People often get intimidated by recipes with lots of ingredients and steps, which is understandable, but many of them aren’t actually complicated or hard — it’s just a sequence of very simple things, like what you’d do to make this cashew-mushroom cornbread stuffing.
One of my favorite TV cooking episodes is the one where Alton Brown teaches Waldorf salad, because he starts with a basic Waldorf (apples, mayo, and lettuce), and then starts adding other ingredients (toasted walnuts, celery, mint, red onion), making it better and better with each step. That’s basically the same approach I use with this stuffing, and with a lot of my recipes — layering in simple ingredients, one after another, building to a complex, nuanced final dish.
When composing this particular recipe, I was thinking of Karina, my vegetarian ex-girlfriend from Australia. She really did not love American Thanksgiving, with the whole turkey thing. As I’m writing this, tender-hearted Anand is having a conversation in the kitchen with Kavi and Kevin about reducing his meat consumption — he’s not ready to go vegetarian yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did in the future.
It was tough eating out with Karina in Philly in the 1990s when we were dating — so many places just offered rather boring vegetarian dishes. Basic pasta. Basic salad. So for this stuffing, I wanted to be sure to compose something with exciting flavors, but also exciting colors. Not just green, not just brown. A delight on the plate!
I start with onions (a mix of red and white) sautéed with Sri Lankan spicing, plenty of colorful bell pepper, ginger & garlic (I used a spoon of jarred today, because I’m a bit tired, but chopping fresh would be even better), green chili for heat, color, and flavor, nutty-sweet cashews, mushrooms and our Sri Lankan toasted curry powder, tomatoes and lime juice for balancing tang — and now you have a beautiful, hearty curry. You could just serve it as is, perhaps with rice or naan, or with a dollop of yogurt or coconut milk stirred in. Taste seasonings, add salt / pepper as desired.
But we’re going for stuffing! So add liquid — water or vegetable broth or even chicken broth if you’re not actually cooking for vegetarians, and bring that to a boil. This is a good point to taste again, see if you like it. The cornbread’s going to add a lot of sweetness, and while this is a sweet stuffing overall, you might want a bit more salt / pepper / tang to balance. When you’re happy with it, add the cornbread, turn off the heat and mix it in — you’re done.
It’s really very simple, even though there are lots of ingredients and lots of steps! For our Thanksgiving, this is going to complement a salty ham beautifully — for a vegetarian Thanksgiving (or any dinner party), I might recommend slicing, salting, and grilling some nice thick slices of eggplant, and topping that with this stuffing.
You could even get super fancy, and make a beautiful stack: rounds of grilled salty eggplant and zucchini, alternating with this stuffing, drizzled with a yogurt-lime dressing. Maybe even served on a bed of kale mallung? Mmm….
Cashew-Mushroom Cornbread Stuffing, Sri Lankan-Inflected
(30 minutes, serves 8-12)
1/4 c. vegetable oil or ghee
1 red onion and 2 yellow onions, chopped
1.5 bell peppers, chopped
1 T ginger and 3 cloves garlic, chopped, or 2 T ginger-garlic paste
3 green chilies, chopped
1 c. roasted cashews, chopped (salted is fine)
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
1 t. salt
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. black pepper
1 tomato, chopped
1 T lime juice
2 c. water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
3 c. cornbread stuffing
1. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions in oil on medium-high until golden-translucent, stirring as needed.
2. Add bell pepper, ginger, garlic and stir to combine. Add green chilies and stir. Add cashews and stir. Add mushrooms and stir. If sticking, feel free to add a little more oil, or a T or two of butter.
3. Add salt, curry powder, pepper and stir until well blended. Cook 5-10 minutes or so, stirring as needed, until mushrooms are reduced and browned nicely; adjust seasonings to taste. (You can stop and serve at this point, as a curry.)
4. Add tomato, lime juice, and water or broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Taste seasonings and adjust as desired; it should be on the slightly salty / tangy / peppery side at this point.
4. Crumble in corn bread and gently combine. Turn off heat, and when it’s well-blended, either serve immediately, or transfer into a baking dish for storage in the fridge.
NOTE: May be baked to bring back up to serving temperature — 30 minutes @ 350, covered, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more.