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We’ve had a new addition to the family – last week I was able to visit my lil sis, her son and his wife, and a brand new baby grand-nephew. It was truly a week of excesses, traveling, graduations, Memorial Day. I made my Mixed Berry Shortcakes, and indulgence for sure. My nephew (a talented musician) is a vegetarian, and when I got home, I dusted off my old recipe box and pulled out a favorite from the 70′s: This brown rice and vegetable casserole. It is truly a tasty vegetarian meal with wide appeal.

Vibrant Vegetarian Casserole

Vibrant Vegetarian Casserole

Of course, way back in the ’70′s, I was pretty young, and didn’t really know how to cook very well – and somehow it seemed more acceptable for vegetarians to sacrifice taste for health. Brown food seemed to be the norm, and so many dishes were mushy and dull, dull, dull. I would throw all the ingredients together for this, and although it tasted wonderful, it came out somewhat iffy, perhaps a bit lackluster. I did some tweaking…

Here is a gorgeous, bountiful dish that vegetarians and carnivores alike will eat with relish. An extra step or two and a little care was all this recipe makeover needed to ensure each and every component of this dish shines. This, as a matter of fact, is my “go to” method of cooking brown rice, in the oven, in a tightly covered casserole. No stirring, no scorching, no mush. This recipe may be halved, but the cooking time really remains pretty much the same.

Vibrant Vegetarian Casserole with Perfect Brown Rice, serves 8

  • 3 cups vegetable broth (may use chicken or beef)
  • 1 ½ cups brown rice
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • 4 cups cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 4 cups broccoli, broken into florets
  • 2 bell peppers, 1″ chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup cashews or peanuts
  • 1 cup grated cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute onion in butter or oil in a large skillet.  (If your onion becomes a little dry, add a tablespoon or so of water.) Remove half the onion and set aside – you’ll use it for the vegetable topping.

Add brown rice and stir until the color just begins to change – you’re not looking to brown it, just coat all the grains with the butter.

Add the three cups of broth, soy and thyme, stir together and place in a large casserole. Cover tightly and put in oven. Set your timer for 60 minutes and check the rice – it may take more time, up to about 70 minutes depending on the brand of rice, the shape of your casserole and your oven.  You will want it to be still firm but tender.

When your rice has been in the oven for about 40 minutes, prepare your vegetables. Add the olive oil to your skillet, break and cut the cauliflower into bite sized florets and add them to the skillet (they take the longest time to become tender) stirring now and then. Once they have just a little browning, do the same with the broccoli and saute for a minute or two longer. Cut the peppers into a bite sized dice and add them, along with the onion.

Add the 1/2 cup water and put a lid on the skillet, and simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the lid – the vegetables should still be slightly crisp, but almost tender, and the water almost gone.  (They are going to cook for a few minutes longer, so err on the crisp side.)  Add in the garlic and salt and cook for about 2 minutes more. Taste and reseason if you’d like.

When the rice is done, spoon the vegetables and any remaining liquid over the top.  Sprinkle with cashews and cheese and return to the oven just until the cheese is melted, about three to five minutes. Watch it carefully at this point – you want it in the oven for the minimum time it takes to just melt the cheese, and you don’t want to dry out your vegetables.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied

  • Brown Rice:  Really look for coupons and sales – and stock up when both are available.  It’s worthwhile to get a good brown rice – don’t be fooled by the instant or quick cooking varieties or the ones that just look like brown rice.  Riceland often has coupons available – check their site – I count on about 8 cents a cup.  If I don’t have a coupon, I’ll buy a larger bag (cheaper per ounce.)   Remember, though, brown rice is only marginally better than white rice – a few trace minerals and a smidge more fiber – but it is fantastic when cooked right.  Cost 12 cents.
  • Soy Sauce:  I often get this for free and Kikkoman tends to have $1.00 off coupons so I’ll buy the smaller bottles.  If I don’t have coupons, I’ll look at all the brands, especially in the Asian section of the store – and buy the cheapest per ounce.  Cost for such a small amount:   free.
  • Bell Peppers:  One of the most expensive components of this dish, think of making it when peppers are on sale.  The Red Bell Peppers go on sale per pound or per pepper.  An average sized pepper is about five ounces, so if it’s a per pepper pricing – pick the largest.  A great sale is generally 50 to 75 cents per pepper.  That’s about $2.40 per pound.  If you see them for less, grab them and think of ways to use this nutrient packed vegetable. Ours were on sale for $1.99 a pound – cost $1.24
  • Cauliflower:  Another vegetable that can be priced by the head or by the pound.  I find in my area the per head sales are generally less expensive.  It will keep for a week or two in the fridge, (If there is any slight browning, trim it off) so pick up several when they’re on sale.  All the cruciferous vegetables are extremely good for you and wonderful when not overcooked.  Cost for a head $1.49 – I used about 1/2.  $.75.
  • Broccoli:  Varies in pricing here from about $1.49 a pound up to $1.99 a pound on sale, now and then it will be in a bundle.   The bundles won’t necessarily be a pound.  I picked mine up for $1.49 and used half, cost 75 cents.  Check out my “rant” on frozen broccoli – it also shows how to cut your broccoli properly.
  • Onion:   Buy onions whenever you see them drop in price and store in a cool, dark place away from any potatoes.   Cost for the onion:  66 cents for two pounds, 20 cents.
  • Garlic:  Runs around 59 to 99 cents a head in my area in the boxes.  It can be a little tricky to discern the best prices because it can also be bought by the pound, and generally you’ll pay less this way.  Cost 5 cents.
  • Olive Oil:  My oil of choice, I always buy on sale with a coupon, especially if it’s two for one and I can use a coupon on each bottle.  Look for a price of about 8 cents an ounce, which is about a tablespoon.  Cost 16 cents.
  • Butter:  You could certainly go all olive oil in this dish, but buy butter during any of the holidays – stock up and freeze.  I’ve been lucky to find it for $1.49 pound over Christmas, Easter and Memorial day – last year I was paying $1.99 a pound.  Cost for two tablespoons:  9 cents.
  • Cashews:  I have a whole freezer area for nuts:  I pick them up, especially over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years and freeze.  I’ll often find coupons at that time, and I also buy them at alternate places – our Feed and Supply stores (Mills Fleet Farm) here in the Midwest (and I understand other stores down south, too) will have great prices on nuts.  Aldi’s often has great sales during the holidays.  I paid $3.99 a pound – a cup is about 4 ounces, a buck.

Nutrition: 

Cal 254, Cal fr fat 39%, 98; tot fat 11g; sat fat 5g; chol 19.56g; sod 874mg; tot carb 30g; fib 4.23g; sug 4g; prot 11g

Put your Own Spin on It:

  • You can certainly use almost any vegetable you’d like in this dish.
  • Teriyaki is a good substitute for soy for a different flavor.
  • You can use oregano instead of thyme.
  • Peanuts or Macadamia nuts can be used instead of cashews
  • Almost any kind of cheese will work – If you want a gooey, melty cheesy casserole, you can double the amount of cheese – I like to use just enough to entice my teenager into eating the vegetables while still maintaining some healthful aspects to the dish!

My pay off: 

A large casserole with leftovers (yeah!) that’s still pretty healthy.

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