Any Southerner looking at the title would be puzzled. You see, ‘vegan’ and ‘southern’ are rarely seen in the same sentence. Not unless one is speaking of raw ingredients – say, a tomato salad. And even this may have a mayonnaisey dressing on it, or at least some chopped hardboiled eggs. Southerners like to provide added value to any dish. A sprinkle of parsley at the very least. But more likely a glistening pat of Land O Lakes butter. We just can’t help ourselves.Like a lot of Americans, Southerners love their meat, but Southerners, more than in any other area (in my opinion), are quite wedded to the hardcore end of calorific cooking. Think bacon fat, Crisco (a solid vegetable fat), mayonnaise and butter. These ultra-fatty (and often delicious) ingredients will be added to otherwise naturally vegetarian or vegan dishes – eg the tomato salad. The underlying cultural thought has long been “better with butter.” The addition of which may possibly make one “fuller than a tick on a dawg.” (sorry, I couldn’t resist)
Despite the predilection for lard I have huge affection and nostalgia for Southern cooking. Dishes like sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, devilled eggs and collard greens are things that done well are absolutely delicious. I can barely resist at least a spoonful. In fact, it was in the South that green vegetables and spices first began to be used in everyday cooking, food stuff previously seen as ‘slave food.’
So, vegetables are not in fact alien in southern cooking. Far from it. Vegetables are frequently at the heart of many of the dishes you will see on any good host’s/hostess’s table.
I have vivid memories of a lace-clothed table barely visible under a jigsaw puzzle of vegetable dishes, interlaced with platters of fried chicken, smothered steak and the inevitable Jello salad. But the star was always the vegetables. Most often they were freshly picked from my grandmother’s garden (they were farmers), lightly cooked, with some possibly pickled from earlier in the long Tennessee growing season. As is the case now, my eight-year old self would make a bee-line for the sliced, raw, warm-from-the-garden tomatoes, gorging myself, the red juice coursing down my chin and onto my terrycloth shorts (it was the 70s).
I ate all of the other stuff too, including cornbread dressing. I remember it made by my grandmother with chicken or turkey giblets and stock – rich and savoury. There were a few vegetables too, but I can’t recall exactly which. Most likely just onions and celery. Possibly some bacon leftover from an earlier meal. Like I said, added value…
Today’s recipe – one I have honed over the years – is my modest homage to my grandmother Mimi’s homey, loving and skilful cooking. It is not a patch on hers, and certainly would not have involved measurements. The only measuring implement I ever saw her use was an old tin can. She used another tin can to cut out her light as angel wings buttermilk biscuits. I wished while she was alive that I had managed to winkle a few recipes out of her. She was a wonderful lady: quiet, religious, but she could tell some jaw-dropping stories, most of which were possibly even true.
I hope that you enjoy this tweaked ‘heritage’ recipe for Southern cornbread dressing. Now – change of geography here – if you want some modern Mediterranean Christmas recipes – gluten-free and paleo-friendly, have a look at the latest offering from my friend nutritionist Conner Middelmann-Whitney. She kindly sent me her ebook and I have had a hungry time pouring over all of the creative and delicious-sounding recipes. Most are suitable for anytime, so don’t think it is just a Christmas cookbook. The first thing I am making from this beautifully photographed ebook is her Spanakopita with Chickpea Wraps and then the chia-flax crackers. All of her recipes are very well thought through, and laced with absorbing nutrition information. And it is a great price for what you get. I’m not being sponsored to say any of this, it is a genuine endorsement of the work of someone I admire. She may even be embarrassed that I am doing this!
Have a great week. Back later with something to eat with your Christmas leftovers.
What heritage recipes are you making this holiday season?
Last year: Fennel and Maple Roasted Carrots + Creamed Kale Two Ways (these have been featured on Huffington Post and Buzzfeed)
Two years ago: Sweet and Spicy Munch Mix
Miss R’s Track of the week: Happy by Pharrell Williams – we know you all know about this track but who cares – it is brilliant and a great cooking song!
Nearly every Southern cook in America has a tried and trusted cornbread ‘dressing’ recipe. This one is a variation on one I make year after year. Usually eggs are added for more of a bread pudding effect, but this year it has gone vegan. If you want to add egg, stir in three after mixing in the stock.
I suggest some Southern and not-so-Southern add-ins at the end of the recipe, but plain old cornbread stuffing is fine by us. And just so you know, cornbread dressing is not exclusive to Thanksgiving and Christmas; Southern cooks will put it on the table with a weekend roast ham or chicken, as well as cracking over some eggs for the last few minutes of baking. Or what about topping with freshly steamed asparagus, chopped hard-cooked egg and a wee swirl of hollandaise? Here are some other ideas. Definitely not just for holidays. I am making a vow to include cornbread dressing in more everyday meals – it is that awesome
Serves 8-12 (can halve ingredients)
Cornbread, crumbled – 1 skillet recipe (6 cups of big crumbles), homemade*(see note below) or bought
Stale, air-dried ‘bakery’ bread, cubed – 150g (4 cups)
Olive oil – 1 ½ tbsp
Red onions, 2 – finely chopped
Carrots, 2 – finely chopped
Celery stalks, 2 – finely chopped
Brussels sprouts, 20 – sliced (can certainly use kale – about 3 cups chopped)
Seasoning mix (given below), bought poultry seasoning OR 1 tsp dried sage + ½ tsp thyme + ½ tsp rosemary + 1 tsp black pepper
Lemon zest – from one medium-sized lemon
Walnuts, Chestnuts or Pecans, finely chopped – 70g (1/2 cup)
Parsley, chopped – 3 tbsp
Vegetable stock, warm – 850ml (3 and 2/3 cups)
White miso (optional) – 1 heaped tbsp
1. Oil a large rectangular ceramic or glass baking dish. Size isn’t too important, just make sure it is a large one.
2. If the bread isn’t hard like a crouton, pop the cubes onto a baking tray and into a 180C/350F oven for about eight minutes. Pull out of the oven and set aside to cool and harden. When cool put the bread cubes and cornbread crumbles into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet; add the onion and sauté for five minutes, until softened and glossy, stirring occasionally. Stir in the carrots, celery and Brussels sprouts and sauté a further five minutes, stirring so nothing sticks. Add in the seasoning blend, or just the herbs. Stir in the lemon zest, chopped nuts and fresh parsley, mixing in evenly. Decant this fragrant mixture into the bowl with the breads.
4. Mix the vegetable stock and miso (if using) and pour over the bread and vegetables, tossing through carefully until everything is moist. Taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed – maybe some salt. Lightly press the dressing into the oiled dish, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 180C/350F. Remove the foil and bake a further 25 minutes, until crusty in places and hot all the way through. If you wanted to make this more soufflé like (and I sometimes prefer it this way), whisk 3 beaten eggs and fold into the stock-soaked mixture before pressing into the pan.
To serve either cut into squares (about 12) or just use a big serving spoon and dive in.
Variations: add fresh cranberries, finely chopped apple or roasted cubed sweet potato/squash; add cooked smoked bacon, crumbled/chopped cooked black pudding/boudin noir; chopped rehydrated porcini mushrooms. Celeriac is a good alternative to celery.
Getting ahead of yourself: you can make the whole thing up and pop it wrapped and unbaked in the freezer until you need it. Just add on 10 extra minutes cooking time under the foil. I have never frozen the vegan version but I imagine it will be fine, but may be quite crumbly as there is no egg to bind. Perhaps vegan egg replacer will do the trick! Let me know if you make this with vegan egg replacer.
Seasoning Blend for Cornbread, Chicken or Fish dishes (all dried herbs):
1/4 tsp paprika + pinch of celery seeds or 1/4 tsp celery salt + 1/4 tsp rosemary + 1/2 tsp sage + 1/4 tsp thyme + 1/4 tsp nutmeg
*Note about cornbread: I used my recipe (per link) but eliminated the egg completely, changed the buttermilk for almond milk with 2 tsp lemon juice added, and oil rather than butter for the skillet. I usually use the recipe as is but eliminate the oil because the cornbread should actually be on the dry side. You can’t take away the egg and the oil, or what you get are crackers! Use your own judgment: no harm in having straight up bought or your normal recipe of cornbread.
I haven’t sent my recipes to Mark of Javelin Warrior’s Cookin’ W/Luv for his Made With Love Mondays in awhile. Nor to Karen at Lavender and Lovage for her Cooking with Herbs. I am remedying this with my cornbread dressing recipe. Both Karen and Mark are terrific supporters of other food bloggers. Thanks y’all, and Happy Christmas.