This is post #2 in my series of vegetarian holiday recipes. Stuffing is the great unifier. Celiacs not included, I have never met anyone who did not like The Fluff (as I call it), so it’s all good fun for both vegemites and meatavores.
When you’re trying to decide what type to make, it all boils down to preference. There’s that stuff in the red box (If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you’ve shunned the packaged type), or you can make it from scratch. Basically, you need liquid, flavouring agents, fat, and some type of spongy absorber. Typically, these will be water, spices/herbs, butter and bread, but you can play around with it, and will often find things like mushrooms, walnuts, crumbled sausage, or diced celery in it for added texture/flavour.
Added texture/flavour? New readers, just so you know, the big ka-pow on your tastebuds is actually where great ideas begin. What I do is brainstorm and then work my way backwards, with the help of a basic principle or theory that I have snagged from a good book or reputable internet source (as you may have observed during the jam and apple butter posts).
Stuffing doesn’t necessarily have to be bland and soggy, especially when it’s hiding inside a piece of meat. Just because the fluff is unseen inside the luxury pillow, it doesn’t mean that the feathers shouldn’t be faaaahbulously indulgent. If you eat meat, the main event of winter holiday dinners is usually some giant bird/roast, so it makes sense to have competitive side dishes. When people are too full to finish off the rest, that means you get to make sandwiches. And pasta. And soup!
Maybe that’s what it was invented for: Stuffing your guests! If you’re having a vegetarian dinner…make a lot of yam fries if you want stuffing leftovers!
Here is a basic guideline for making stuffing. It’s important that if you want to go crazy and experiment (we should be friends), you make sure to think of ingredients that will complement each other, or balance/counter each other, take into account whether you want to have some stuffed into a vessel with extra on the side, or all one way, check wetness/fat levels, taste often, and definitely add any salty ingredients last (and gradually).
This is what I’m going to call a dry stuffing idea. You know how when it comes in a box (admit it, you’ve had some!) it tells you to add butter and water? This one I drizzled with a few things, but kept water away, as it was to stuff a pork loin and I figured that steam would cook out some juices from the pork and other ingredients that would moisten the bread.
Aside from the apples, the flavours I chose were some of my favorites that you’ve seen in the blog before: Mellow and earthy pitted against bright, zingy, and fresh ingredients that are often used in Mediterranean cooking, which was a great combination to foil the super-sweet and starchy root vegetables that were also roasted in the pan. If you plan to cook this with meat, it would taste great with chicken or turkey (and yes, pork).
Sweet Mediterranean Stuffing
Bread – Get a baguette or loaf of bread, or collect a ton of thick crusts over the span on a year in a zip-loc bag in the freezer (I met someone who does that). Consider using different kinds of bread, or ones with yummy things already in it like nuts, seeds, herbs, etc, but always use a firm type and be careful if anyone coming has allergies, of course. I went with old-school whole wheat. Cut your bread into 1/2-inch chunks. Spread them out on a pan and leave them in the oven at 350 degrees until they become dry and the kitchen smells good, about 15 minutes.
Flavour/Texture – While the bread was in the oven, I chopped up an onion and some fresh sage, and sautéed them in a frying pan with a little olive oil. Because the roast was pork, instead of dabbing apple sauce on the plate, I tried putting a grated apple in the stuffing. Strips of sun dried tomatoes, grated lemon zest, capers, dried basil and oregano were the flavours that inspired me from Italian, Greek, and Tunisian dishes (my Dad is from Tunisia, and I decided to leave their traditional olives and tuna on everything, out!). For a little bit of heat, you can use chili pepper flakes or cracked black pepper. I threw in some ground flax seed too, for some added fiber, because stuffing usually gets eaten when people plan on eating too much of too many good things. Might as well do a little something healthy! Other ideas include grated carrot, zucchini, roasted garlic (for once I didn’t use it!), fresh rosemary, dried cranberries, and pine nuts.
Fat/Liquid – I drizzled a little olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, and oil from the jar of sun dried tomatoes over the mix before tossing it, to keep the stuffing moist and flavourful, but not to soak it.
After all that, and a happy tasting, I sprinkled a little sea salt on top.
It turned out that there was actually too much stuffing to fill the roast with, and so I decided to improvise by forming the excess into balls and coating them generously with olive oil. The plan was for them to toast and crunch up nicely in the oven without turning black and setting off the smoke alarm. If anyone asked questions about why the pork loin tasted like smoke, I was prepared to lie and say it was my creative take on mesquite. Kidding. Fortunately, it all worked out. The stuffing balls weren’t dry in the middle, but I might try something fun in the future like forming them around little bocconcini balls or cherry tomatoes, to keep them nice and steamy from the inside, or go totally mad and deep fry them! Now that would be interesting.
If you want to make the same thing but in a wet version that is served alone, try to have a 6 to 1 to 1/2 ratio of bread/liquid/fat, so an example for a lot of stuffing would be 12 cups of bread, 2 cups of hot stock (veggie, chicken, beef, whatever you like!), and 1 cup of hot melted (unsalted!) butter. It doesn’t sound like a ton of liquid when compared to the mountain of bread, but keep in mind that you don’t want to oversaturate it all, add it gradually and you can always add more if you need, and by mixing everything together in a pot or bowl and covering it for about 5 minutes will cook it through with steam. Mmmmm!!
Did you know that “When cooked in the cavity (of a bird or something) it is referred to as stuffing and when it is cooked outside the cavity in a separate baking dish, it is referred to as dressing”? It’s all just stuffing to me. Dressing is what I toss a salad in. Does anybody toss their meat/Tofurkey in bread mush? I don’t know. Get crackin’!