Vegan Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole
Updated: May 19, 2020
One of my beloved childhood food memories updated in a less processed plant based way.
This casserole was my favorite growing up and my grandmother often made it for Sunday lunch, however, my most fond memories of it involve having it during sleepovers. I am one of six granddaughters on my mom’s side of the family and she would have us over for a sleep over. She would make us a Southern dinner of Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole or Fried Chicken with all the fix’ns (Southern style vegetables and starchy side dishes).
The first time I made this casserole was during undergrad. I recall my second year of school, asking her for the recipe. She wrote it down on a spiral notebook and tore it out to give me. That recipe lived in a binder of recipes and clippings that has long been lost during one of my many moves. Luckily, I found a copy! She’d submitted it for publication in our family cookbook. Every Memorial Day weekend the McEachern branch of my family tree gathers in a small church basement for a family reunion. Those gathered all connect back to my Great-Great-Grandfather (born the 12 December 1879) and are the relatives spreading through the family tree from his 11 children, of which my Great Grandmother was the eldest (born 18 June 1900). In 1998, family members submitted recipes to create a family cookbook. Within its pages, is a mosaic of Southern Food. Flipping through the pages are many of the dishes I grew up eating, while others were ignored in our household. Many of the vegetables are fried or baked in casseroles and the “dessert” submissions outnumber the “main dishes.” The recipes are a window into Southern Georgia home cooking with the 1950’s “Better Homes and Gardens” having a noticeable influence. These recipes lean heavily on shortcuts like cream of soup and canned vegetables. That is why the cookbook has sat unread on my bookshelf for the last decade.
Last Spring, I found myself missing the dishes I enjoyed as a child and needed inspiration for dinners that would easy to reheat after work. I remembered the long ignored family cookbook and flipped through to the casserole section and saw my Grandmothers cassarole recipe! I knew I had to figure out how to recreate it with plant-based alternative… and without the canned cream soup!
We try to live a low waste lifestyle and try to produce as little waste as possible. Knowing this, I did not want to buy canned soup and tubbed sour cream. So, I first set out to invent my own alternative “canned cream of chicken soup”. Making a plant-based alternative for sour cream would be next, and then tackling all the other components. This was a labor… of love. The first night assembling casserole requires quite a bit of effort, but the investment leaves you with to 6 additional (8 total) servings of easy-to-reheat leftovers.
Over the past year, we’ve streamlined the process and worked on creating a flavors that remarkably resemble what I recall enjoying at our sleepovers at Grandmother’s house.
Here you will find the final tested version. You can make the recipe using purchased vegan components… the soup, "chicken," and sour cream for example, or if you can, please try making these elements using the other recipes I have linked to showing you how I make "Chicken" Seitan. I have also used extra firm tofu that has been marinated, frozen, thawed, squeezed dry and then baked in the oven to resemble shredded chicken. We found this was a very close representation of the texture chicken has. In a future post, I will explain my process for tofu “chicken” and you could choose to substitute tofu chicken for seitan. The last change I have made to the original recipe is adding a vegetable in the form of a spaghetti squash.
Poppy Seed “Chicken” Casserole
Yields: 1 – 9”x13” Casserole (8-10 servings)
1 medium Spaghetti Squash
4 cup Seitan (half recipe from my "Chicken" Seitan Recipe)
1 cup Raw Cashews (soaked or boiled – See Note*)
2 cup Non-Dairy Milk (I like Soy or Oatly, but any will work)
3 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice (about the juice of 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce (we use reduced sodium)
½ cup Nutritional Yeast
1 ½ Tbsp Miso (White, Yellow, or Red will work – we prefer Yellow; See Note**)
8-16 oz of mushrooms (See Note***)
1/3 cup Vegan Unsalted Butter or Oil of your Choice
½ cup Minced Shallots
¼ cup Minced Garlic
1/3 cup All Purpose Flour
1 ½ tsp Garlic Powder
1 ½ tsp Onion Powder
3 tsp Poppy Seeds
Kosher Salt (We prefer Diamond Crystal)
4 Ounces of Ritz Style Crackers (crumbled) or Breadcrumbs (Note****)
*Depending on the type of blender you own, you may or may not need to presoak your cashews. If you have a powerful brand, like a Vitamix, then soaking is not necessary. Personally, we have a basic glass Oster which is not all that powerful. So, if I remember ahead of time, soak the cashews in 2 cups of water for 8-12 hours. If you forget to soak or do not have the time, simply place the cashews and water in a saucepan and boil for 10 minutes. Then drain.
** Red Miso will affect the color as seen in pictures because that is what we had this time. If you want a paler final product – used a paler miso paste.
***The recipe needs the texture and umami flavor from the mushrooms. It will work with as little as 8oz, but the flavor increases the more you use. You can use a mix of cremini or white button mushrooms, but if you have access to Oyster or Lion’s Maine mushrooms, they have an amazing texture and flavor.
**** We use Back to Nature brand; 4oz is half the box.
1. Wash and cook the spaghetti squash. There is countless post across the internet about how to do this. I have used the oven, the InstantPot, and the Microwave. Using the Microwave is my preferred method. Simply, carefully stab the squash all over with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape prevent it from exploding. Place in the microwave and cook for 5 minutes, turn over and cook for another 5. Then leave it in there to cool down/steam while moving onto the rest of the recipe.
2. While the squash cooks, measure out and chop all the ingredients needed. If using button or cremini mushrooms chop, but if you have oyster or lion’s mane mushrooms tear into bit sized pieces.
3. Turn on oven to preheat to 350 degrees F with a rack set in the middle.
4. Place the 1 cup cashew and the first cup non-dairy milk in the blender, and blend for a few seconds. Then add the remaining cup of non-dairy milk, plus 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, ½ cup nutritional yeast, and 1 ½ Tbsp miso to the blender, and process for a minute or two until smooth. You may need to stop it once to scrape down the sides. Set Aside.
5. In a large skillet or saucepan, melt the 1/3 cup “butter” or oil over medium heat. Then add in ½ cup minced shallots and stir. Allow to cook for 5 minutes. Then add in the mushrooms, stir, and allow to cook for 3 minutes. Add in the ¼ cup minced garlic and stir for a minute. Then add in the 1/3 cup flour, 1 ½ tsp garlic powder, 1 ½ tsp onion powder, and a pinch of salt. Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan for another 3 minutes to cook the flour.
6. Slowly add the blended liquid, a little at a time; with that first addition, make sure to scrape down the bottom of the pot. Once all the liquid has been incorporated, continue stirring for another 10-12 minutes. The flour added earlier should thicken the liquid slightly. Once thickened, remove from heat. Give a taste- Is it slightly salty? If not, add a little more. The squash will dilute the saltiness.
7. Cut open the cooled squash down the north/south poles, remove the seeds, and scoop out the flash into a large mixing bowl, fluffing with a fork as you go.
8. Add 4 cups shredded seitan “chicken” to bowl of squash. Pour in mushroom/cashew mixture, measure out 3 tsp poppy seeds, and stir to combine.
9. Grease a 9”x13” casserole dish or pan. Pour mixture into pan and spread out evenly. Top with the 4oz (about 2 cups) cracker or breadcrumbs. Wrap with a sheet of foil and bake for 35-40 minutes (until bubbling along the sides of the pan.
10. Then remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes to crisp/brown crumb topping.
11. Pull from oven and allow to rest/cook on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes before cutting into and serving.
The best way to reheat this casserole is started in the microwave and finished in the toaster oven (or regular oven if you do not have a toaster oven).
1. Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your toaster oven pan or the size needed for the portion you are reheating.
2. Place parchment on a microwave safe plate, and portion out the amount of casserole you wish to reheat onto the parchment lined plate.
3. Microwave for about 2 minutes (more if you have a weak microwave).
4. Then slide the parchment paper off the plate and onto a baking pan.
5. Toast the casserole until the crumbs become crisp again and serve.