Wild Mushroom Stuffing with Spinach, Herbs, and Pecans: A Healthier Dressing

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mushroom StuffingA lot of things get stuffed around the holidays.

It begins with Thanksgiving, when Americans are stuffing turkeys and Canadians are stuffing geese. Many smaller birds can also be stuffed, whether capons, Cornish hens, squab, or whatever. Some people can’t decide and stuff a chicken into a duck into a turkey in everyone’s favorite portmanteau. And vegetarians and vegans pride themselves on stuffing tofu while many a pescetarian likely stuffs a fish or two. No matter what you’re eating style, everyone seems to love a good stuffing.

To be honest, I’ve only made stuffing a few times in my life. That’s because I don’t normally host holiday gatherings featuring poultry, and stuffing seafood is an altogether different matter. And, in general, anything with stuffing means only one thing: extra calories. That’s okay, as long as things are kept in balance. And it was Thanksgiving, after all. Thus, inspired by a beautiful loaf of whole grain bread I bought at the final farmers’ market of the season along with some truly gorgeous local spinach, I decided to make dressing featuring these two beauties along with wild mushrooms, pecans, and herbs. Using whole grain makes this dish far more healthy and filling and with a less dramatic influence on your blood sugar than a dish made with white bread or croutons. Plus, making stuffing from actual bread rather than prepared bread crumbs is a true delight that really allows the fresh flavors to shine; it also greatly reduces your sodium intake given there’s often a lot of salt hidden in most store-bought varieties.

Incidentally, the act of inserting your herbaceous mixture of grains and vegetables up someone’s into something is what makes it a “stuffing” and not a “dressing,” I’ve learned. (Thanks, dad.) While such semantics are fascinating food facts, they do not however change the recipe itself, it seems—just where it was cooked. Whatever you call it, however you cook it, it’s a delicious part of many a festive feast. My recipe follows.

Wild Mushroom & Spinach Stuffing

1. Prepare croutons. Cut the day-old bread into cubes and bake 20-30 minutes at 325F, tossing every 10 minutes until dry and lightly toasted.

2. Prepare mushroom stock and chop herbs. To make stock, simply pour boiling water over dried mushrooms and let sit about 30 minutes, while the bread crumbs are toasting and the mushrooms are cooking.

3. Sauté sliced mushrooms of your choice (cremini, shiitake, etc.) with a few tablespoons of olive oil and 1 chopped onion (or leek). Season with ground black pepper and a bit of salt.

4. Add spinach to the mixture when mushrooms are soft and cooked. (Isn’t that spinach glorious?)

5. Cook until spinach is wilted, adding all herbs and sliced rehydrated mushrooms (from stock); I used parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Add about 1 cup dry white wine to the mixture and reduce (optional). (I found it difficult to stop picking at this tasty mixture.)

6. Stir vegetables together with bread cubes, moistening with several cups of stock. Add 1 cup of toasted pecans, if desired. Spread into a greased pan (vegetable oil spray or butter), dot with about 1.5 tablespoons of butter if desired, covered loosely with foil, and bake about 40 minutes at 350F. Remove foil the final 15 minutes of baking to form a crispy top; for additional crispness, broil for several minutes. (Shown below: cooked dressing.)

What do you think? I was rather pleased with the result, I must say, given I made it up on the fly that morning for the Thanksgiving table. Cooking the dressing on the side prevents the mixture from getting soggy (inside the bird, stuffing-style) while also allowing your vegetarian guests to partake. And, while many dressing recipes call for eggs, I kept my version vegan and egg-free. I personally love eggs and hoped the result would not suffer; I do not believe it did.

And on a non-Thanksgiving day, how about stuffing a meaty portobello mushroom for dinner as described in this recipe? Scrumptious!

A truly savory dressing bursting with all of the makings of a healthy plate, including whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil and pecans, and nutrient-rich vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, and onions PLUS freshly chopped herbs … what more could you want in a dressing?

Oh, right. Gravy. Yeah, I hear that.

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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