The casserole is back. After a long reign that peaked in the 1950s and 60s, the casseroles popularity began to decline. The new 21st century casserole may not look like your mothers or grandmothers. The makeover reflects contemporary interest in lighter, healthier entrees while retaining the speed and simplicity that always made the casserole a favorite.

New cooking techniques make it easy to prepare a casserole today with more variety and flexibility. And with its greater use of vegetables and grains, the modern casserole is an easy and enjoyable way to satisfy the demand for healthier dishes.

Although the casserole has a long history in America, it did not begin to attract major attention until condensed, canned soups came on the market. The casserole became an American staple in the Depression, when cheap but filling meals were essential. It rose in popularity during World War II as women began to enter the workplace in large numbers, and reached its heyday in the 1950s.

The casserole of the past was usually made by combining a cream sauce with meat, poultry, or fish that was often canned or leftover from a previous meal. A small amount of vegetables like onions and celery was added, primarily for texture. Part of the decline in the casseroles popularity was due to an over-reliance on leftovers, canned foods and instant sauces.

The updated casserole is now often prepared on top of the stove rather than in the oven. A no-bake casserole can be made quickly by combining ingredients that have been cooked separately a starchy grain like pasta and a generous portion of tender-crisp vegetables, plus an optional addition of meat. The mixture is then quickly bound together with a sauce.

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The new casserole lets the cook increase the proportion of grains and reduce the amount of meat, getting closer to the plant-based diet many health experts recommend as an effective way to fight heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases.

Kasha, another name for roasted buckwheat, has a nutty taste that complements the flavors of many vegetables. In the following casserole, jicama is used to provide a pleasant contrast to the soft texture of the kasha and vegetables. Jicama, a large Mexican vegetable with a mild, slightly sweet taste, retains its crunch despite cooking and also works well in most salads. Canned water chestnuts or red radishes can be substituted.

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Kasha and Chicken Casserole

Makes 4 servings.

  • 1/2 cup medium kasha*
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium, fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small carrot, sliced
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 8-10 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh jicama, diced canned water chestnuts (rinsed and drained), or diced red radishes
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces

Directions

  1. Cook kasha in the broth according to package instructions, preferably in a non-stick saucepan or deep skillet. (The kasha can be cooked without the egg, as suggested in the package instructions, but using the egg brings out its flavor more fully.)
  2. In the meantime, heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. oil, coating the bottom of the pan, and heat until hot. Add the carrot and saut until almost soft (about 4 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add onion and saut, stirring, just until it turns translucent. Remove carrot and onion and set aside.
  3. Heat remaining oil in the skillet over high heat until very hot. Add mushrooms and jicama. Saute, stirring often, until mushrooms are lightly brown and tender. Add chicken and stir until heated through. Return carrots and onion to pan and stir to combine.
  4. Add cooked kasha and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. *Brown rice may be used in place of kasha, using package directions to cook.

Nutritional Info Per Serving:
169 calories,
8 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat),
11 g. carbohydrate,
14 g. protein,
3 g. dietary fiber,
184 mg. sodium


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