I think nearly every American is well acquainted with this dish: the Baked Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole.
Featuring plenty of white rice and plenty of cheddar cheese.
And topped with a can of Campbell’s Cream of Broccoli Soup.
It’s a classic.
Easy, convenient, rich, hot-from-the-oven comfort food.
So lately I started thinking: the chicken broccoli and rice casserole is the perfect target for a 21st century upgrade.
This dish could be so much healthier and taste so much better, with a few tweaks.
This modern, updated version is still really quick and convenient.
It’s just a lot healthier, with fresh, whole ingredients.
And all that wholesome freshness makes this quinoa cheddar bake taste so much more rich and flavorful too.
(For the complete, printable recipe for this Quinoa Cheddar Bake with Chicken and Broccoli, scroll to the bottom.)
Begin with these key ingredients.
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My first upgrade for this dish is to use quinoa instead of white rice.
Quinoa is a superfood that’s as easy to prepare as packaged pasta. It’s full of protein, dietary fiber, and nutrients like iron (which prevents fatigue and keeps the immune system strong).
Here’s how easy it is:
Step 1: Boil two cups of water in a saucepan and add a bit of salt.
Step 2: Add one cup of quinoa and reduce to a simmer.
Step 3: Cook until all the water is absorbed, about 10-12 minutes.
You’ll see it’s done when the spiral-shaped germ becomes visible around each grain.
That’s all there is to it!
While the quinoa is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 F.
Cube some skinless, boneless chicken breasts, then grab a large, oven-proof skillet and heat some olive oil over medium high heat.
Add the cubed chicken and season with salt and pepper.
Then cook until the outsides are lightly browned.
Second improvement over the classic dish: I swapped out the canned, condensed broccoli soup with real, actual broccoli.
Huge improvement, considering broccoli is another superfood with anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer properties.
In other words, this vegetable keeps the immune system in top form.
To make it easy, just grab a bag of frozen chopped broccoli that’s been thawed.
Run your knife through the broccoli, just to make sure it’s all in small, bite-sized pieces.
Tip: be sure the broccoli is completely thawed. Still frozen broccoli can make the casserole watery. I’ve learned this the hard way. Just toss broccoli in the microwave for a couple of minutes to thaw it quickly.
Add the broccoli in with the chicken and cook until it’s lightly softened.
Next, turn off the heat and add all of the following: the cooked quinoa, some sharp cheddar cheese you’ve grated with a box grater (I used a bag of pre-shredded cheddar to save time), and some low-fat cottage cheese.
If you’re anything like my husband, you might be running from this recipe now you’ve seen that strange health food, cottage cheese, on the list of ingredients.
But before you go … rest assured, you can’t actually taste the cottage cheese in this recipe.
It’s just a lighter, healthier way to add a lot of rich, creamy cheesy flavor to the casserole.
Meat-and-Potatoes-Guy couldn’t begin to guess that there was any cottage cheese in this recipe the first time he tasted it.
This is also the third upgrade to the classic dish: cottage cheese has a lot of healthy nutrients, including probiotics that boost immunity and tons of selenium for young, glowing skin.
Stir everything together and season to your taste with salt and pepper.
If your skillet is not oven-proof, this is the point where you’ll need to transfer everything to a casserole dish.
Then grab a small bowl and combine some whole wheat panko breadcrumbs, a bit of grated Parmesan, and a bit of olive oil.
Stir until the breadcrumbs are well coated in oil.
Add a bit more grated cheddar all over the top of the casserole. Then sprinkle on the breadcrumb mixture.
Bake in the oven until the breadcrumbs are crisp and golden and the cheese around the edges begins to bubble.
Start to finish, this is an easy dish that should take only 30 minutes to throw together.
End result: a tasty plate of rich, cheesy comfort food.
This easy casserole is full of healthy ingredients.
But all the melted, gooey cheddar makes it a dish just about everyone can thoroughly appreciate.
The complete, printable recipe for Quinoa Cheddar Bake with Chicken and Broccoli:
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 teaspoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed
- 1 pound frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
- 1½ cups low-fat cottage cheese, strained
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- ¼ cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Bring two cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, and season with salt. Add the quinoa and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until the water is absorbed, about 10-12 minutes. The quinoa is cooked when the spiral germ becomes visible around the grains.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a large oven-safe skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the cubed chicken and season with salt and pepper. Saute until the outsides are nicely browned, about 7 minutes. Add the thawed chopped broccoli and cook until the broccoli is lightly softened, about 2 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Add the cooked quinoa, cottage cheese, and ⅔ cups grated cheddar. Stir until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- (If skillet is not oven-safe, transfer ingredients to a large casserole dish at this point.)
- Spread the remaining ⅓ cup grated cheddar over the top of the casserole.
- In a small bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, and one teaspoon of olive oil. Stir until breadcrumbs are well coated with oil. Spoon breadcrumb mixture all over the top of the casserole.
- Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until breadcrumbs are lightly browned and cheese begins bubbling, about 10 minutes. Serve.
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