In my ongoing quest to cook nutrient dense meals, I’ve been on the hunt for that ever-wonderful dish called a casserole. As a household of one, casseroles are a real timesaver for me. They use several types of foods (even leftovers), and I can combine my favorite flavors. Best of all, I can bake casseroles in one dish that can be frozen in small portions for a quick oven warm up on those too-lazy-to-cook days. If you’re feeding a large or even small family, or unexpected company, the casserole is a super way to serve a happy, healthy meal, right alongside a nice salad. You’ll have people scraping the remains before washing the dishes!
So, what is a casserole? A casserole (the French word for saucepan) is a large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word also refers to the food cooked and served in such a vessel, with the cookware itself called a casserole dish or casserole pan. (With your permission to toot my own horn, I’d like to add that the best casserole dishes are made of stonewear. It’s 100 percent lead-free, made in the USA, dishwasher safe, and can be used from the freezer to the oven. To learn all about stoneware, read my blog post “Stoneware—For the Best and Safest Baking Ever.”
No doubt you already have a few favorite casseroles that you cook often. However, I’ve found that, for the most part, many of the recipes out there are made with white flour noodles or pasta, white commercial sugar, canned soups, and a whole lot of other starch-laden ingredients. Yes, that makes them easy to throw together, but far from nutrient dense—a quality I couldn’t find even after many, many days of research!
Thinking that many of my readers would, like me, be interested to learn about casseroles with a predefined vitamin content, I set some parameters around important nutrients that are worthy of mention in any conversation of nutrient dense foods.
Along with that information, I’m also providing a bonanza of perfect casserole recipes that provide that special nutritional touch. Oh, and just so you know, I’ve modified these recipes to the best of my ability to meet Nourishing Traditions standards.
Below are the five predefined vitamin-rich food categories I refer to above. Plenty of recipes follow. So now sit back, take your time, and learn all about these wonderful foods and casseroles.
Category 1: Carotenoid-Rich Vegetables. Rich in vitamin A and its precursor, beta-carotene. The complex carbohydrates sustain us while the vitamin A and beta-carotene help maintain eye heath, skin health, and the immune system. Also helps lubricate our eyes, skin, and mucus membranes. Includes winter squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, and red peppers.
Category 2: Mushrooms. Helps modulate and support the immune system to keep us healthy. Includes maitake, shiitake, reishi, chaga, and turkey tail mushrooms, plus many more.
Category 3: Green Veggies. These are rich in chlorophyll, fiber, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and carotenoids such as lutein (for eye health), as well as all sorts of other vitamins and minerals. Includes kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, collards, chard, and wild greens.
Category 4: Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds nourish us with essential fatty acids, minerals, protein, and fiber. A small handful of nuts may lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as assist weight loss. Includes walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
Category 5: Colorful Fruits. Fruits are rich in a variety of pigment-based bioactive flavonoids, including anthocyanins, resveratrol, and lycopene. They also contain vitamin C, which is crucial for a healthy immune system. Fruits are often used for cardio and vascular tonics, and some, like elderberry, offer antiviral activity. Includes cranberries, blueberries, elderberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cherries.
And now…here come the recipes!
Category 1: Carotenoid-Rich Vegetables
Butternut Squash Tian with Herbed Bread Crumbs
—Recipe adapted from Rosa Jackson. To prepare in advance, work through step 5, then cover and refrigerate up to two days. When ready to serve, bake as directed. Serves 4.
This recipe also doubles very well. I use a 4 lb. squash and bake in a 9×13-inch casserole dish.
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2–2½ lbs. whole butternut squash (or your favorite)
¼ cup short grain or arborio rice
2 oz. freshly grated full-fat Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 large organic eggs
Herbed Provencal breadcrumbs (recipe follows)
- Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 1½- to 2-quart baking dish (such as a deep pie dish) with olive oil.
- Peel and slice the butternut squash. You should have 1¼–1½ lbs. prepared squash flesh.
- Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the squash in the olive oil with a sprinkling of salt until it softens and starts to disintegrate, about 20–25 minutes. Cover for most of the cooking time to speed the process.
- While the squash cooks, bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 10 minutes, then drain. Set aside.
- Place the cooked squash in a large bowl. Combine with the rice, Parmesan, about ½ teaspoon salt, and generous dashes of pepper and nutmeg. Allow to cool slightly, then mix in the eggs quickly so that they don’t scramble. The mixture may seem on the liquid side, but this is fine.
- Pour into the prepared casserole dish. Top with herbed bread crumbs (recipe below) and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until slightly toasted on top and set. Serve warm.
Herbed Provencal Bread Crumbs
1 cup dried whole grain bread crumbs
1 big handful flat leaf parsley, leaves only
Leaves from 3–4 sprigs of thyme or rosemary
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
- In a food processor, blend together all the ingredients except the olive oil.
- Add the olive oil and blend until the breadcrumbs are soft and green, using a little more oil if necessary. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Refrigerate or freeze in an airtight plastic bag or jar until ready to use.
Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole
—Adapted from our own Wardee Harmon. She states: “Here’s a yummy and healthy recipe for sweet potato casserole. I made it over from a recipe I found on the Internet a few years ago. Around here, I seem to only find the pale variety of sweet potatoes. If your sweet potatoes are the brighter orange variety, your sweet potato dish will be much more colorful!”
4 large sweet potatoes
¼–½ cup raw honey, plus 2 tablespoons reserved
¼–½ cup butter or unrefined coconut oil, plus 2 tablespoons reserved
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ cup chopped crispy nuts (see my Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Peel and coarsely chop sweet potatoes. Place in pot and cover with filtered water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Partially covered, cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. While still hot, beat or mash sweet potatoes until smooth.
- Stir in cup honey, butter or coconut oil, sea salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Beat or mash until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Transfer mixture to an ungreased 3-quart casserole dish. Arrange the nuts in a single layer on top. Drizzle with reserved honey and top with chunks of reserved butter or coconut oil. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and bubbly, or refrigerate the casserole and bake 30–45 minutes just before serving.
Category 2: Mushrooms
Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions
—Adapted from Our Nourishing Roots.
Ingredients for mushroom sauce:
½ cup (1 stick) plus 4 tablespoons butter, divided
32 oz. mushrooms, half white button and half crimini, sliced (or use your favorite combination of maitake, shiitake, reishi, chaga, or turkey tail)
2 onions, chopped
Up to ½ cup sprouted flour or arrowroot powder
4 cups cream
Salt and pepper to taste
8 cups green beans, steamed
Ingredients for shoestring onions:
2 cups palm shortening, tallow, or coconut oil, plus more as needed for frying
1 cup flour
1 cup arrowroot powder
Salt and pepper to taste
4 onions, halved and very thinly sliced, then separated into pieces
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13- or 10×14-inch pan. Set aside.
- For the mushroom sauce: Melt ½ cup butter in a large cast iron skillet. Sauté mushrooms and onions together over medium high heat until the onions have a little color, about 8–10 minutes.
- Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, stirring to melt completely. Sprinkle flour or arrowroot powder over the top of the mixture and stir to coat completely. Cook for 2 minutes to take the raw taste out of the flour.
- Stirring continuously with one hand, slowly pour the cream into the pan in a steady stream, scraping the browned bits off the bottom as you go.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer and stir until it’s thickened up nicely, about 5–10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour sauce into a large mixing bowl. Add steamed green beans and stir to combine completely. Transfer mixture to the prepared casserole dish and set aside.
- For the shoestring onions: In a large cast iron skillet, melt 2 cups or so of palm shortening, tallow, or coconut oil. (You will need 2 inches of fat in the pan to fry the onions, so add more as necessary.) Keep the heat on medium high while you get the onions ready.
- In a large bowl, whisk flour, arrowroot, salt, and pepper. Toss the onions in the mixture and coat completely.
- Shake excess flour off the onions and fry in the hot fat until nice and browned. Remove. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Taste and add a little salt if needed.
- Sprinkle shoestring onions over the top of the casserole. Bake casserole 15–20 minutes until nice and bubbly. Serve immediately.
—Adapted from 101 Cookbooks. Use any cooked whole grain you like, and remember to use full-fat cottage cheese or sour cream. Serves about 8.
½ lb. (8 oz.) brown mushrooms (or your favorite combination of maitake, shiitake, reishi, chaga, or turkey tail), cleaned and chopped
2 tablespoons or more lard, tallow, or coconut oil
1 large onion, well chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups cooked brown rice, room temperature (see soaking requirements for rice and grains in Nourishing Traditions)
2 large organic eggs
1 cup full-fat cottage cheese
½ cup full-fat sour cream
½ teaspoon Celtic sea salt
⅓ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh tarragon, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Rub a medium-large baking dish (a 9×13-inch casserole, or something a bit smaller) with a bit of olive or coconut oil and set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the mushrooms in a glug (about 2 tablespoons) of lard, tallow, or coconut oil and a couple pinches of salt. Stir every minute or so until the mushrooms release their liquid and brown a bit.
- Add onions and cook for another 4–5 minutes, or until translucent.
- Stir in the garlic. Cook for another minute and remove from heat. Add the rice to the skillet and stir until combined. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream, and salt.
- Combine the rice mixture and cottage cheese mixture in a large bowl, stirring until well combined. Turn out into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with 2/3 of the Parmesan cheese.
- Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 20–30 minutes more, or until hot throughout and golden along the edges. Sprinkle with chopped tarragon and the remaining Parmesan and enjoy.
Category 3: Green Veggies
Grain-Free Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
—Kelly the Kitchen Kop gave us this easy grain-free broccoli recipe.
1 head broccoli, or enough broccoli heads (and stems, if desired) to cover the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish
Celtic salt and organic pepper to taste
¼–½ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter or grass-fed ghee, reserved
2 cups full-fat shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup or more raw or nonhomogenized whole milk
¼ cup arrowroot powder
1 cup gluten-free crackers (smashed up in a baggie with a rolling pin)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Place broccoli in a buttered casserole pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (you can always add more at the table).
- Slowly melt 2 tablespoons butter or ghee and cheese in a saucepan over low heat with the milk. Whisk in the arrowroot and stir until creamy. Pour the cheese sauce over the broccoli.
- Melt remaining butter, then stir in the crushed crackers. Sprinkle over the top of the broccoli and cheese sauce. Bake 20 minutes, or until hot all through.
One-Pot Cabbage Casserole
—Adapted from Diary of a Recipe Collector. For a spicier dish, use Rotel diced tomatoes, which includes chopped chili peppers or jalapeños.
2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef
1 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper or Creole seasoning
1 cup rice, uncooked (I suggest using Basmati)
3 large handfuls roughly chopped organic cabbage
1 (8 oz.) can organic tomato sauce
2 cups of water
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 cup full-fat shredded cheese
- Season and brown ground beef and onions. Once onions are clear, stir in rice, cabbage, tomato sauce, water, and diced tomatoes.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and bring to a simmer for about 20–30 minutes, or until rice is done and cabbage soft. (Do not lift lid before 20 minutes is up to make sure rice cooks well.)
- When the rice is cooked, top with cheese. Cover with lid to melt a few minutes.
Category 4: Nuts and Seeds
Cabbage Casserole with Leeks, Ricotta, and Pine Nuts
—Adapted from Vegetarian Times. Note: removing the excess moisture from the vegetables and cheese before assembling will help hold this dish together. Serves 6.
12 large leaves savoy cabbage
3 teaspoons coconut oil, divided, plus more for greasing pan
3 small leeks, halved and white and light green parts cut into ½-inch thick pieces (about 1 cup)
½ cup vegetable or chicken broth
3 slices lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 (15-oz.) can organic chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper (optional)
8 oz. (1 cup) full-fat ricotta cheese, drained
3 tablespoons toasted crispy pine nuts (I also suggest slivered crispy almonds or any other crispy nut of your choosing)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch cabbage leaves in boiling water for 7 minutes, or until softened. Drain, pat dry, and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with some coconut oil.
- Heat 1½ teaspoons coconut oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and broth. If desired, season with salt, then place lemon slices on top. Bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 25 minutes. Drain in colander. Remove lemon, pat leeks dry, and set aside.
- Heat remaining coconut oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes. Cook 10 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
- Layer the casserole: Place 3–4 cabbage leaves on bottom of prepared baking dish. Spread ¼ cup tomato sauce over leaves. Top with a third of the leeks. Dot with a third of the ricotta. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon pine nuts. Repeat 2 more times, seasoning with salt and pepper between layers if desired. Top with fourth layer of cabbage and sauce.
- Bake 25–30 minutes, or until strata begins to brown on top.
Tomato-Vegetable Pine Nut Casserole
—Adapted from Mercoloa.com.
1 cup coconut oil
1 organic eggplant, sliced into chunks
2 lbs. organic zucchini, sliced into chunks
1 organic red pepper, sliced into strips
2 medium organic onions, sliced
4 medium organic tomatoes, diced
2 garlic cloves
½ cup pesto sauce (recipe follows)
For the pesto sauce:
2 cups fresh organic basil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
⅔ cup organic olive oil
¼ cup crispy pine nuts
- Blend all the pesto sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat coconut oil in a medium saucepan. Add eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, and onions. Sauté over medium heat in small batches so there will be enough coconut oil remaining for all the vegetables.
- Place sautéed vegetables in a baking dish (leave the oil in the saucepan).
- Add tomatoes to the remaining coconut oil. Press garlic cloves into the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour tomato mixture and pesto over the vegetables. Bake 45 minutes, or longer for a more crispy texture.
Category 5: Fruit
—Adapted from Taste of Home. Serves 6–8.
6 organic medium tart apples, peeled and sliced
6 organic medium carrots, thinly sliced
½ cup fresh organic orange juice
⅓ cup unbleached organic flour
⅓ cup coconut sugar
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons cold butter
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine apples and carrots, then place in a greased shallow 2-quart baking dish. Drizzle with orange juice. Bake 40–45 minutes, or until carrots are crisp-tender.
- In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and nutmeg. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over apple mixture. Bake, uncovered, 10–15 minutes longer, or until the carrots are tender.
—Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.
6 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
½ cup plus 4 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of ½ a lemon
2 cups unbleached organic flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
¼ cup lard from pastured pigs
4 tablespoons butter
1 organic egg
½ cup whole nonhomogenized or raw milk
- Preheat oven to 425°F degrees. Combine blackberries, ½ cup coconut sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Spread out in a buttered square casserole dish.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and 1 tablespoon coconut sugar. Add lard and butter. Work mixture together with a pastry blender (or your fingers) until coarse.
- Combine egg and milk. Pour into flour mixture, stirring as you go. It should be smooth, but not dry or over-sticky.
- Place clumps of dough on top of the blackberries. Lightly flatten the clumps with your fingertips. Sprinkle with 2–3 tablespoons of sugar. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. The berry juice will be slightly thin, but don’t be afraid. It will gradually soak into the biscuit-y topping and make your life complete. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Make Your Own
The basic categories above are an open book for you to mix and match and combine. This will take your casserole making to a whole new experience!
Let me know if you’ve enjoyed this particular blog post, and feel free to share your favorite nutrient dense casserole recipes with us.
Also….here are a few suggestions for products that will enrich your life and make cooking—and staying healthy—fun. Plus they’re also great tools for teaching others.
- Healthy 4 Life: Dietary Guidelines from the Weston A. Price Foundation
- Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! Guide to Healthy Food Shopping, by Stephanie Selene Anderson
- Cook Your Way to Wellness, by Maria Atwood
- Men in Kitchens, by Nick Armstrong and Patrick Earvolino
- Herbs in Cooking, by Maria and Niko Psilakis
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Photo from iStock/peredniankina
Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.