This is the time of year when I start to get very excited about all the holiday cooking and baking traditions I love. At the same time I also get a little anxious about navigating all those fabulous foods so that I don’t end up with more winter padding than I’d like by the end of it all. There’s nothing worse than feeling both broke and fat in January. And boy, have I been there. Yuck.
I’ve found that there are certain foods that it’s better to just steer clear of altogether. For me, stuffing is one of them. The slide into holiday food debauchery seems to begin with the Thanksgiving stuffing and go downhill from there. Just the name should be a tip off, right? The good thing is, though, that what makes stuffing taste so wonderful isn’t all that bread — it’s the rest of the ingredients! This year I’m headed to New Mexico for Thanksgiving with friends, who unlike my family, are not Thanksgiving purists. So it seemed a good time to get innovative.
What I created is a stuffing that can also function as a meal in itself. Instead of bread it’s based on quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), an ancient, protein-rich grain from Peru, that is super easy to prepare. You can find it now in most supermarkets and if not, any health food store. And yes, it’s gluten-free! This recipe makes a fantastic stuffing for your Thanksgiving dinner table, but it can also be used any time as a filling for roasted squash or tossed with some shredded cheese and baked as a casserole. It’s full of protein and, come to think of it, would make a pretty terrific breakfast!
- 2 cups quinoa
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup butter or olive oil
- 2 apples
- 1 large onion
- 8 cloves garlic
- 2 large stalks celery
- 1 bunch parsley
- 8 oz. mushrooms
- 4 sausages (I used chorizo — use anything you like. To make this vegetarian, substitute one package tempeh.)
- 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
- 3/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries
- 1 tablespoon each of diced fresh thyme, sage & rosemary (if using dried herbs, you may want to use a bit less)
- black pepper to taste
- balsamic vinegar
AND HOW TO MAKE YOUR STUFFING:
First, cook the quinoa. Put 4 cups broth in a pot with a tight-fitting lid, and bring just to a boil. Turn down the heat to simmer and add a splash of olive oil. Measure out two cups of quinoa, and stir in. Put the cover on the pot, and cook without stirring until all the liquid is absorbed. This is usually about ten minutes. I always know it’s done by listening — if I can’t hear any more bubbling from the bottom of the pot, all the liquid has been absorbed. When the quinoa is done, it should have soaked up all the broth and have a fluffy consistency. Remove the cover from the pot, and add a tablespoon of butter or olive oil, tossing with a spoon to break up any mushiness on the bottom.
While the quinoa is cooking, you can start chopping veggies. Mince the garlic, dice onions, and cut the sausage or tempeh into bite sized pieces. Get these sauteing in a large frying pan in the rest of the butter or oil. Chop onions and celery, and when onions have softened a bit, add the chopped mushrooms to the pan with a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar,the herbs, and black pepper to taste. (If you like a bit more spice, some chipotle chili powder is nice. I like to use a dried green chili blend I get in New Mexico.)
When the mushrooms have released their liquid, and most of it has evaporated, add chopped apples, nuts & raisins. Cook for a few minutes more, while you dice your bunch of parsley, then turn off the heat and stir in the parsley. Taste and add salt and more seasonings as necessary. Put into a greased oven-proof dish. At this point you can put in the fridge overnight if you’re making it a day ahead. Bake for about a half an hour at 325 degrees before serving. I keep the cover on for the first 15 min. and then remove it.
This recipe made enough two fill a two quart casserole and stuff two squash halves. It’s definitely enough to feed a crowd as part of a Thanksgiving feast.
Now, if you want to stuff squashes with it, here’s how to do it:
Get any kind of squash — butternut, acorn, kabocha, pumpkin … whatever! Cut your squash in half, and scoop out the seeds. Fill a baking pan with about half an inch of water, and place the squash halves in, cut sides down. Bake at 425 degrees until the squash is tender but not falling apart. Depending on the size of the squash this could take different amounts of time, but generally, it’s about an hour. Poke a fork in, and if it slides easily, they’re probably done. If the water evaporates during this time, just add a bit more.
Remove from the oven. (Be CAREFUL — the water will now be HOT!) Lift out the squash halves with a big spatula and turn them over to cool. When they’ve cooled down a bit, scoop out the insides, leaving enough to keep a good solid shell that will hold the filling. Mash the squash flesh in a bowl. (For extra fun, try saying “squash flesh” 100 times fast while doing this.) Then add enough of the quinoa stuffing to fill however many squashes you’re using.
The filling should be mostly the quinoa mixture with the cooked squash just acting as a binder. Scoop the filling back into the squash shells, mounding up over the top. Sprinkle with more chopped nuts. Pumpkin or sesame seeds are also nice or a little Parmesan cheese if you’re so inclined. Bake for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.
Wherever you are, whomever you’re celebrating with — HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!!! Eat plenty, and take a good walk afterwards …