As every cook knows, casseroles offer an easy way to use up leftovers while offering diners a whole new taste experience. Potatoes or pasta are familiar starches in all types of casseroles, but the wise cook also keeps rice in the pantry because there are many, very different kinds of rice casserole. Chicken, beef, and tuna might join a wealth of veggies, and sauces that bind the casserole can range from peppery, fire-roasted tomato to mellow, white cheese.
One very popular chicken and rice casserole uses creamy, canned mushroom soup and a handful of cheddar or Monterey jack cheese to keep diced chicken breast, mushrooms, and broccoli cuddled up with the rice. Seasonings offer a range of spins. A dash of curry, minced garlic and ginger, and perhaps some golden raisins and cashews transform this casserole into an exotic meal. A scoop or two of pesto and a sprinkling of pine nuts sends it in another direction.
Another rice casserole that will remind many diners of favorite meals they had as children is the so-called Spanish Rice Bake. There’s nothing authentically Spanish about it, but the combination of ground beef, sautéed onion and green peppers, and spicy tomato sauce marries wonderfully with a little help from some good old American cheddar cheese. Some cooks like to sneak a veggie or two into this one, and others add canned kidney or navy beans for an inexpensive boost of protein.
An elegant rice casserole for a candlelit, romantic meal includes fat, pink shrimp, lobster, and scallops swimming in a buttery white sauce. The seasonings for this yummy dish can range from curry’s bright note to a splash of lemon and a single, crushed fresh herb. Sherry or another wine dribbled into the sauce makes it extra special.
Mom and dad cooks know the kids love tuna rice casserole. It’s inexpensive and easy to make. One very simple version is composed of tuna, a can of cream soup, and a package of frozen mixed veggies in addition to the rice. A topping of crushed crackers mixed with a liberal dose of cheddar or jack cheese browned under the broiler makes this a winner.
Vegetarians are no strangers to rice casseroles. They are a great way to use up an abundance of summer veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant. Winter vegetables like acorn squash or parsnips are equally good. Adding tofu or tempeh offers additional protein.
Whether the cook chooses familiar white rice or opts for something with a little more nutrition, a rice casserole on the menu will get diners to the table fast. Chewy brown rice, aromatic basmati or jasmine rice, or a combination of wild and domestic types of rice are all options. Any recipe can be modified to include what’s on hand, and because it’s a one-dish meal, cleanup is a snap.