Make Ahead

An Enchilada Casserole That's Freezer-Ready & Crowd-Friendly

December 22, 2016

Each year, the plunge into winter makes me grateful for a well-stocked pantry and freezer. A steady arsenal of whole grains, legumes, canned goods, and leftovers makes it easy to create a home-cooked dinner even when it’s too cold to go outside and stock this-or-that ingredient that’s gone low.

I’m often asked about freezer-friendly vegan entrees. The quick answer is that vegan entrees that freeze nicely are similar to non-vegan ones that do. Soups, stews, and casseroles all make for great freezer food. Before freezing, I usually put them in quart-sized bags, often in double portions; this way, I can defrost one or two servings at a time and avoid wasting a huge portion of defrosted leftovers (it’s an especially good tactic when freezing big batches of soup).

Freezing isn’t only useful for leftovers, though: I also use my freezer to store homemade batches of cooked beans and grains. I love cooking beans and lentils from scratch, both for better texture and also because of the ever-so-useful acquafaba that results from scratch-cooked beans. That said, I use beans often enough in my home it’s not always possible to cook them from scratch as quickly as I need them, or to give them the attentiveness that stovetop simmering requires. It is possible, though, to pull a bag of pre-cooked beans (or grains) out of the freezer and defrost them quickly. I tend to keep chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans in the freezer, along with cooked rice and quinoa.

Like most people, I also use the freezer for make-ahead meals. I wish this weren’t true, but I’m a fairly nervous entertainer, and having to prepare something for a crowd the day of tends to make me anxious. Preparing a casserole or baked dish in advance, defrosting it, and heating it up right before a gathering saves me a lot of jitters, and it also lets me put my heart and soul into fun and less ambitious dishes, like dips, appetizers, or cocktails.

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This vegan enchilada casserole is delightfully freezer and pantry-friendly. So long as you’ve got some onions and peppers handy, you can whip it together using frozen corn, homemade, defrosted, or canned beans, canned or frozen (homemade) enchilada sauce, and tortillas (which I also tend to buy and freeze for last minute, Mexican-inspired meals). You can prepare it for a hearty Sunday supper and freeze it for future comfort food meals or the next time a bunch of friends drops by hoping for something warm and satisfying.

A note about toppings: A lot of vegan casseroles call for melted vegan cheese. I used to make them that way, or I’d use my cashew cheese, but I’ve found avocado slices and fresh herbs are a perfectly satisfying topping for this dish—and the pop of color they add is a bonus!

Tell us: What meals do you keep in the freezer for easy comfort?

Gena Hamshaw is a vegan chef and nutritionist—and the author of our Vegan cookbook! You can read more of her writing here.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.