During my fourteen years of being sans meat, I’ve found that when you ask vegetarians “Why aren’t you a vegan?” their response is either “too expensive” or “cheese.” In order to help my comrades-in-vegetables out, I’m scouring the internet for the cheesiest meat-free recipes around. Join me on my journey to recreate the best, and learn the history of our favorite cheese while we’re at it.
Cheese is a vegetarian’s best friend, ally, confidant. It turns any potentially boring vegetarian recipe (i.e., a well-made veggie burger without cheese—yikes) into a delicious meal. It provides the filling heartiness that a meatless meal can lack. It even has health benefits: cheese provides the B12 that most vegetarians might go without in their diets.
I’ve always considered myself a secret chef. When I was little, I would ask my mom for all of the spices in the cabinet and a big mixing bowl. I’d throw in whatever she didn’t want, tomato sauce cans or dried beans. When I was finished “cooking,” I’d ask her to try it and she always pretended to—it probably wasn’t safe enough to actually eat, but her reaction satisfied my five-year-old self. As I got older, she taught me how to really cook and bake. When I became a vegetarian at 9 years old (because I thought cows were kind of like my pet cat), she helped me learn fitting, healthy recipes for my new diet.
While this blog series might not be the quite so healthy vegetable soups she taught me how to make, they are definitely cheesy and downright delectable. This week marks recipe number one: a heaping portion of cheesy potato hash browns featuring a sharp cheddar.
So, what’s the deal with cheddar? It was first created in the 12th century in Somerset, England, in a village called—you guessed it—Cheddar. Originally it wasn’t that great, since refrigerators weren’t a thing yet, so bacteria kind of took over the taste of the cheddar we know and love today. There are lots of types of cheddar: fresh unpressed, mild, medium, old, and extra old; clothbound or plastic wrapped. For this recipe, any kind will do. For the average joe, go with your favorite pre-shredded brand (white or orange is fine!). If you’re feeling fancy and don’t mind shredding yourself, grab a block of your favorite cheddar at a local cheese shop. For this recipe, I used my local grocery store’s organic brand of shredded white cheddar.
There are a lot of recipes for Cheesy Hash Browns on the internet—some vegetarian, some not. For many, it’s reminiscent of Mom’s home-cooked meals; for others it’s a “grief casserole.” But whatever this dish reminds you of, it’s a delicious and easy recipe to have in your inventory as it can be stuck in the oven in 25 minutes or less.
I’ve made and tweaked this version multiple times and feel that this creamy combo works best. If you’re cutting calories, it’s okay to cut a cup of cheddar cheese and replace it with more hash browns, or use low-fat versions. But, if you’re like me, you want the cheesiest, creamiest version out there, and this is it:
- 2-3 cups of crushed corn flakes (crush them up in a gallon ziplock bag)
- 1 pound of Denny's shredded frozen hash browns, thawed
- 1½ cans cream soup of your choice
- 3 cups of your favorite shredded cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces plain cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup green onion, chopped
- ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) of unsalted butter, divided
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Melt 1 stick of butter and mix together with all ingredients except corn flakes in a large bowl. Stir until well-combined.
- Pour the mixture in a greased 9-by-13-inch pan.
- Melt remaining ½ stick of butter, and mix together with corn flake crumbs in bowl.
- With a large spoon, evenly sprinkle the corn flake mixture over the casserole. Make sure to avoid touching the spoon to the hash brown mix to avoid a mess! Cook for 50-60 minutes uncovered, until bubbling and brown. Serve immediately.
Next up: cinnamon-sugar Cheesecake Sopapillas!