For a long while, I associated Cajun food with the sea. Fish, crustaceans, and other sea creatures always seemed to be involved in any Cajun meal. Even before I was a vegetarian, I didn’t care for seafood, so Cajun cuisine was something I long avoided. Something else I shyed away from was cornbread. Despite my affinity for carbs and bread products in general, most cornbreads I had sampled were sweet – the kind with lots of added sugar or honey and that wasn’t for me. For these reasons, when I came across a recipe for a Cajun casserole with a cornbread topping in my Everyday Happy Herbivore cookbook, I was excited at the prospect of trying a Cajun dish and I figured I could tweak the cornbread topping to ensure it was a slightly spicy, not sweet, rendition that would suit my tastes.
I did make a few changes to the original recipe and was more than pleased with the results. First, let’s take a look at the main part of this dish which is comprised of fairly traditional Cajun flavors. You’ve got your feature players: beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and carrots. All good stuff. All good stuff that is then brought together happily with a flavorful seasoning blend and lots of garlic. This on its own would make for a delicious meal, but it gets even better.
Because then, you see, comes the cornbread topping.
As someone who dismissed cornbread for years, it’s funny now how I’ve come to crave it. I will at times make or request a whole meal solely because it is something that would be served nicely alongside cornbread. The thing that really excites me about this cornbread is that I wasn’t sure if a quality cornbread topping could be made that was tasty, satisfying, still relatively nutritious, and low in fat, but it was! I’m sure that you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that this is indeed possible.
Here is the final product. I present to you a truly hearty dish that oozes the flavors of the south and, served alongside a nice salad, provides a well-balanced, complete meal.
Cajun Casserole with Jalapeno Cornbread Topping
Adapted from The Everyday Happy Herbivore Cookbook
For the Base
* ½ tblspn olive oil
* 1 small onion, diced
* 1 medium carrot, diced
* 2 celery stalks, diced
* 4 cloves of garlic, minced
* 1 bell pepper, diced (I used red)
* 15 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
* 1 ½ tblspn Cajun seasoning blend
* 15 oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
For the Cornbread Topping
- 1 ½ cup cornmeal
- 2 ¼ tspn baking powder
- ¼ tspn salt
- 1 tspn sugar (more if you like a sweet cornbread – I don’t)
- 1 ½ tspn dried oregano
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
- 1 cup + 2 tblspns unsweetened almond milk (or the type of milk of your choosing)
- 6 tblspns unsweetened applesauce
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 3 quart casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Heat oil in a skilled over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, and bell pepper and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté about 1-2 minutes longer.
- Mix in drained tomatoes, Cajun seasoning blend, and drained kidney beans. Stir to combine well. Pour base into the casserole dish. Using a spatula or spoon, spread evenly and pat it down, so it is even and compact. Set aside while you prepare the cornbread topping mixture.
- Whisk together cornmeal, baking powder, salt, oregano, and sugar.
- Add almond milk and applesauce. Stir to combine. Then, toss in the diced jalapeno pieces and gently stir to distribute throughout the batter.
- Pour cornbread batter on top of the base layer and spread evenly. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the cornbread topping is golden and beginning to crack. Remove from oven and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.