All-Natural Broccoli-Rice Casserole
The Casserole is real American cuisine. Just think about your favorite childhood recipes: chicken enchilada casserole, tater tot casserole, tuna noodle casserole...
I'll be honest: as much as I love fresh vegetables with a squeeze of lime topped with fresh herbs, I really love me a good, cheesy, rich casserole once in a while.
The problem is, I feel a little weird about fake cheese (ahem, Velveeta) and cream-of-something soup (how many ingredients does it take to make cream soup, anyway?). So out of this dilemma, I have carefully crafted a healthy version of one of my favorite dishes: Broccoli Rice Casserole.
Swap #1: Cheese
I'm not entirely sure I want anything which describes itself as a "cheese loaf" in my food. Instead of Velveeta, I chose to use real shredded cheddar cheese in this casserole
The trouble with swapping traditional Velveeta cheese for the more wholesome cheddar cheese is the melting properties aren't quite the same. To increase the "creamy" factor, I added a bit more milk than usual. Other ways to increase creaminess might be:
- Add a bit of plain Greek yogurt
- Use cream cheese in addition to cheddar
- Allow rice to cook a bit longer than usual to soften the texture
Swap #2: Cream-of-Something-soup
Cutting out the canned soup means this recipe contains fewer processed ingredients but also allows me to make it gluten-free - and important feature for my Celiac friends. If you don't have Celiac disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, there's no real reason to eat gluten-free (read more about gluten in this post). However, this switch still reduces sodium and fat and increases overall healthy-ness.
Condensed soup adds creaminess, moisture, and helps thicken this casserole. It also has lots of salt which enhances the flavor. In it's place I've added skim milk, a little cornstarch (for a gluten-free thickener), and a bit of salt.
Swap #3: Less Rice, More Veggies
As a dietitian and diabetes educator I often talk about the Plate Method with my patients. The idea is if you look at your plate, half should be vegetables, fourth should be protein, and fourth should be carbohydrates.
Not going to lie; I think it's hard to eat according to the plate method. If I'm lacking anything, it's usually vegetables. Thus one of my strategies is to incorporate more veggies into my main dish so that I automatically have more balance.
Specifically for this casserole I reduced the amount of rice (and also chose brown over white), increased the broccoli, and added mushrooms. The amount of onions listed might seem like a lot, but after sauteing they become sweet and add both flavor and nutrition to the dish.
So without further ado, let's make Broccoli-Rice Casserole.
Start cooking some brown rice: add two-thirds cup uncooked brown rice, a half teaspoon salt, and two cups water to a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook about 45 minutes until all water has been absorbed and rice is tender.
Meanwhile, dice a large onion - enough to make about three cups - and begin to sauté in two tablespoons of canola oil.
Thoroughly wash several heads of fresh broccoli and cut into florets. I've used frozen broccoli in this recipe before, but fresh is really a lot better. Frozen broccoli tends to have more stems and less of the yummy florets, and those are my favorite.
Once the onion has sautéed until translucent, add the broccoli florets to the pan to sauté. Once broccoli is tender-crisp, add the mushrooms and remaining two tablespoons of oil to the sauté pan. Cook until broccoli is tender and mushrooms are cooked through.
Add milk to the sauté pan and begin to heat. In a separate, small bowl make a slurry by whisking together cornstarch and water until it is free of clumps. Add slurry to the vegetable and milk mixture and stir to combine, then bring to a boil for about 30 seconds and remove from heat.
Make sure you don't heat the cornstarch too long, or it will fail to properly thicken your casserole. Cornstarch isn't quite as hardy as wheat flour, so it's important not to overheat it.
Mix in cooked rice and half of the grated cheese to the vegetables.
Prepare a 9 X 13-inch baking pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and add broccoli-rice mixture. Top with remaining grated cheese.
Bake, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is lightly browned.
Enjoy your cheesy, vegetable-y, gluten-free goodness!
All-Natural Broccoli-Rice Casserole
- 2/3 c. uncooked brown rice
- 2 c. water
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 4 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
- 3 c. onion, diced
- 8 c. broccoli florets
- 4 c. mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 c. skim milk
- 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 Tbsp. water
- 8 oz. Colby Jack cheese, grated
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add uncooked rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and water to a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook about 45 minutes until all water has been absorbed and rice is tender.
- Meanwhile, begin to sauté diced onion in two tablespoons of canola oil until onion is translucent.
- Add the broccoli florets to the onion to sauté.
- Once broccoli is tender-crisp, add the mushrooms and remaining two tablespoons of oil to the sauté pan. Cook until broccoli is tender and mushrooms are cooked through.
- Add milk to the sauté pan. In a separate, small bowl make a slurry by whisking together cornstarch and water until it is free of clumps. Add to the vegetable and milk mixture and stir to combine, then bring to a boil for about 30 seconds and remove from heat.
- To the vegetables, mix in cooked rice and half of the grated cheese.
- Prepare a 9 X 13-inch baking pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and add broccoli-rice mixture. Top with remaining grated cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is lightly browned.
Serves 6 - Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups - Nutrients per serving: 304 calories -- 12g total fat -- 7g saturated fat -- 41mg cholesterol -- 489mg sodium -- 37g total carbohydrates -- 5g fiber -- 8g sugar-- 18g protein