Finally – the flowers are in bloom, and it looks like Spring!
Unfortunately, it hasn’t felt like Spring the past few weeks. Of course, it began just days after I moved my Summer clothes out of the attic and packed up the Winter clothes. So disappointing! But thankfully, I can make comfort in warming, comfort food like this casserole.
Cheesy, creamy, and so cozy. And it’s meat and dairy-free! Granted, this is not one of my healthiest recipes, but it is not nearly as bad for you as it looks and tastes. Perfect comfort food on a cool night.
First, set out 1 cup frozen peas, 1 cup frozen broccoli, and 1 and a half cups of soy chicken strips until thawed. You can also microwave on medium power for a couple of minutes to speed up the process. As for the “chicken,” I used Morning Star Farms brand; you could instead use a can of rinsed and drained white beans if you want to avoid processed foods. Faux meats are my junk food, so I just use them as an occasional treat!
Next, start making the amazing sauce: whisk 1 cup unflavored, unsweetened (important!) almond milk in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4 Tablespoons flour, one Tablespoon at a time and continuously whisk to keep smooth.
Repeat the process with another cup of almond milk and 4 more Tablespoons of flour. Once it has thickened a bit, add 1/2 cup vegan cheddar cheese, 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper, and black pepper and salt to taste. Stir until the cheese is melted. It should resemble a thick alfredo sauce. Note: you can omit the cheese and use 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast + 1 Tablespoon tomato paste if you would prefer.
Add 2 cups cooked brown rice, the veggies, the “chicken” or beans, and 1 cup halved grape tomatoes and gently stir everything together. These were the first good tomatoes I’ve had so far this year. Yum!
Spray a little non-stick spray on the bottom and sides of a medium/large casserole dish – just be sure the dish has a lid. Then, pour the mixture into the dish.
Top the dish with another 1/2 cup cheese, cover, and pop in the oven for 30 minutes. Take the lid off the last 10 minutes to melt the cheese. FYI: my favorite non-dairy cheese is the cheddar block by Follow Your Heart (you have to shred it yourself, but that takes 5 minutes max). It melts and actually tastes good uncooked too! Granted, not as good as real cheese, but this stuff won’t give me blemishes and a bloated tummy.
If you really want to treat yourself, sprinkle some Bacon Salt on top. Ironically, it contains no bacon. 100% vegetarian! Read the ingredients though, because some varieties contain milk. You can find it in the dried spices aisle.
While this casserole is best enjoyed while you are wrapped up in a cozy blanket, watching a movie on the couch, it’s so good you may have to make it on a warmer day as well!
Creamy Veggie Casserole
2 cups brown rice, cooked
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup frozen broccoli, thawed
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups mock chicken strips
2 cups unflavored, unsweetened almond milk
8 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup shredded cheddar vegan cheese, divided in half
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Heat 1 cup of the almond milk in a large skillet over medium heat. One at a time, whisk in four Tablespoons of flour. Repeat with the remaining almond milk and flour, stirring constantly to keep the sauce smooth.
3. Once the sauce thickens up a bit, add 1/2 cup of the cheese, the cayenne pepper, the salt, and the pepper and stir until cheese is melted. While continuing to stir, heat until the sauce is the consistency of alfredo sauce.
4. Add the vegetables and mock chicken and stir until combined. Add the tomatoes last and stir gently.
5. Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Cover the dish and bake for 20 minutes.
6. Remove the lid and bake an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
Optional: add Bacon Salt topping just prior to serving.