Layered rice casserole (8 servings)

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Happy Vegan MoFo! Here's a casserole!

Today's recipe comes from  Bob's Red Mill, makers of whole-grain specialty products. I found the recipe a few months ago and decided to save it for October, since all but one ingredient was vegan. Why the company would choose to put Worcestershire sauce, which is made with anchovies, in an otherwise animal-free dish is beyond me, but it was an easy fix: I just subbed soy sauce for the Worcestershire.

You will need:

  • 1/2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  • 1 cup dry textured vegetable protein or textured soy protein (I used TVP)
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 2 cups grated carrots (from 2-3 carrots)
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs or wheat germ (I used breadcrumbs)

Steps:

(If your stomach is hardier than mine is and you can handle onions and peppers that haven't been cooked thoroughly, you can skip the first step.)

  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a deep rimmed skillet. Cook the onions and peppers for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they're soft and beginning to brown on the edges.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 2 1/2-quart casserole dish with non-stick spray.
  3. Spread the dry rice in an even layer on the bottom of the casserole dish. Then, spread the TVP or TSP on top of that. Then layer the drained chickpeas on top of that. Sprinkle the oregano and basil on top of the chickpeas. (My chickpeas were salt-free, so I also added a light sprinkling of sea salt here.)
  4. Next, layer the onions, peppers, and carrots on top of the chickpeas. 
  5. Combine the tomato sauce, water, and soy sauce in a measuring cup or jar; shake or stir to combine. Then pour the mixture over top of the layer of veggies.
  6. Finally, sprinkle the top of the casserole with the breadcrumbs or wheat germ. Cover the casserole dish with foil or a lid and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Serve hot.

Besides using soy sauce, the only change I made to the original recipe was to use tomato sauce instead of tomato juice. Neither Bryan nor I like tomato juice, so buying a 64-ounce bottle of it seemed wasteful. The canned sauce I bought was thin enough that it blended well with the water. Besides, the carrots I used were so fresh that they brought their own moisture to the dish. 

Now, some of you might be thinking, "Textured vegetable protein? Wheat germ? What the hell?" and a few years ago, I might have been thinking the same thing. Here in Chapel Hill, I buy those products at Whole Foods (in the bulk section, usually) or Weaver Street Market, where they're readily available. When I lived in Lancaster, PA, I could buy those items at Rhubarbs Market or at Akron Nutrition Center. I think most well-stocked grocery stores will have them, though. And if you can't find them locally, you can always order online from places like Amazon. However, I know it's not really practical to order a case of something from Amazon if you haven't tried it yet! The TVP blended right in with the rice, since it was roughly the same size as the rice grains. If I hadn't made this, I probably wouldn't have even know the TVP was there!

I'd give this casserole a B. I liked the combination of textures and the two sources of protein, but the flavor was lacking something. I'm sure that if I added more herbs, it would be better. A total of one teaspoon of dried herbs really isn't enough flavor for a big casserole, in retrospect. The recipe has potential though!