For clarity, the terms “dressing” and “stuffing” are often used to mean the same thing: a food product that is cooked inside the turkey. Actually, dressing is stuffing that is cooked as a separate dish and is not placed inside the turkey. The terms are used interchangeably (incorrectly, but who cares) and the recipes can be very much the same — it is only the cooking method that is different.
There are hundreds of stuffing/dressing recipes in cooking magazines this time of year, and nowadays most of them are cooked outside the bird. In fact, the USDA website states: “For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended.” My mom made the most delicious stuffing that she placed inside our often huge, 23 to 27 pound turkeys. By the time the stuffing was cooked through, the turkey was … well, let’s just say overdone is being nice.
Early on, I decided to make stuffing outside of the turkey. An unstuffed turkey will cook faster and stay moister than a stuffed turkey. Another benefit to making the stuffing in a casserole is that you can make more in casserole pans than you can fit in a turkey and we all know that everyone wants more “stuffing!”
Most stuffing/dressing recipes call for some kind of starch (usually bread, crackers, or whole grains) and almost all stuffing recipes call for vegetables, herbs, and seasonings mixed with the starch. Some recipes are complicated, many are off limits from a kosher standpoint, and most are derivative of other recipes you have tasted or tried. Add-ins range from savory to sweet. I have read hundreds of recipes with dried cranberries and fresh cranberries, nuts and other dried fruits. Many contain mushrooms of all kinds and even kosher sausages or pastrami and more. If you Google Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, you will get 327-million results!
So here is a secret: You do not need a recipe to make a fabulous dressing and there is practically no way to ruin said stuffing.
Try to think of stuffing like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure/Mystery Books” that kids used to read. The story starts with the kernel of a plot and then tells you to go to a different page depending on what you think will happen. If you want the hero to save the damsel, go to page 34. If you want him to call in reinforcements, go to page 45. And so on. Stuffing is like that.
Start with a starch or grain of some kind. If you want savory, add some veggies, nuts, broth and herbs and spices — and you have a stuffing. If you want a fruity stuffing, use fruits and nuts, broth or juice, fruit zest, etc; there is no limit to the possibilities. Virtually failure-proof!
There is no doubt that stuffing/dressing is one of the most popular menu items at the Thanksgiving table. There is also no doubt that you can create a unique and delicious stuffing that your family will absolutely love and ask for time and time again.
Traditional Challah Stuffing or Dressing (Meat)
1 large loaf challah sliced and toasted
2 cups diced onions
2 cups diced leeks
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 cups diced celery
3 to 4 cups sliced mushrooms
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp. dried sage or poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1 stick pareve, trans fat free margarine or Canola oil for sautéing and coating the pan
OPTIONAL: You can add one or more of the following—
1 cup minced carrots
1 cup diced bell peppers
1 cup toasted walnuts, cashews, pecans or almonds
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup diced apples
1 cup snipped dried apricots
1 cup dried cranberries, cherries, currants or raisins
Toast the challah slices until they are golden brown but not too dark. Cut the slices into inch-square pieces, or tear them into pieces that size. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Heat a large skillet and add about 2 tablespoons of canola oil or margarine. Add the onions and leeks sauté until evenly golden brown. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add the celery and sauté until softened. Add the other optional vegetables and sauté until softened. Add more margarine or canola oil, if needed. At this point, if you are baking the stuffing now, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Pour the vegetables into the bowl with the bread and toss to mix. Add more margarine to the skillet and add the mushrooms. Sauté until they give off their liquid, then spoon some of the liquid from the pan into the mixing bowl. Continue to sauté until there is no more liquid in the pan and some of the mushrooms have turned golden. Add the mushrooms to the mixing bowl. Toss well to combine. Add the sage or other seasonings and any optional nuts, fruits, etc. you like. Mix well. Heat the stock and add one-half cup at a time, until the mixture is moistened but not soggy. Generously grease a large casserole dish or aluminum pan and add the stuffing. Dot the top with small bits of margarine and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown on top. Serves 10 to 14.
Traditional Cornbread Dressing (Meat or Pareve)
1-3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1-1/4 cups unbleached flour
2 to 3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/4 cups plain almond milk or soy milk
1/2 stick pareve trans fat-free margarine, melted
1 extra-large egg
3/4 stick pareve trans fat-free margarine
1 to 2 onions, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 red or green pepper, seeded and chopped
10 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 cups chicken broth or veggie
1 extra large egg
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk to blend.
In another bowl, blend the almond or soy milk, melted margarine and the egg. Beat with a fork until blended. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and mix with a fork just until blended.
Pour the mixture into a well-greased 9x9-inch baking pan and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
For the Veggies: Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the margarine. When melted, add the onions and stir until golden. Add the celery and the pepper and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they give off their juices. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes until reduced by about 1/3.
While the veggies are simmering, break the cornbread into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Break the egg into a small bowl and beat just a bit. Pour over the cornbread and toss to mix. Add the veggies and toss to mix.
Pour into a well-greased 9x13 glass casserole dish and bake at 325 degrees until golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
Bread and Nut Dressing with Apples (Meat or Pareve)
1-1/2 to 2 loaves (16 oz. each) pareve artisan white bread, such as Ciabatta, Sourdough, country white, include crusts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and toast.
3/4 stick pareve, trans fat-free margarine
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 apples, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, chopped (peel if you like)
2 cups chicken or veggie stock
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup other unsalted nuts of your choice (hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews)
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. salt.
Freshly ground pepper to taste.
OPTIONAL: 1/2 to 3/4 cup raisins, chopped apricots, dried cranberries or cherries or other dried fruit.
Cut the bread into half-inch slices and cut the slices into cubes. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 5 to 10 minutes until lightly toasted. OR you can toast the slices lightly in the toaster and then cut the bread into cubes.
Place the toasted bread in a large bowl.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the margarine. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown. Add the garlic and mix for about 20 seconds. Add the celery and stir. Sauté until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chopped apples and sauté for about 4- 5 minutes, mixing frequently. Add the celery mix to the bread cubes and toss to mix. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to mix.
Heat the chicken stock in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil until the stock reduces to about 1-1/3 cups, about 10 minutes or less. Carefully pour the stock over the bread mixture and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour into a well-greased 9x13 glass baking dish and bake for about 40-50 minutes, until golden.
Note: For a great flavor, toast the nuts (375 degrees for about 3-5 minutes, until fragrant) before adding to the stuffing. Serves 8-12.
Faro, Fruit and Wheat Berry or Wild Rice Dressing (Pareve or Meat)
1-1/2 cups faro
1 cup wheat berries or wild rice
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 red onions, diced
3 to 4 carrots, diced
3 to 4 stalks celery, diced
3/4 cup apricots, snipped
3/4 cup prunes, chopped
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 to 2 strips orange zest, about 2 to 3 inches long and about 1 to 2 inches wide (no white part)
1 cup chicken or veggie broth
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced or fresh chives, snipped or a mix of the two
Salt and pepper to taste
OPTIONAL: Season with allspice, nutmeg, and come cinnamon to taste
Cook the faro and the wheat berries in separate pots according to directions. When cooked, drain and set aside.
Heat a small soup pot or large saucepan and add the olive oil. Sauté the onions until lightly golden. Add the carrots and celery and sauté until softened, about 10-15 minutes total. Add the apricots, prunes and dates and mix well. Use a vegetable peeler and peel two or three strips of orange zest. Add the orange zest strips, the orange juice and the chicken broth. Mix well. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Discard the orange peel.
Add the faro and wheat berries to the veggies and mix well. Add the parsley and/or chives and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a well-greased 9X13 pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes until heated through. Serve 8-12.
Focaccia Bread and Artichoke Hearts Dressing (Meat, Pareve)
3 lb. focaccia bread, with or without onion or herb topping if it comes that way
2 Tbsp. extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Canola Oil
1 red onion, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
10 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup pine nuts
6 to 10 sundried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
1 cup canned or bottled artichoke hearts, drained
2 Tbsp. fresh basil chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano or 1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the bread into 1-ich cubes. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle lightly with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bake in the oven until slightly browned on a few corners. Let cool. When cool, pour into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
Pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil gently until reduced by one cup. Remove from heat and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the quarter-cup of oil. Add the diced onions and sauté until lightly golden brown. Add the garlic and sauté another 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms reabsorb their liquid and begin to turn brown, about10 minutes.
Add nuts and sauté for about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the sundried tomatoes and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the artichokes and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the seasonings to taste.
Remove from the heat. Pour the stock over the bread and toss to wet the bread evenly. Add the veggie mixture and mix well.
Pour into a well-greased 9x13 glass casserole and drizzle about 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.