April 22, 2016 by
The VRG Blog Editor
By Maria Pittarelli
Our Daily Bread in Baltimore serves free meals to over 700 needy people 365 days a year. About ten percent of individuals ask for a vegetarian meal.
They also have a casserole program where generous people in the community can make one of the casserole recipes on their website and donate it for use during the lunch service when needed. VRG’s Foodservice Advisor Chef Nancy Berkoff created three vegan recipes, which now have been posted as options on the website. Nancy tested these at a senior center in Los Angeles, CA. The recipes are:
Creamy Bean and Potato Casserole
Sweet Potato Black Bean Casserole
They are posted at:
VRG nutrition intern Maria Pittarelli was tasked with the mission of trying out the donation process from start to process. The first step was to find the specific disposable metal pans that they require for their casseroles. She was unable to find the exact size of 12” x 10” x 2 9/16,” but the lovely people at Our Daily Bread said it was okay if the pan was a very close size. At Party City, she found these pans labeled “half size chafing dish” which are 11 3/4” x 9 3/8” x 2 9/16” at the price of 4 for $2.37 or 20 for $9.99. They also sell matching lids for $0.60 each, but they are unnecessary as tightly wrapped foil may be used if you prefer.
Next stop was the grocery store. Bringing the printed ingredient list was best, so it could be used like a checklist to make sure we got everything. The recipes are specifically designed to include simple, cheap, and easy to find ingredients with nothing exotic or too expensive. Prices will vary from store to store, but at this particular store I shopped in, it cost:
$9.51 for ingredients for one batch (serves 8-10 people) of Creamy Bean and Potato Casserole
$9.98 for ingredients for one batch (serves 8-10 people) of Brunswick Stew
$7.78 for ingredients for one batch (serves 8-10 people) of Sweet Potato Black Bean Casserole, including dry black beans. It would’ve cost about $2-3 more to use canned black beans instead, but they are an option if you’d like to speed the process up.
However, if you or a local group would be able to donate casseroles in larger quantities, the price per casserole would be less due to being able to buy in bulk. Many of these ingredients are canned, so they can be bought in large quantities and stored, if desired.
The recipes were straightforward and easy to complete in a home kitchen with no special tools other than a knife, a cutting board, a pot, and a potato peeler.
The fastest and simplest recipe is the Creamy Bean and Potato Casserole. It only has 4 canned ingredients, that are spread in layers into the casserole pan and then topped with black pepper. We found that stirring the refried beans in a bowl first made them easier to spread. Start to finish, it took 10-15 minutes which is great for busy people who would like to donate a complete meal for those in need of food who would like something besides salad and peanut butter sandwiches.
The next recipe is Brunswick Stew, a hearty mixture of tomatoes, lima beans, potatoes, carrots, and onions. Our taste tester particularly liked the addition of corn in the recipe. From start to finish, including peeling, chopping, and cooking in a pot on the stove, this recipe took about 1 hour. If it were being made in larger batches, it would add a little prep time but the result would be many more portions to feed people. It may be possible to make 4 batches in one large pot.
The third recipe is Sweet Potato Black Bean Casserole, a filling mixture of sweet potatoes, black beans, tomatoes, onions, and green pepper that is very slightly spicy. This recipe took the intern the longest to prepare, since it requires mincing onions, dicing green peppers, peeling sweet potatoes, and chopping sweet potatoes before you can start the cooking process on the stove. She also chose to simmer dry black beans for 2 hours to save money, instead of using canned black beans, but this did not add much to the total time since the other vegetables could be prepped while the beans were simmering. In this case, it took 2.5 hours to make 2 batches, but it is possible it could be done faster if you have efficient choppers and use canned beans. Again, having a big pot would make it possible to make multiple batches at the same time. The finished product was very delicious and satisfying.
After the recipe is complete, it needs to be in one of the disposable metal casserole pans that were mentioned earlier. They must be tightly sealed, either with disposable lids or with aluminum foil. The casserole must be frozen solid before donating. In our case, homemade casseroles that were put in the home freezer at 5 pm were frozen by 9 am the next morning. It may also be possible to freeze them in a large cooler with ice, but we did not try this. Be careful to not stack the casseroles before they are frozen, as this can result in them breaking or leaking (as our tester accidentally found out!). Use a sharpie, or tape with a pen, to label each one with the name of the casserole and the date it was made. If you are able to make a donation, it would be greatly appreciated and put to good use helping those in need who desire vegetarian meals.
For information about donating to Our Daily Bread in Baltimore, see http://www.catholiccharities-md.org/our-daily-bread/odb-food-service/favorite-casserole-recipes.html
If you are outside the Baltimore area, prepare one of these recipes for a local charity that serves food to the needy.