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Available in healthy and calorie-packed versions, a vegetable casserole can be made with a range of approaches. It might be a no-nonsense, commercially suggested recipe that bakes a creamed soup into a particular vegetable, such as cream of chicken soup with green beans or cream of cheddar soup with broccoli. It could also be a more traditional side dish like sweet potato casserole. A more gourmet approach is apt to involve a medley of fresh vegetables and seasonings — along with noodles or rice even — that is hearty enough to go from a side dish to a vegetarian main course.
Western companies like Campbell's® soup have long touted the deliciousness of vegetable casserole recipes that hinge on one of the many types of creamed soups lining store shelves. At potluck dinners across the nation, someone is likely to have brought a creamed corn, green bean casserole or cheddar-bathed asparagus or broccoli. Tuber vegetables like potatoes, yams, carrots and artichokes as well as hard-shelled vegetables like squash and zucchini feature prominently in many of these types of recipes, owing to their filling nature and ability to withstand the baking process.
A gourmet approach to vegetable casserole is likely to employ a more complex or at least more nuanced approach, with a fresher array of ingredients. For instance, a mashed yam casserole might go in a sweet direction with brown sugar and cinnamon, or a savory white potato casserole might be fortified with various cheeses like cheddar or gouda — and even bacon or scallions. What makes these single-vegetable dishes casseroles is how they attempt to alter and accentuate that single ingredient in a dramatic way.
Perhaps the most world-famous example of a true vegetable casserole that employs a medley of vegetables is the French ratatouille. Able to serve as filling side dish or vegetarian meal, this recipe features chopped tomatoes, onions and red, green and yellow bell peppers in one section, with staples like eggplant and zucchini serving another role. One of the most traditional preparations for this dish involves cooking the sliced eggplant, sliced zucchini and the rest of the vegetables separately, then using them to form a vegetable lasagna of sorts — with the zucchini and eggplant alternating as the wide, noodle dividers. The casserole dish then undergoes a quick baking to gently meld the flavors, which are customarily tinged with straightforward ingredients like olive oil, thyme, basil, salt and pepper.
This is just one of many ethnically divergent vegetarian dishes that are baked casserole-style. In India, the country with the highest vegetarian density, a vegetable casserole is approached with similar vegetables — perhaps substituting beans for the zucchini or eggplant — but far different seasonings. These dishes will often forgo the Mediterranean-style flavors in favor of seasonings like garam masala, turmeric, cumin and diced chilis or chili powder.
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