Oh, hey! Remember me? I have to laugh that my last post was about my first five months of blogging, and that was, um, 3 months ago. In that time, I’ve been a little preoccupied growing a person. This person is 23 weeks old, currently resides in my uterus, and is a boy. I can’t WAIT to meet him!!! Anyhow, I’m feeling better finally, and am so excited to kick off 2015 with this casserole. Thanks for waiting for me! And to all of you who are new to this blog, welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.
Ok, so this Broccoli Quinoa Casserole has a story behind it, and that story involves almost burning a brand-new kitchen to the ground. The key word here, friends, is almost. Read on…
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? This casserole started out as a family Thanksgiving dish. It originally involved cream cheese, cream of mushroom soup, frozen broccoli, butter, onions, and Ritz crackers. When we did away with dairy, I simply had to try to “veganize” this family recipe. And to my surprise and delight, the result was deemed “better than the original” by my mother. SCORE!
With that success under my belt, I really wanted to make this a one-dish meal by adding protein in the form of quinoa. And so, this casserole was born. It’s very much a “from-scratch” affair, in the sense that the non-dairy cream cheese is homemade, as is the cream of mushroom soup base. But let me tell you, my friends, the reward is worth the effort.
Here are the cast of characters – frozen broccoli cuts, mushrooms, onion, vegan cream cheese (we’ll get to that), quinoa, non-dairy milk, and Ritz crackers. Oh, you noticed that the milk and the crackers are missing from the picture? We’ll just agree not to mention it, ok? Ok.
Beth, when are you going to get to the part about almost burning down the brand-new kitchen? Hold your horses! We’ll get there, I promise.
Ok, so first things first. We’ve gotta talk quinoa. I have a little trick to share with you. You don’t have to cook the quinoa before adding it to this recipe. You do need to soak it in some hot water first, to give it a head start, and then the oven will do the rest. If you want to cook the quinoa first, though, go for it! Stovetop or pressure cooker, your choice. It’ll come out perfectly either way.
Left, quinoa with boiling water just added. Right, quinoa after having soaked for 20 minutes. See how it started to absorb some of the water but isn’t completely cooked? Nifty, huh?
Now we get to make the non-dairy cream cheese. So how does one do such a thing? Well, you could make Real Deal Non-Dairy Sour Cream and use that as the cream cheese. I’ve done it lots of times and it’s YUM. However, it takes a couple of days, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that you want a quicker option. You’re in luck! There is one.
Whenever I want a creamy, savory component in a recipe, I reach for savory cashew cream, every time. I make a batch of this stuff once a week, at least. It works perfectly as the “cream cheese” in this casserole. If you want a nut-free alternative, I’ve successfully tested this recipe using pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) in place of the cashews. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to move on to the cream of mushroom soup!
WAIT. I lied. First, we need to start a big old pot of water to cook the broccoli. I used frozen broccoli for this recipe, because once the casserole is baked, the broccoli tastes the same whether it was originally fresh or frozen. And since I’m all about fattening your wallet, frozen is almost always cheaper (and easier). You’re welcome.
Ok, NOW we can talk mushrooms. Making your own vegan cream of mushroom soup is super duper easy. First, you dice up some mushrooms and onions and cook them until they’re browned and the onions are soft. Like this.
Then, you sprinkle on some flour (or thickening agent of your choice), stir until the flour has coated the mushrooms and onions, then add non-dairy milk and some salt to taste. Stir the mixture over medium heat until slightly thickened. Ta-dah! You did it!
Ok, so at this point, you have all of the components you need to assemble the casserole. When the broccoli is cooked, drain the water and return the broccoli to the pot you cooked it in. Then, drain the quinoa and add it to the broccoli. Add the cream of mushroom soup, vegan cream cheese, and stir it all up. This is a really good time to taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Pour the mixture into a 9×13 pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. By the way, I SWEAR, we are coming to the part about the fire.
Let’s talk topping. I used Ritz crackers in this recipe, because, YUM. They are deceptively buttery, even though they don’t have a lick of dairy. They’re not exactly health food, though, so I won’t tell if you decide to use a more whole food option, such as whole grain bread crumbs, or Nooch-Its. Whatever you use, make sure to crush them up really well and toss them with a tablespoon or two of oil or melted vegan butter before adding them to the top of the casserole. This will help them brown up nicely while in the oven.
Ok, the fire. So, a few months back we were invited a family function and I offered to bring a dish to share, and it would be the only main dish vegan offering. I lovingly assembled the casserole, and our gracious hosts allowed me to bake it once we arrived, and had the oven preheated and ready to go. On the way, our little Vida decided that it was the perfect time to get sick in the car. Twice. We finally arrive, change Vida’s clothes, and put the casserole in the oven while our host helps us start a load of laundry and clean up. A few minutes later, I hear someone say, “is something burning?” Next thing I know, the casserole is being taken out of the oven, with flames shooting a foot into the air, and is rushed outside. At this point, I sit down and cry like I’m an emotional pregnant lady or something.
After the flames have been extinguished and I’ve had a good cry, we inspect the casserole to discover that only the topping has burned, and the casserole itself is just fine. Hurray!!! We lift off the topping (which has burnt to a crisp in one big sheet), and as luck would have it, our host produces the one remaining sleeve of Ritz crackers in her pantry. 30 minutes later, we are all enjoying the casserole, with everyone remarking on the delicious “smoky” quality. Our hosts even asked to keep some to enjoy as leftovers later.
So, while I wouldn’t recommend burning the topping, I would highly recommend that you try this casserole! It’s packed with protein, made with good stuff, and is great as leftovers the next day.
Just don’t put it under the broiler. Trust me.
- 2 cups Savory Cashew Cream (one batch recipe follows), or your favorite vegan cream cheese
- 2 16 ounce packages frozen broccoli cuts or 1 32 oz. package
- 1 8 ounce package crimini mushrooms diced
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 3 cups plain unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend*
- 1 cup quinoa uncooked
- 1-2 cups sleeves Ritz crackers crushed into fine crumbs, or substitute 2 GF plain bread crumbs for gluten-free option
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil or melted vegan butter such as Earth Balance
- Salt and pepper to taste
- After soaking the cashews or pepitas, drain, rinse, and add to a blender or food processor.
- Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy. If using a high-speed blender, no soaking is necessary.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
- Pour hot water over quinoa in a bowl, just enough to cover.
- Preheat a large non-stick skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat.
- Add mushrooms and onions to the skillet and cook for 5-6 minutes, until mushrooms have released their liquid and onions are browned and soft.
- Sprinkle flour evenly over mushrooms and onions and stir to coat.
- Add non-dairy milk slowly and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium, and cook for 4-5 minutes until mixture has thickened slightly. Turn off heat.
- Cook broccoli in boiling water for 5-6 minutes. Drain and return the broccoli to the pot.
- Drain quinoa and add to the pot with the broccoli, along with the cream of mushroom soup mixture and the savory cashew cream. Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Pour mixture into a 9x13 casserole dish.
- Mix Ritz cracker crumbs with oil or melted vegan butter, then spread over the top of the casserole in an even layer.
- Bake casserole, uncovered, for 30 minutes on the middle rack.
Quick-soak method for raw cashews or pepitas: In a medium saucepan, add nuts or seeds along with enough water to cover. Bring to boil, then maintain a low boil for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse, and proceed with the recipe.
**Reader Jen mentioned a quicker way to make this recipe, and I love it! Instead of making the cream of mushroom soup separately, skip the flour step and add three cups of water or non-dairy milk to the savory cashew cream when blending. Then add the blended cream to the mushroom/onion mixture. Let the mixture simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or until thickened, then pour over the broccoli and proceed as directed.