In a house with four children (me + my triplet brother and sisters), my mom was always looking for new ways to 1) feed her children to satiety quickly (we all tend to get VERY grumpy when we need to eat. My sister Paige calls it hangry. Hungry + Angry = Hangry.), and 2) get us all the nutrients we needed to get through our mad rush of daily activities, from swimming to baseball to student council.
As a classic Southern woman in the vein of Paula Deen—minus the Southern drawl—my mom often turned to hearty one-pot casseroles to feed our family of 6. To this day, I still wax nostalgic about my mom’s casseroles, in particular her Broccoli-Cheese Casserole and her Chicken Tetrazzini, which I already updated here. So when I saw a post on Broccoli-Quinoa Casserole on my gal Jessica’s blog, Dishin’ About Nutrition, I knew I had to make my own version!
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has gotten very popular in the past few years, and Doug and I have most definitely jumped on the bandwagon. Quinoa looks like a grain, but it’s actually an ancient tiny seed that the Incas used to eat as a primary form of nutrition. Quinoa, unlike wheat or rice, is a COMPLETE protein, which means not only does it have a lot of protein, but it’s also a balanced source of essential amino acids. And, it’s gluten free! You cook quinoa in the exact same way as rice (2 parts water to 1 part quinoa), except you give it a little rinse first.
Quinoa tastes like a nuttier, more delicious version of rice, at least in my opinion. I like to buy it in bulk bags at Sam’s Club or Costco, but you can most definitely find it in well-stocked supermarkets and specialty markets. I like to substitute it for rice in many recipes, this one included. As a nutritional powerhouse, quinoa supplies many of our needed vitamins and minerals, so it’s great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. In this updated version of Broccoli-Quinoa Casserole, I couldn’t help but include at least a little Velvetta cheese—my mom’s ultimate casserole mix in. However, I cut the amount of Velvetta in half, and supplemented it with low-sodium cream of mushroom soup and a few tablespoons of milk to re-create the cheesy sauce. (I couldn’t bear to mix in mayonnaise.) To really boost the casserole’s flavor, I added red chili flakes (spicy!), garlic powder, lemon juice (for bright flavors), and parsley (freshness) as well as cooked the quinoa in bouillon—a great trick for adding more flavor to rice and other simmered grains. Instead of topping the casserole with Ritz crackers, I opted for crushed corn flakes and a little Parmesan to give it a nice crispy bite.
What resulted is definitely my favorite broccoli-cheese casserole yet: Creamy, cheesy, spicy, but also nutritionally packed and easy on the wallet. Really, you can’t go wrong with a one-pot meal like this, and I know Doug will be asking for it again and again.
Rice can stand in for quinoa in this homey casserole, and cauliflower would be a good substitute for the broccoli. Serves 4 to 6. Click here to download the handy printable.
2 cups water
1 bouillon cube
1 cup quinoa
½ pound Velvetta cheese, cubed
1 can of low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
2 tablespoons milk
1 pound cooked chicken, cube or diced (optional)
½ pound steamed broccoli florets
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon chili flakes (less if you don’t want your casserole spicy)
1-2 tablespoons, chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup corn flakes, crushed
3 tablespoons parmigiano reggiano or Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
Cook the quinoa. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the bouillon cube. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear. When the bouillon cube is dissolved, add the rinsed quinoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. (You should see tiny spirals (the germ) curling around the quinoa seeds.) Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Make casserole. While the quinoa cooks, melt the Velvetta with the milk in a large bowl in the microwave. When the Velvetta is almost melted, whisk in the cream of mushroom soup and finish melting. Fold the broccoli, chicken, garlic powder, chili flakes, and lemon juice into the Velvetta mixture. Fold in the cooked quinoa, and season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.
Finish the casserole. Spray an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray, and pour the casserole into it. Sprinkle the crushed corn flakes over the casserole, followed by the cheese. Bake the casserole on the top rack of the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbly. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.