There’s a nip in the air, even here in sunny Los Angeles, reminding me that Thanksgiving is right around the corner– a time of year that makes me very, very happy. Thanksgiving is my very favorite non-Jewish holiday, so I was tickled to learn that it may have been inspired by the Jewish holiday Sukkot. It’s not the roasted turkey or the NFL football or the pumpkin pie that makes me love this holiday… although I must admit, that stuff is great! I was actually born on Thanksgiving, and the arrival of the holiday reminds me how thankful I am to be alive. I always look forward to our cozy meal with family and friends. We gather to remind ourselves how grateful we are for our many blessings. What could be better than that?
Some Jews do not observe Thanksgiving, as they abstain from celebrating all non-Jewish holidays. However, most American Jews do celebrate Thanksgiving because it is a non-religious holiday that is more about being American than being religious. In our family, T-Day is actually our second biggest family gathering (our largest celebration is Passover). We believe that anything good and positive is cause for celebration, which means we embrace many holidays that are not traditionally Jewish. In keeping with the way our family celebrates, over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting some kosher ideas for the Thanksgiving table. I’ll start today with my Challah Chestnut Stuffing.
In an effort to create a culturally blended approach to Thanksgiving, I created this kosher stuffing from challah. Using challah as a base for the stuffing was an easy choice; it’s naturally absorbent, making it well suited to stuffing. For extra savory flavor, my mind immediately went to schmaltz. The combination of eggy challah bread crumbs, schmaltz-seared vegetables, fresh herbs and subtly sweet chestnuts make this stuffing truly unique.
I really recommend cooking this dish with schmaltz, it adds a ton of flavor to the stuffing. If you’re avoiding meat, the stuffing can be made pareve/vegetarian style. Simply substitute margarine for schmaltz (I recommend organic Earth Balance) and use your favorite vegetable broth. Of course, if you’re not worried about keeping kosher, feel free to use butter!
A Note About Chestnuts: I love the slightly sweet flavor and meaty texture of chestnuts, but they can be tough to track down, particularly the pre-peeled variety. You can roast the chestnuts in shell and peel them yourself. I’ve roasted chestnuts before, and I have to say the process of peeling them is difficult and time-consuming. I really recommend the peeled and roasted variety (Gefen’s are kosher, pre-peeled and roasted and are available here). If this all sounds too daunting, you can leave out the chestnuts… the stuffing will taste fine without them.
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Challah Chestnut Stuffing
- 1 cup pre-shelled roasted chestnuts or 3/4 lb. chestnuts in shell
- 1/4 cup schmaltz, divided (use butter or margarine to make vegetarian or vegan)
- 8 oz sliced white mushrooms
- 1 onion, minced
- 2 cups celery, diced including leaves
- 1 cup carrots, diced small
- 1/2 cup curly leaf parsley, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh sage, minced
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
- 1 tsp fresh marjoram, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (use vegetable broth to make vegetarian or vegan)
- 1 medium loaf of challah bread, cubed (about 10 cups of cubes) (use vegan challah to make vegan)
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- If you are using pre-peeled chestnuts, chop them into bits and reserve them in a bowl for later use. If you are using chestnuts in the shell, you will need to roast and peel them before chopping-- in my experience this takes about 45 minutes of prep time.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a skillet, melt 2 tbsp schmaltz or margarine over medium high heat, tilting to coat the bottom of the pan. Spread the mushrooms in a single layer at the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and turn the heat to high. Let the mushrooms sear without stirring. After 2 minutes, stir the mushrooms continuously for another 2-3 minutes until they are seared golden brown and shrink to half their size.
- Reserve the mushrooms in a bowl, return skillet to the stove. Turn flame to medium high and melt 2 more tbsp of schmaltz or margarine in the skillet. Saute the onion till it softens, then add the celery, carrots, minced garlic cloves and chopped chestnuts.
- Saute mixture for 5 minutes until veggies begin to brown and caramelize. Stir in the seared mushrooms, parsley, and herbs.
- Pour in 3 cups of the chicken or veggie broth (reserve the last cup), bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow mixture to simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I like lots of black pepper!). Remove from heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, spread challah bread cubes in a single layer across two cookie sheets and place them in the oven. Let them lightly toast for 5-6 minutes until the edges start to turn golden. You want to dry out the cubes just slightly; they should still retain some of their sponginess.
- Place challah bread crumbs in a very large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Pour the eggs over the breadcrumbs, stir with a large wooden spoon or spatula. Add the broth mixture and continue to stir till the vegetables and liquid are fully incorporated into the breadcrumbs.
- You can use this stuffing to stuff a 10-16 lb. bird, or you can bake the stuffing separately. If stuffing the bird, make sure you follow the appropriate food safety guidelines.
- To bake the stuffing outside the bird, spread the stuffing in an even layer in a 9x13 baking dish and place uncovered in the oven. Let it cook for 30-45 minutes. Check once halfway through cooking; if the stuffing seems too dry, pour more chicken broth evenly across the top. Let it continue to bake till the top turns golden brown.
- Serve hot. To keep this dish vegetarian, use vegetable broth and butter or margarine.