The Crispy, Spicy-Sweet Stuffing for People Who Don’t Like Stuffing

The traditional side dish gets a dose of California cool.

With the holiday season upon us, it’s all about entertaining with delicious, impressive dishes. We’ve partnered with Food52 to bring you recipes, ideas, and tips inspired by the season.

We know better than to convince folks to try a new stuffing recipe on Thanksgiving. More than the turkey, sweet potatoes, or green beans, families cling to their version dearly, whether it’s made with oysters or chestnuts, sage or cornbread, or cream.

But what if you won’t be at home, hugged by familiarity and a family tree, for the holiday? Trying a new recipe is a chance to carry traditions to a new space, with new people—or to start anew. For those of us who are creatures of habit, this can take some getting used to. Figuring out the whole Thanksgiving meal, with help from Mom only by phone, seems like a lot—until you remember that you don’t have to make the dishes you don’t like. You get to make what you want.

For those who never cared for the stuffing—who find it too dense, too monotonous, too beige—this is our stuffing. This is the stuffing, adapted from Suzanne Goin's, that I make for friends, the one I took on a train last year when Thanksgiving didn’t even happen at a table.

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WILTING WELL

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It takes traditional stuffing, which typically resembles bread pudding, closer toward a jagged bread salad. That’s partly because there aren’t any eggs in it, but also because the bread and the add-ins are sturdy, in texture and in taste.

  • The bread: Not stale or day-old, but rather oil-slicked and baked into croutons. Suzanne uses sourdough as a nod to San Francisco, but I quite like the flavor a nutty wheat brings.
  • The meat: Where you might expect a pork sausage, you’ll find turkey: crisped to bits, its rendered fat used to cook a whole heap of onions and kale.
  • The liquid: The bread, sausage, and kale is plumped (but not sogged) by sherry in addition to your usual stock—adding acid where it usually isn’t.
  • The dried fruit: Dates are earthier than the go-to dried cranberries. And in a casserole of greatest hits—instead of one coagulated mass–I find myself picking out the dates, even before the sausage. Don’t underestimate how much good the dates are doing here.
  • Vroom: Heat is here, too—Suzanne’s go-to chile de árbol—along with salad’s favorite crunch: nuts. (I went for almonds instead of Suzanne's choice of hazelnuts.) 

It’s good, too, to finally say that I like stuffing—okay, a stuffing. And that I have a tradition in infancy. 

Thanksgiving with friends is like Thanksgiving with training wheels. Here are some other tips I try to remember each year, now that Thanksgiving—whatever the form, traditional, atraditional, or somewhere in between—is mine to corral:

 

  • Don’t make a whole turkey. Just a turkey breast—or the sausage in this stuffing—counts.
  • Let everyone bring a dish, but let everyone play to their strengths. I got the stuffing.
  • Unless someone offers, take the turkey yourself. If you host and make the main event, you did great.
  • Be vigilant about the oven space: Not everyone can plan to use it right before dinner. Just because you’re doing Thanksgiving without family doesn’t mean it can’t be without some rigor.
  • Have wine, but also put thought into a cocktail. Because if all goes wrong, at least you did that.
  • Do a platter check: Make sure you have something to put everyone’s dishes in. This is a holiday, after all.
  • Stock up on to-go containers. If it’s a good Friendsgiving, there will be leftovers.
  • Let Thanksgiving be a chance to also start decorating the Christmas tree. The crunch between the November holiday and the December holidays has a lot of parties and functions, so get your friends in on the Christmas decorating while they’re already over.

Sourdough Stuffing With Kale And Dates

“Adapted from a recipe originally published in the New York Times. Of the atraditional stuffing, Suzanne Goin says: ‘it’s loose, laid-back and doing its own thing, California-style.’”—Ali Slagle

Servings: 8

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Ingredients

1 loaf sourdough or nutty wheat bread

10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound turkey sausage, casing removed

2 cups diced onions

1/2 sprig rosemary

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

2 sliced chile de árbol

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Black pepper, to taste

1 pound lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan kale or cavolo nero), about 2 large or 3 small bunches, tough rib stems removed and roughly chopped

3 ounces dates (about 16), cut in half lengthwise

1 cup dry sherry

2 cups chicken or turkey stock

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup roughly chopped toasted almonds

Instructions

Heat oven to 400°F. Tear bread into 1-inch croutons (I like to leave the crusts on). Place torn bread on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 4 tablespoons olive oil, squeezing and tossing bread with your hands to help it absorb the oil. Transfer to oven and toast, tossing once or twice, until croutons are golden brown and crispy on the outside but still a little soft and tender inside, 12 to 15 minutes. When croutons have cooled, place them in a large bowl.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and crumble sausage into pan. Sauté, breaking up sausage with a wooden spoon, until browned and just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer sausage to the bowl with the croutons using a slotted spoon.

Return the pot to medium heat and add 2 more tablespoons olive oil, onions, rosemary, thyme and chile. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Continue cooking another 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until onion is soft and starting to color slightly.

Add half the kale and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Use tongs to turn the greens to coat them in oil and help them wilt and cook down. When there is room in the pan (from the greens wilting), add the rest of the kale and season with another 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. As soon as all the kale has wilted, transfer mixture to the bowl with the croutons and sausage. Remove rosemary. Add dates and stir well to combine.

Return pot to stove over high heat and carefully pour in sherry. Boil until sherry is reduced by three-quarters, then add stock. Boil until mixture is reduced by half, then swirl in butter until melted.

Pour hot liquid over crouton-kale mixture. Add almonds and toss well to combine; using tongs or your hands, squeeze and massage the stuffing to integrate the flavors and make sure bread has really soaked in all the liquid.

Transfer stuffing to a ceramic baking dish or casserole. Cover and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 more minutes, or until top is golden and crisp.

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