In the past, the word casserole might have referred to a "let's raid-the-fridge" recipe, or maybe an "open-mix-and-bake" sort of meal. But casseroles have finally come of age and can be sophisticated on their own accord. There's a reason casseroles have been reigning supreme, since, well the beginning of time. What's not to love about a hot and bubbly one-dish meal?! When the weather gets cold I immediately crave the "creamy" turkey divan and poppy seed chicken of my youth. Here's my spin on a particular old favorite, chicken and rice, with a few modern, nutrient-rich upgrades.
It doesn't take much to build a delicious, budget-friendly casserole from the ground up. For big flavor, I prefer to cook my rice (I used brown rice for this dish and cooked it al dente since it will finish cooking in the casserole), and all my grains for that matter, in low-sodium chicken stock. I also used an easy but oh-so-delicious white sauce made with cow's milk, Greek yogurt and infused with herbs – yum, more on that soon. (For the record, with the cold weather and holidays upon us, I pretty much keep a pot of stock simmering on my stovetop all winter long. I constantly replenish it with leftover rotisserie bones and stray veggies from the fridge so that I always have some at the ready!)
In a smack-my-head moment, I realized I could steam the broccoli along with the rice, and have one less dish to do later. That's huge! Not to mention the broccoli adds a boost of flavor and bright pop of color to boot. For a creamy binder, I made an easy béchamel (a flavorful white sauce made with milk, infused with herbs) using non-fat cow's milk, Cheddar cheese and Greek yogurt. For a lactose intolerance-friendly take, you can also opt for lactose free cow's milk like LACTAID® Milk, which is real milk, just without the lactose. It tastes great and has all the important nutrients of dairy foods too. Greek yogurt's live and active cultures also help digest lactose, while natural cheeses like Cheddar contain minimal amounts of lactose, making the mix come together in a rich, tangy sauce that my friends can enjoy, including those with lactose intolerance. Finally, a handful of sliced almonds and a sprinkling of bread crumbs add a welcomed crunch to balance out the otherwise creamy dish.
The beauty of casseroles is you can play around with the flavors and have fun experimenting (plus the prep is so easy you can pop it in the oven in no time and work your magic on a simple side dish in the meantime). Cauliflower would be delicious veggie substitute for broccoli, or you could add mushrooms and veggie stock for a vegetarian version. The sky is the limit! And unlike the canned soup-laden recipes I grew up on, one serving of this recipe is an excellent source of calcium while the dish overall is balanced out with veggies, dairy and whole grains, making it a casserole that I can feel good about both serving and eating.
Chicken, Broccoli & Brown Rice Casserole
homemade or low-sodium/unsalted chicken stock (or water)
broccoli florets (about 4 cups)
nonfat or low-fat cow's milk (Lactose-free cow's milk optional)
grated Cheddar cheese
nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (optional)
shredded chicken (from 1 rotisserie chicken)
Bring chicken stock to a boil in a medium pot. Add rice, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, then add the broccoli florets to the pot. Return cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes. (Do not cook according to package directions; you want to undercook the rice.) Remove from heat and set aside.
As soon as you put broccoli in the rice pot, preheat oven to 400°F and start the béchamel sauce. Whisk flour and cow’s milk in a large skillet to combine. Bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of the spoon, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in the Cheddar cheese until melted. Add Greek yogurt, and salt and pepper if desired.
Fold the rice and broccoli mixture, shredded chicken, and almonds into the cheese sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the mixture to a medium-sized casserole dish (or if your skillet is oven-safe, just bake it in that!) Mix the breadcrumbs and olive oil in a small bowl; sprinkle over the casserole. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until topping is golden and the dish is warmed through.
Total Fat: 15 g
Saturated Fat: 5 g
Cholesterol: 75 mg
Sodium: 410 mg
Calcium: 35% Daily Value
Protein: 36 g
Carbohydrates: 64 g
Dietary Fiber: 3 g
Lactose: 1 g*
Calcium: 30 %
Vitamin A: 8%
Vitamin C: 0 %
*Lactose content per serving is based on the use of lactose-free cow’s milk.