Heidi Swanson — Queen of California Cool Cooking, Patron Saint of Vegetables — can truly do no wrong in my book. She has a magical knack for taking everyday ingredients and transforming them into beautiful, revelatory dishes. Her kitchen is always stocked with those seemingly simple but low-key-brilliant finishing touches that give her recipes their signature Heidi-ness, like saffron-garlic butter or a toasted nut and seed sprinkle with crushed coriander, almonds, sesame seeds, and oregano.
But my favorite 101 Cookbooks recipe of all time is not the artfully styled granola bowl or the vibrant rainbow cauliflower rice. My favorite dish leans a little more ... brown. It's not the most eye-catching or attractive recipe on the block, but it perfectly embodies Heidi's expert marriage of healthfulness, comfort, and that little something extra. Can you guess what it is?
"A Really Great Mushroom Casserole" Is ... Really Great
You have to hand it to Heidi here — this title is wholly on the nose. There are no flowery qualifiers; it just gets right to the point. And true to its name, this really great mushroom casserole is as straightforward and solid as its title.
It's based on one of Heidi's childhood favorites, one of the few dishes her mom had in her repertoire. She kept the spirit of the original dish — just a basic casserole with rice, mushrooms, and a creamy element to bind it all together — but gave it a slightly healthier, more homemade slant (no canned cream of mushroom soup here!).
Why I'm Utterly Obsessed with This Casserole
I first made this casserole seven years ago for a Thanksgiving potluck when I lived in Portland, Oregon. As the token vegetarian at the gathering, I wanted to be sure I had something hearty and filling to serve as my main while my friends chowed down on turkey. As I was stirring the ingredients together, I wondered if it might be a little ho-hum or bland — but, as with all of Heidi's recipes, the whole was truly greater than the sum of its parts.
First you get the golden, crackly layer of toasted almonds and Parmesan and the bright, almost licorice-like fresh tarragon. Then you move into the nutty, chewy brown rice and meaty mushrooms, all held together with a light mixture of eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt. It's basically a dish you'd eat on a hippie compound, if that hippie compound was run by an effortlessly chic culinary genius.
This casserole has great make-ahead potential, too, if you need to get a leg up on meal prep. "You can prepare the rice and mushroom mixture up to a few days in advance, and then simply bake it off when you're ready," Heidi says in the post. It's also super-customizable: Heidi suggests using whatever cooked grains you like if you don't have brown rice on hand, and adding in all sorts of stuff like chopped leafy greens, toasted nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and cooked lentils.
And I'm not alone in my undying love for this mushroom casserole, either. Former Kitchn editor Emma Christensen recommended it in 2008 and then wrote about it again in 2009. And our Editor-in-Chef, Faith Durand, penned this glowing review in 2009. It's safe to say we have all succumbed to the quiet magic of this mushroom bake. Maybe it's because the simple ingredient list lets you really taste each flavor in the dish (no one thing is outshined by the other), maybe it's because it strikes the perfect balance of textures, or maybe it's because it never comes out of the oven dry. Whatever it is, this unassuming, humble recipe has surely cast a spell on us.
I still make it every year for Thanksgiving to this day, but now I have to make a little extra because all the meat-eaters want a big portion of it too.
Get the recipe: A Really Great Mushroom Casserole on 101 Cookbooks
Have you tried this casserole before? Any other 101 Cookbook recipes you're obsessed with? Let me know in the comments!