Every Casserole Needs These 5 Basic Ingredients

A casserole might not be the fanciest or most impressive food you could whip up for dinner, but there's no denying how delicious a well-made casserole can be — not to mention comforting, easy to make, and rib-sticking. From tuna casserole to green bean casserole to hamburger casserole, everyone has a favorite. But what exactly is a casserole?

According to food blog High Heeled Homemaker, your basic casserole requires five ingredients: a protein, starch, vegetable, sauce, and cheese. If you have those five ingredients in your casserole dish, congratulations; you just made a casserole, whether it's a beloved recipe or a concoction of your own creation. NPR concurs, stating that a casserole "is usually pasta or rice, protein, and veggies, all held together by a thickened binder of milk or cream — sometimes it's chicken or vegetable stock — and cheese both inside the filler and sprinkled along with the topping."

Other food writers get down into the nitty-gritty of what exactly a casserole is. Wide Open Eats breaks down the etymology of "casserole," noting that, traditionally, a casserole — derived from Greek, Latin, and Old French words that basically all referred to cookware — was a multi-ingredient meal made with a cooking vessel suspended over a fire and then served from the same cooking vessel. Today, the website states, a casserole is simply a meal made up of multiple ingredients that, when combined, create something altogether new.

The top casseroles in the United States

Regardless of where the word came from or what specifically you put into your casserole, the theory that a casserole intrinsically must contain those five ingredients — a protein, starch, vegetable, sauce, and cheese, per High Heeled Homemaker — holds up when you look at the most popular casseroles in the United States, many of which are longstanding favorites.

According to The Travel, the most popular casseroles for American home cooks in 2020 were, in ascending order, American chop suey (ground beef, elbow macaroni, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and cheese); tuna casserole (tuna, noodles, peas, canned soup, and cheese); funeral potatoes (okay, so this one is missing the protein, but it's often served with ham); tetrazzini (chicken, pasta, mushrooms, cream sauce, and parmesan); and the Midwestern hotdish casserole (ground beef, potatoes, onions, canned soup, and cheese).

Decadent and calorie-rich, casseroles are the ultimate comfort food, and the data doesn't lie — with just a protein, starch, vegetable, sauce, and cheese, you can have yourself one dinner-worthy casserole.