Friday, November 26, 2010

Bad Idea Fridays: Vegan Stuffing

Oh, how helpful: a recipe for stuffing after Thanksgiving. You are all probably most grateful.

Oh my goodness, you guys, vegan suggestions for Thanksgiving food are dreary. Garbanzo nut loaf! Lentils and wheat berries! One of the best suggestions is a big old plate of enchiladas. I was going to make one as my bad idea, but they were so sad! Also, the house is full of food, and I am not allowed to cook until some of it goes away.

But here's the thing. Thanksgiving has a lot of great plant based side dishes, and only one ridiculous giant roast. It hearkens back to an earlier era of American cuisine- one which considers squash paste in a crust to be an acceptable vegetable dish. It's back from when meat was a seasoning- that's why one of the dishes is kitchen scraps moistened with bird fat.

Doubtless you wonder how it tastes without bird fat. Allow me to share.

Take one pound of chestnuts. Cut a cross on the flat side of each one, place them into a shallow pan with a little water, and bake them in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove, let cool, and then peel off the shell and inner skin. If you've fooled around with acorns- another member of the Fagaceae- then this will be startlingly, delightfully easy. And the fruit is delightful. I propose planting chestnut trees as preparations for the inevitable fall of society. Cut the chestnuts into small pieces, discarding any moldy bits.

Make a mirepoix with one chopped onion, one peeled and diced carrot, and two stalks diced celery. (Saute in oil until fragrant.) (Oh, and look, you've generated vegetable ends for the broth you'll need later. Start simmering them in a little water.) Add three cloves smashed garlic and 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms. Add this point, you'll probably need to add what seems like an unreasonable amount of oil.

Here's where most people start to disagree violently. Some use cornbread, or crumbs, or diced bread, or cooked wheat, or polenta, or solid sausage. (The last one is either a marker of my Midwestern family, or a marker of bad culinary decisions in college.) Some season with sage, or thyme, or angry bees... Some add walnuts or currents or dried cranberries or fresh cranberries. Happily, with a flavorfull mirepoix, the creamy nuttiness of chestnuts, and the meatiness of sauteed mushrooms, there's a flavor base that can support whatever you prefer to add. I use about four cups of diced good bread, a dash of thyme, half a cup of currents, two more stalks of chopped celery, and the chestnuts. Moisten slightly with about half a cup of vegetable stock and bake at the temperature the oven is until a little crunchy. Moisten with more vegetable stock if needed.

At this point, I cheated and added a lot of turkey drippings. Bad idea Fridays are important, but the first Thanksgiving with my family and my brand new inlaws is even more important. It was good.

If your family has irreconcilable opinions over what should be in stuffing, I recommend marrying a foreigner who is not nostalgic for an imaginary past Thanksgiving.

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