Nutritional yeast, cashews and garlic come together to make a creamy cheese substitute for this delicious and nourishing dairy-free chicken broccoli casserole.
Ahhh … cooler weather and comfort food. What makes a dish worthy of such a distinguished designation as “comfort food” in your opinion?
I was thinking about this today and comfort food for me is a dish that could (and definitely would) give you a hug. And if we’re talking hypothetical food hugs here, a casserole is going to give a much better one than, say, a salad. (And do I ever love salads.) Why though? Is it the physical warmth of the dish as it comes out of the oven, or the sight of the cheese drizzling down and reaching every nook and cranny between the meat and veggies? Or perhaps it’s the family-style serving nature of casseroles; everyone initially reaching from the same dish with the same large serving spoon. At any rate, the weather is turning cooler now in Minnesota, and I am getting a yearning to make some comfort food. Taking care of people through food, and lots of hugs (real people hugs, not food hugs), are my jams.
So, yes, many casseroles are made with cheese, and though I love eating cheese, my body doesn’t. Every once and awhile I’ll have a really good piece of cheese, a small glass of full-fat kefir, or a soup that simply could not be made with anything other than butter, but usually I avoid it.
The cheese in this dairy-free casserole recipe is substituted by a creamy base combination of nutritional yeast and cashews. Many vegan recipes use nutritional yeast, cashews, garlic and salt as the dairy-free concoction to replace parmesan cheese. Though I love nutritional yeast, I have to say that making the claim that it can replace the full rounded-out blissful flavor experience of a good parmesan regianno is a major stretch. But, that said, it still tastes really good!
You may be new to nutritional yeast and thinking “What the heck is that?! And how else can I use it besides this recipe?” Nutritional yeast is a yellow-colored flaky yeast. And as I mentioned above, is used as the flavor base for many dairy-free cheese substitutes, thus the possibilities are endless – cheese dips, sprinkled on salad or soup, mac and cheese variations, etc. It is a yeast, but behaves differently in your body than other types of yeast and is extremely nutritious. It is a wonderful source of B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, and zinc. You can find it at most grocery stores and of course online too. Once opened it lasts a few months in the refrigerator.
This casserole really is not all that time consuming once the veggies and meat are chopped – a little meal prep can go a long way in getting this on the table fast on a weeknight! The leftovers are best eaten within a few days. Just warm them up in the oven before serving. Also, when serving the leftovers, I’ll sometimes make a half batch of the sauce just to get the original creamy consistency back.
So, bring on the cold, snuggle around the table and enjoy this extremely nutritious and comforting dish.
- Broccoli – To preserve its beneficial nutrients, broccoli is one of those vegetables you don’t want to cook too long. Thus, it is no mistake that it goes into the oven raw and only cooks for 10 minutes at 350. If you prefer softer broccoli, you can either add it to the skillet with the chicken and celeriac root for a few minutes or cook the casserole for a few minutes longer in the oven.
- Nutritional Yeast – For more information on it including detailed health information check out Dr. Mercola’s article.
Creamy, Cheesy, Chicken and Broccoli Casserole (Dairy-Free, Paleo)
- **Do ahead step - soak cashews for at least 2 hours preferably 4-7.**
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter or ghee if you can tolerate dairy
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes depending on how much heat you prefer
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 2 cups celeriac or potatoes* about 1 medium celeriac OR 3 medium red potatoes, chopped into small 1/2" cubes
- 1 lb chicken about 2 small to medium breasts, chopped into 1/2" cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or himalayan salt
- 4 cups broccoli mostly flowers, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 cups cashews soaked in water for at least 2 hours, then drained and rinsed
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 1 carrot washed and roughly chopped (do not peel)
- 1 1/3 cup chicken broth homemade or low-sodium store bought
- 5-6 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard Annie's Organic does not have added sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon dried onion powder
- 1 teaspoon sea or himalayan salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In large skillet or pan, heat coconut oil and red pepper flakes on low-medium heat for about a minute. Add onion and celeriac or potatoes (whichever you prefer). Saute vegetables until slightly tender, about 12-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chicken to skillet and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute until chicken no longer has any pink spots and celeriac is tender, about 10 -15 minutes.
While chicken and celeriac (or potatoes) are cooking, make the "cheesy" dressing. Place cashews (drained and rinsed), and all remaining ingredients (not the broccoli) into a high-speed blend and blend until smooth. The sauce will thicken a bit after it is initially blended. After letting it rest for a few minutes, it should be easy to pour without being runny. If it is too watery (length of cashew soaking time can effect the consistency) add more cashews (1/4 cup at a time) or an extra carrot. If it is too thick, add 2-3 tablespoons of water or chicken broth at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
When the chicken and celeriac (or potato) are finished, mix them with the chopped broccoli in the skillet or a large bowl and then pour into a casserole dish. (I used a 3 qt. 13" x 9", but a larger one would work too.) Pour the cheese sauce over the chicken and vegetables.
Place casserole dish in the oven and bake for 10 minutes for crisp broccoli, 15 minutes for softer broccoli.
* You can also omit this celery root or potatoes and increase the amount of chicken and broccoli.
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