Broccoli, Cheese, & Quinoa Casserole

August 10, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

I recently had a taste for broccoli & cheese casserole, which may or may not have been brought on by eating this:


I figured: how hard can it be? Just throw some cooked brown rice, cheddar cheese, and raw broccoli into a casserole dish and bake it, right? And it seems like a relatively healthy dish if you go lighter on the cheese and heavier on the good stuff.

Turns out: NOPE! A search for some recipes yielded a few unhappy discoveries.

First, most recipes for broccoli-cheese casserole are pretty easy to make. Why is this a problem for me? Because they use what I call “rube ingredients” to take shortcuts. For example:

– Frozen broccoli. I’d much prefer to use fresh, because it tastes better, has a better texture, and because it’s most likely traveled a shorter distance to get to me (reducing its negative impact on the planet).

– Canned condensed soup, such as cream of mushroom. I have a few issues with canned soups. First, it’s not an eco-friendly ingredient, since the amount of petroleum burned to get all those ingredients to the same place, cooked into a soup, packaged, and then transported to my grocery store is much higher than it should be.

Also, my boyfriend refuses to eat canned goods, because (he says) most companies use BPA in the lining of their cans; even if I can ignore the possible health risk, I still have to consider his feelings when I’m cooking for the two of us.

But honestly, probably the biggest opposition I have to canned soups is that they just kind of gross me out. I don’t want to dump a cylindrical mass of creamy mushroom gel into anything I’m planning to eat. It’s just not appetizing.

– Cheese Whiz. I just refuse to purchase or consume Cheez Whiz. I feel that having Cheez Whiz in your pantry is one step away from putting mayonnaise in your bruschetta topping.

Second, the few recipes that don’t use questionable ingredients are pretty time- and labor-intensive. It appears that the people who make broccoli-cheese casserole and then post their recipes on the internet are either (a) rubes who mix Cheez Whiz with condensed soup on a regular basis, or (b) talented cooks with time, skill, and patience. Come on, guys – I’m 24 years old, a full-time student with a part-time job, AND I have yet to master the skill of chopping an entire onion in a uniform fashion. And you want me to do ALL THAT? Chopping and mincing my vegetables and herbs? Cooking broccoli, rice, and onions in three separate pans before combining them into a casserole dish? Making a roux and melting cheese into it? Come on. Just because I don’t want to cook like Sandra Lee doesn’t mean I can turn into Alton Brown overnight.

So, I couldn’t find a recipe I liked (or could actually see myself taking the time to make) that used rice. I decided to look for recipes that used quinoa instead. I figured that the kind of people who cook quinoa would probably share my views on Cheese Whiz. Also, quinoa cooks WAY faster than rice, and it’s a complete protein.

(FYI, if you have not cooked with quinoa before, you have to rinse it with water before cooking it. This is because quinoa is naturally coated with saponins, which taste bitter and prevent animals from nomming the quinoa before we can harvest it. Saponins are, supposedly, mildly toxic, but they definitely taste bitter, and you will want to remove them before cooking!)

I finally settled on this recipe from a blog called A Day Late and A Dollar Short, and tweaked it a little to suit myself (fewer ingredients, fewer pans).

I thought this recipe was a success! It took me about an hour from starting to chop my garlic to pulling my casserole out of the oven, and it was pretty easy. I was also able to wash all of the other dishes in the time it took for the casserole to bake and cool, which made it a low-stress experience.

All ingredient amounts are approximate – I used all the quinoa I had left, and eyeballed the rest of the ingredients. Next time, I’ll definitely add more salt, pepper, and garlic, and maybe some mustard powder (or paprika, if I can motivate myself to purchase some). I’m also hoping that this can be a multi-seasonal dish, and I can substitute other green vegetables for the broccoli, based on what’s cheap and fresh at the store (spinach, asparagus, zucchini?).

If I were making this as a special-occasion or comfort food, I’d add lots more cheese – but as a regular everyday kind of dish, I thought the proportions turned out great. Sauteed onion would be good, too, like in the original recipe, and I bet adding chicken would be excellent…. or BACON… or some bread crumbs on top….

Broccoli, Cheese, & Quinoa Casserole (adapted from A Day Late and a Dollar Short)

– 2 c broccoli florets (I used Trader Joe’s organic fresh florets. Not sure how local they are, since I live in Georgia, but they tasted good!)
– 1.5 c quinoa
– 1 c cheddar cheese (I used Trader Joe’s shredded sharp cheddar from the bag)
– 4 cloves garlic
– salt and pepper
– 3 c water

– skillet (I think the one I used was about 10 or 12 inches?)
– 8×8 baking dish (I used a glass one)
– cutting board and knife
– mixing bowl large enough to hold everything that goes in the casserole dish
quinoa rinsing mechanism (I used a piece of cheesecloth over a colander, and FOR GOD’S SAKE do not do this unless you have no other choice. It was a pain in the butt to get the quinoa out of the colander and off the cloth, and I ended up leaving a good bit behind because I got sick of the seeds sticking to my hands and refusing the leave the cloth. I’m not making quinoa again until I buy a fine mesh strainer.)

1) Preheat oven to 375 (F).
2) Chop garlic.
3) Rip broccoli florets into small-to-medium size pieces (or chop them, IF YOU’RE FANCY).
4) Sautee the garlic and broccoli in olive oil  in your skillet for a couple of minutes, until the broccoli is heated through.
5) While broccoli cooks, rinse your quinoa.
6) Put the broccoli into your mixing bowl (it’s okay if some garlic and broccoli stays behind).
7) Put your quinoa into the skillet with your water and bring it to a boil. Lower it to a simmer and let it cook (stirring occasionally) till the water is mostly absorbed and the quinoa is a good texture, around 15 minutes. (Add more water if needed while cooking.)
8) While quinoa cooks, add 3/4 or so of your cheese to the mixing bowl, and grease your baking dish (I used the EVOO).
9) When quinoa is done cooking, add it to the mixing bowl and stir everything together. Season it with salt and pepper to taste.
10) Pour the quinoa into your casserole dish, press it so it fills the dish evenly, and top with the rest of your cheese.
11) Bake casserole (uncovered) until the cheese is melted and as brown as you like it – probably at least 15 minutes. (I did mine for 20).
12) When the casserole is done, let it cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.


Entry filed under: adaptations, broccoli, casserole, cheese, quinoa, recipes, vegetarian.

Simple Pasta with Ricotta, Spinach, & Tomatoes

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thecarefullcook  |  August 10, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I’m totally going to make this for the BF! However, I will be making some minor modifications. I don’t know why I have not thought of this! It’s like my mom’s Chicken Divan with the side dish included (and minus the chicken). I love one pot meals!

    • 2. Audrey  |  August 16, 2011 at 10:43 pm

      I’m all about one-pot meals. Hope you enjoy it!


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This is a cooking blog by someone who is not particularly good at cooking. I'm a lazy person who aspires to make simple, awesome, healthy food at home.


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