator and leave it on the counter while you first rearrange your oven racks so that one is near the broiler and the other is roughly in the middle of the oven, then preheat the oven to 350F. Remove whatever you covered the strata with, and bake for 40 minutes on the rack in the middle of the oven. While it’s baking, roughly chop or rip up your remaining basil leaves (these will be garnish). After 40 minutes, put your oven on broil (the original recipe says “set custom broil to 450 degrees,” my oven only has the options of high and low broil, so I chose high), and move the dish up to be under the broiler. Broil 8-10 minutes, until there is a little browning on the top of the potatoes and bread.
Sprinkle on the remaining basil, and let it sit and cool for about 10 minutes before digging in.
The whole strata is 66 smartpoints, so you can do your own math on what that means for how much you eat. The original recipe says it serves 6, but I don’t know many people who could eat 1/6 of a 9×11 hearty dish.
Edit, now that we’ve tried it: I had only broiled it for 8 minutes, so it turned out quite pale, and also didn’t add any crispness. You should definitely broil longer, so that you get some true brown crispiness. The whole texture is quite mushy, and probably would do well with chunks of some sort of sausage in it. And we totally didn’t eat 1/3 of the dish between the two of us!