If you’re experimenting with meatless Mondays this year or simply can’t get enough vegetarian dinner ideas, this recipe is for you.
Many broccoli rice casserole recipes are made creamy and cheesy using Velveeta and some sort of canned cream of whatever soup. In the spirit of keeping this casserole on the healthier side, I took on the challenge of making this version without these pantry staples and instead swapped them for more natural choices.
I’m happy to report this casserole passes the test in every way. It’s gooey, velvety, and the ultimate adult makeover of this nostalgic childhood bake.
If you’ve committed to cooking healthier versions of your cheesy favorites, I can’t go on without mentioning some of my most popular recipes made with real cheese: 5-Ingredient Queso, Broccoli Au Gratin, and White Wine Mac and Cheese.
A few ingredient notes
Making cheesy broccoli rice casserole without pre-made ingredients may sound complicated, but it’s simpler than you think! Please be sure to see the full recipe card below for measurements.
- Whole milk: If you’ve made my Homemade Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup, you’ll know creamy canned soups are typically made rich and creamy with whole milk or half and half. Skip the cream of “x” soup cans and use your favorite whole milk. Simple and easy.
- Cream cheese and cheese: the show-stopping duo that lends tangy, cheesy creaminess and thickens this casserole into the perfect consistency. No cornstarch required! If needed or desired, swap the cream cheese with your favorite sour cream.
- Long grain white rice: no need to cook the rice ahead of time! Just be sure to give it a good rinse before folding it into your creamy cheese sauce. This will prevent the rice from clumping together and ensure a balance of goodness in every bite.
- Broccoli florets: fresh or frozen broccoli florets work well here. You’ll need about 10 ounces or 4 cups.
- Carrots: sweet, freshly grated carrots bake in seamlessly, adding an additional pop of color as well as a boost of nutrition.
Purchase pre-cut broccoli crowns or pre-shredded carrots to make this recipe even easier!
How to Make Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole
Since there’s no need to pre-cook the rice in this rice casserole, this comforting main dish comes together with just a few quick and easy steps.
Prep the Veggies
First, finely dice the onion and broccoli florets. This will not only evenly disperse the veggies throughout the casserole dish but help the broccoli become soft and tender without the need for any parboiling.
If you own a food processor, give your broccoli florets a quick blitz using the S blade until a small dice is achieved. While you’re at it, use this handy appliance fitted with the shred attachment to uniformly prep your carrots, too!
Simmer the Cheese Sauce
Now onto the reason while we’re all here – the beloved not-Velveeta-cheese sauce.
Start by melting the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for another 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Stir constantly to prevent burning here!
Season with white pepper, plus another pinch of salt, black pepper, and dijon mustard. The dijon is key here!
Whisk in room-temperature milk and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, lower the heat and stir in the cubed cream cheese until melted. Remove the skillet from the heat and finish the creamy cheese sauce with shredded cheddar cheese and parmesan. Stir to combine, until melted.
Stir then Bake
Once your cheese sauce is looking like creamy, dreamy perfection, stir in the broccoli, carrots and uncooked white rice until well combined.
Spread the broccoli rice casserole in an 8×8 glass baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 40 minutes, then uncover, stir, and bake for a final 15-20 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Let the casserole bake rest for 5-10 minutes, then enjoy to your heart’s content!
Cheesy broccoli rice casseroles are best enjoyed hot from the oven. The rice makes this casserole dish hearty enough to serve on its own, but who can resist simple side dish recipes such as these delicious Garlic Herb Dinner Rolls or a lighter side salad recipe?
Or, if you aren’t vegetarian, feel free to bulk up the protein content by serving alongside lightly seasoned chicken, shrimp, or turkey.
Whatever you do, just make sure to enjoy this bake while hot and cheesy! I highly recommend a garnish of fresh parsley for a final pop of flavor.
Make Ahead Options
Since this casserole is made with uncooked rice, I wouldn’t recommend prepping it ahead to bake the next day, but there are a couple of components you can prep ahead to speed things up once dinner rolls around.
- Chop the veggies: The onion, broccoli, and carrots can all be washed, cut, and stored in separate containers up to 48 hours in advance.
Shred the cheese: For the best texture, shredding your own cheese is always recommended. Feel free to do so in advance and keep in an airtight container to keep it moist.
To store leftovers in the fridge, either cover your casserole dish with plastic wrap, reusable wrap, or foil or transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. This cheesy broccoli rice casserole will keep well for up to 3 days.
To freeze, allow the casserole to cool completely, then transfer individual-sized servings into Souper Cubes. This will allow for convenient pre-portioned meals that defrost quickly and make last-minute meals a breeze.
Reheat in the microwave until heated through, or covered in the oven until warm.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a star rating and review in the form below. I appreciate your feedback, and it helps others, too!
Get the Recipe Cheesy Vegetarian Broccoli Rice Casserole
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup (128 g) yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, or to taste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 ¾ cups whole milk, room temperature
- 4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
- 1 ½ cups ( 140 g) extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- ½ cup (44 g) grated parmesan cheese
- ¾ cup ( 148 g) uncooked long grain white rice, rinsed and drained
- 4 cups ( 264 g) fresh broccoli florets, small dice
- 1 cup (100 g) shredded carrots
- Preheat oven to 375°F and lightly grease an 8×8 glass baking dish.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Saute the onion with a pinch of salt for 3-4 minutes, then add the garlic cloves and cook 2 minutes until fragrant. Stir in white pepper, another pinch of salt, black pepper, and dijon mustard.
- Whisk in milk until combined and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, lower heat and stir in cubes of cream cheese until melted. Remove from heat and stir cheddar and parmesan in batches until melted. Stir in broccoli, carrots, and rice until combined.
- Transfer the casserole into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, stir, and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until the rice is tender.
- Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley, if desired.