Lentil Tater Tot Casserole
My best friend married a vegetarian.
This might not sound like a big deal to you, but in college Meredith was a meat and potatoes girl through and through.
Luckily for her, she had foodies for best friends and learned to love quality. Now she eats all kinds of veggies and makes some of the most brilliant creations at home. (Check out her guest post recipe Buffalo Chickpea Salad for another great culinary idea!)
Meredith has brilliantly creative food ideas. She was the inspiration for this post (side note: when I scroll through our text message history, 75% of the pictures are of food one of us has created).
Sometimes I like to share nutrition tidbits when I post new recipes. Today, though I'm going to talk about creativity.
Creativity. It's a beautiful thing in the kitchen, but it scares a lot of people. It takes time and a lot of practice to be comfortable cooking. Once you get your sea legs, the world is your oyster.
So when Meredith called me one day to talk about how she could transform one of her childhood favorites, Lentil Tater Tot Casserole, into a vegetarian dish, this felt like the perfect food challenge. Let me share with you my general formula for transforming favorite foods into healthy versions:
Step 1: Identify the Flavors I'm Craving
Always start your meal planning with what you're hungry for. Like I always say - life's too short for bad food. Our natural food cravings are for sugar, salt, and fat - and unfortunately in our modern society this often translates into quite unhealthy processed food.
In today's case, I was craving hearty, creamy, salty tater tot casserole. Mm. Adding that cream-of-something-soup just can't get any better.
And oh, that ground beef. Fatty and juicy and flavorful. Top it off with processed white potatoes? C'mon. What could possible be better? And also, what could possibly be less healthy?
Specifically: I wanted the creamy mouthfeel of tater tot casserole and the salty, crispy pop of tater tots.
Here are some other examples of how I identify the flavors in my cravings:
- Pizza: red sauce + cheese
- Chinese: salt + teriyaki
- Mexican: spicy + salty
- Snickers: creamy/savory sweet
Step 2: Re-create the flavors using healthier (and in this case vegetarian) options
Here is where I identify the least healthy parts of my food and see if I can come up with a creative replacement:
- Ground beef: a good vegetarian replacement for meat is usually some sort of bean or lentil. The texture needs to be small-ish (so probably not large beans) and the flavor needs to be pretty neutral (so probably not something with a distinct flavor, like garbanzo beans). I settled on my favorite: brown lentils
- Cream-of-something soup: it's creamy and it's salty, meaning that condensed soup adds both flavor and texture. For texture, I'll substitute nonfat, plain Greek yogurt. For flavor I'll add a bit of salt to the dish as well as garlic and onion powder.
- Tater tots: I'm taking one for the team on this and eating these processed morsels of goodness. I'm not sure there is a replacement. At least, I couldn't think of one. So I Googled "healthy substitute for tater tots" and came up with 9 Recipe Ideas that I could make and substitute if I was really committed to not eating processed potatoes...
- Add veggies: When in doubt, always add more veggies. This dish lends itself well to mild and savory veggies. Today I added sautéed onions and garlic, but it would probably be even more amazing if I added mushrooms. Mushrooms give a delicious umami flavor that is a typical flavor from meat, thus adding mushrooms to a vegetarian dish can make it taste more "meaty."
This healthy substitution thing I like to do takes practice. Besides Meredith, Google is my favorite place to find new ideas. I search for "healthy version of..." or "how to make ____ healthier" and get a head start on my substitutions.
Here's to healthy comfort food! Now let's get started.
In a large saucepan, sauté one large, diced onion and one tablespoon minced garlic in one tablespoon of canola oil until translucent. Add two cups of lentils, a teaspoon of salt, and four cups of water; bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 45 minutes or until lentils are tender (add another cup of water if the mixture is too dry).
When lentils are cooked, remove from heat and stir in one cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, a half cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and a teaspoon each of onion powder and garlic powder.
Transfer lentils into a greased 2.75-quart casserole dish. Top with an additional half cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and three cups of frozen tater tots.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until lentils are bubbly and tots are slightly browned.
Lentil Tater Tot Casserole
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp. canola oil
- 2 c. brown lentils
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4-5 c. water
- 1 c. plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (divided)
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 3 c. frozen tater tots
- In a large saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in oil until translucent.
- Add lentils, salt, and water; bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 45 minutes or until lentils are tender. Add another cup of water if the mixture is too dry.
- When lentils are cooked, remove from heat and stir in yogurt, 1/2 c. cheese, and seasonings.
- Transfer lentils into a greased 2.75-quart casserole dish. Top with an additional half cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and three cups of frozen tater tots.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes until lentils are bubbly and tots are slightly browned.
Serves 10 - Serving Size: 1 cup - Nutrients per serving: 302 calories -- 8g total fat -- 2g saturated fat -- 0g trans fat -- 7mg cholesterol -- 447mg sodium -- 44g total carbohydrates -- 6g fiber -- 3g sugar -- 16g protein