An Ode to Casseroles
After all the cupcakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats this season, I am ready for some healthy food to restock my fridge.
Do you like casseroles? I personally have a love-hate relationship with them. I love their convenience. Casseroles achieve a quick and easy meal prep because they’re so simple. Just throw some stuff in a dish, bake it, then boom: food for the week!
But often there is an unfortunate side effect. If you’ve ever opened up a container with leftovers you found weeks after you made it, and then blacked out from the stench, you’ll know where I’m coming from. Some foods like chicken can get real old real quick in the fridge. But have no fear – this easy dairy free chicken casserole is full of flavor and it tastes amazing as leftovers with a few helpful tricks.
How to Make Leftovers Taste Great
As an avid meal-prepper (no, I’m not a body builder, I’m just kinda lazy) it’s highly important to make food that still tastes great after a few days in the fridge. I found a few key ways to make this dream a reality.
A little bit of spice and heat on the tongue helps food taste more interesting and less bland. Try it sometime – top boring leftovers with a squeeze of siracha or a smack of Tabasco and it’ll take on a new life. I sprinkled chili flakes on my casserole meal each time before I dug in to eat, keeping it away from the land of boring.
It’s also common for leftovers to become either really mushy or weirdly chewy. Keeping a delightful crunch is nearly impossible for refrigerated leftovers that you’re reheating in the microwave. My secret: sprinkle crunchy bread crumbs on top just before eating your meal! I like savory bread crumbs, seasoned with Italian seasoning, or Panko bread crumbs for even extra crunch. Keep this meal gluten free by using gluten-free bread crumbs!
Let’s get real. You just worked your tail end off to create an incredibly tasting meal. There’s leftovers, maybe on purpose for meal prep, or maybe unintentionally. And you can’t waste food. So your [glass, please] Tupperware gets filled with a bath of creamy, chunky, delicious casserole. You can’t wait until the next day’s lunch to relive the culinary experience. But oh no, somehow the microwave zaps out all the flavor and you’re left with a weird mess of bland food. The solution is to ensure your meal is PACKED with flavor that lasts in the fridge. Coconut milk, umami and a good mix of spices do the trick here.
What? How do you add “life” to your food? Shouldn’t that chicken be dead…?
I’m talking about fresh herbs! A generous helping of fresh herbs on your reheated leftovers can truly revive them. Not only does it add color and flavor, but it adds another layer of texture and all around deliciousness.
Use Leftovers to Make a New Meal
You can actually use the leftovers that are sitting in your fridge to put together this incredibly easy dairy free chicken casserole.
You can use the meat from a leftover rotisserie chicken in this casserole. I usually don’t have leftover chicken when I make this casserole, so I opt to cook three or four chicken thighs or breasts in my instant pot, seasoned just with salt.
2. Fresh Herbs
If you don’t have cilantro or parsley, but you have some extra basil from pizza night, or maybe fresh rosemary or thyme or any of your other favorite herbs, whack those on instead. It’s less about the flavor pairing and more about adding what you like while contributing to a fresh flavor imbued into your leftovers.
When I make this casserole, I usually use the leftover rice in my fridge that has gone way too hard to be edible. I give it a nice long, luxurious soak in the coconut milk, miso and spices to become soft and creamy.
You can buy bread crumbs at the grocery store. But it will taste even better if you have a loaf of bakery bread (not your sliced bread in the plastic bag) that is a day or two old and gone hard enough to use as a door stopper. Cut it into chunks and whiz it in the food processor or blender until the crumbs are to your desired texture.
Easy Chicken Casserole (Dairy-Free)
- 14 ounces coconut milk (1 can)
- 2 heaping Tbsp miso paste
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp paprika
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 3 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 cups cooked rice (⅔ cup uncooked)
- ½ cup fresh parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped, for topping
- ½ cup bread crumbs of your choice, either homemade or store-bought, for serving
- 1 tsp chili flakes, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a large bowl, pour in the coconut milk. Microwave it for about 30 seconds to warm it up.Add the miso, garlic powder, black pepper, paprika and salt. Mix everything until the miso dissolves and the spices are well incorporated.
- Add the rice to the coconut and spices mixture. If your rice was in the fridge for at least a day, let the mixture sit on the counter for about 20 minutes, so the rice can soak up some of the coconut milk and soften.
- Mix in the cooked chicken pieces. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch by 11-inch casserole dish (or something similar). Cover the dish with aluminum foil, so it doesn't dry out, and bake for 30 minutes.Carefully remove the foil from the dish and bake in the oven for an additional 10 minutes.
- To serve, scoop some out onto plates or bowls. Top with fresh herbs, a generous amount of crunchy bread crumbs, and a tiny pinch of chili flakes.Enjoy! If you have leftovers, store them in airtight containers in the fridge for up to three days.