BROCCOLI rice casserole is a classic side dish in the American Southwest.
Unlike the rest of the United States where wheat, corn and potatoes are staples, the southern states grow rice.
So it came as a surprise when I went to study in Texas that rice dishes were prevalent.
This is also probably because of the Mexican influence on the cuisine.
The final topping of the cheese and breadcrumbs is crucial in creating that au gratin finish that this dish is famous for.
It is similar to the cheese rice dishes at Hong Kong restaurants but I think this is better because it is all natural.
The first time I tasted this dish, I was blown away by its simplicity and flavour.
The combination of rice, cheese and broccoli was one that I thought I could replicate.
Then I found out that most restaurants cheated by making the cheese sauce out of canned cream of chicken soup.
Thus began my quest for an all-natural recipe that does not depend on this relic of 1940s wartime conveniences.
The most basic ingredient is the cooked rice of which long-grain rice or jasmine rice is ideal.
Unless you want to keep this dish vegetarian, you may cook the rice in chicken broth, which gives it a flavour similar to making the sauce with canned soup.
You may use plain rice as I have done in the video and it still tastes amazing.
The broccoli is chopped in the version that I’m used to eating, but most recipes online call for it to be cut into florets then parboiled.
I find that the broccoli in this method loses some of its flavour, so I chop them to cook in the sauce.
Adding a bit of mustard powder also enhances the taste in broccoli but it may be omitted for a milder flavour.
Since all of the ingredients are pre-cooked, do not bake for too long or the rice will get mushy.
Remove from the oven when the sauce starts bubbling and the topping turns brown and crusty.
Then allow it to cool a little before serving on its own or garnish with a few slices of smoked salmon – the perfect dish during this period of Lent.
Broccoli rice au gratin
1 head broccoli, coarsely chopped
3 cups cooked white rice or chicken rice
1 bulb yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
½ tsp dry mustard powder
½ tsp paprika
50g cream cheese
115g cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ tsp salt to taste
¼ tsp black pepper to taste
90g cheddar cheese, shredded
75g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup bread crumbs
Cook onion and garlic in butter on medium-low heat until soft and translucent.
Stir in flour and cook for an additional two minutes.
Gradually pour in milk while whisking over medium heat until thick and bubbly.
Remove from heat and add dry mustard, paprika, cream cheese and cheddar cheese.
Stir until melted and add in broccoli to cook in the residual heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stir together rice and cheese sauce. Place in a greased casserole dish. Top with remaining cheeses and bread crumbs.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 20 minutes or until bubbly and toppings turn slightly brown and crusty.