I know this casserole is not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen on this blog, but sometimes the most homely looking food is the best-tasting food. And for goodness sake, it’s a casserole. No one expects it to be photogenic, right? Despite it’s ho hum appearance, this baked chicken and rice dish is one of my favorite concoctions. It tastes like the delicious church potluck dishes that I loved as a child but without the Velveeta cheese and frozen broccoli that I detest as an adult. Except for the handful of shredded cheese tucked gently into the rice mixture, it’s healthy — kale, chicken breast, and brown rice — and doesn’t depend on sodium-laden canned soup for its creaminess. Best of all, it makes for an easy weeknight dinner. You can make the casserole in advance, store it in the fridge overnight and simply throw it into the oven half an hour before mealtime. You don’t even have to come up with a side dish since the casserole covers your four basic food groups.
Chicken and Kale Casserole
This recipe is highly adaptable. Experiment with different types or quantities of meat, cheese, and veggies. Broccoli and cheddar in place of the kale and mozzarella is a great combination. Omit the chicken and it’s an easy vegetarian meal. You can also substitute cooked white rice or pasta for the brown rice, though the texture of the casserole will be softer.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, or 1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch kale, tough stems removed and leaves chopped roughly
8 oz (225 g) crimini mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons (50 g) butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) milk
2 cups (200 g) cooked brown rice, small grain preferably
8 oz (225 g) cooked chicken breast, diced and if not already seasoned, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
4 oz (100 g) mozzarella cheese, shredded
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a 2 quart casserole or a 11 in x 7 in baking dish.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until the onion becomes translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Stir in the kale and cook 1–2 minutes, until it starts to wilt. Stir in the mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more, until the mushrooms start to soften. Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat.
While the vegetables cook, make the cream sauce. First, melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly. The mixture should bubble and cook for 1–2 minutes. Be careful not to burn the mixture or let it take on too much color. Slowly pour in the milk to the flour/butter mixture, whisking constantly. The mixture should thicken as it cooks. You may need to add a bit more milk if the mixture seems too thick. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper to the sauce. Let it simmer for about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.
Gently stir in the rice and chicken to the vegetable mixture. Fold in the shredded cheese, then stir in the cream sauce. Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed. Pour the mixture into the greased casserole or baking dish and cover with a lid or aluminum foil. If serving the next day, cool the casserole, then refrigerate.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking for 10 minutes more, until bubbly and slightly golden around the edges.