I grew up in the nineties, a time when canned mushroom soup reigned supreme.
If you ask most people who grew up in that era, they can name at least one dish they ate at the family dinner table involving canned cream of mushroom soup as a main ingredient. I can name two. One of them was a dish of what I think were egg noodles and homemade meatballs, topped with a mushroom soup-based sauce. I remember liking it. But the second dish, I remember loving. It was a chicken, mushroom and wild rice casserole. I loved it so much that, even after I tried to go vegetarian in high school, I would still eat the casserole whenever my mom made it. It was actually good enough for me to ignore the bird parts within. Eventually, though, I became an actual vegetarian and stopped eating any meat at all, no matter how delicious I remembered it being.
I’ve been trying, on and off, to make a vegan version of the dish for a while. At first I thought I could just veganize my mom’s recipe, but that didn’t work. There was definitely something lost in the translation. It’s hard to find vegan cream of mushroom soup, and when I did find some, it was of the virtuous, organic, healthy variety. All fine and good, but lacking in the intense 1992 taste of the standard non-vegan variety. That, along with the generally bland “no chicken” soup stock and the how-will-this-behave-when-heated? mystery of vegan sour cream made for a disastrous interpretation. Back to the drawing board.
What needed to happen, I discovered, was more of an interpretation and less of a copy. I needed to pinpoint what I liked about the dish and work from that, using the kind of ingredients I’d normally cook with.
Success! Success-o-rama, actually. I had the same reaction to this vegan version of the casserole that I used to have when my mom made the chickeny one. I had multiple helpings, and then hoped that there was enough left over for lunch the next day. There was. There was actually enough left over for two lunches, and I found myself standing in front of the fridge holding both containers of it in my hands, wondering if I should bring both for lunch, just in case I wanted two helpings. I didn’t. You have to stop somewhere.
So really, you should make this. The recipe may look long, but none of its components are complicated, and it comes together fairly quickly. It is comfort food at its finest. Warming, tasty, creamy, filling. It might even make you feel like a kid again.
Creamy Tofu Wild Rice Casserole
- 2 cups uncooked rice (a wild rice/brown rice blend works the best)
- 4 cups vegetable soup stock
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 leek, chopped small
- 1 medium carrot, chopped small
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped small
- 2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tbsp dried sage
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup cashews, ground finely in a food processor or blender
- 1/2 block silken tofu (approximately 1/2 cup)
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup water
- tsp of salt
- a couple grinds of fresh pepper
- 1 block firm tofu (approximately 1 pound) cubed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried sage
- a few shakes of salt and pepper
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Bring the soup stock to a boil, then add the rice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Let cook until all liquid is absorbed.
-While that’s happening, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add leek and mushrooms. Let cook until the leeks start to become transparent, then add carrots, celery, sage and thyme. Cover, and let cook until all vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
-In a food processor or blender grind cashews if you haven’t already. Then add the silken tofu, nutritional yeast, 3 tbsp olive oil.
-Process until smooth, then slowly add the water. You’re shooting for a mixture that has the consistency of cream of mushroom soup. If you need to add more water, go ahead.
-Season with salt and pepper.
-Toss the firm tofu with olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, sage, salt and pepper, then saute over medium-high heat until the tofu starts to brown.
-Mix rice, vegetables, and tofu in a large casserole dish, then add the sauce and mix well until everything is coated.
-Bake, covered, for 25 minutes. If you’d like a crusty, browned top layer, take the lid off and turn the oven to broil for the final five minutes of cooking.
Serves four to six people.
p.s. I think this is even gluten-free! Can someone more versed in gluten-free-ness correct me if I’m wrong?