How to Make The World’s Best Vegetarian Stuffing
You don’t need sausage to make this Thanksgiving side dish shine.
People have passionate opinions about stuffing--which makes tinkering with tradition a real challenge. But if your guest list includes vegetarians, there’s no reason for them to feel left out: we’ve come up with a flavorful, golden, herb-scented meat-free version that’s sure to win over stuffing-lovers of every stripe. Get the recipe for The Best Vegetarian Stuffing, and read about why it works below.
Although you can’t bake this stuffing ahead of time because it would lose its crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside texture, you can make the elements ahead, so the only thing you have to do on the day-of is combine and cook. On Thanksgiving, if you’re pressed for time (and what cook isn’t?), prep all the ingredients and follow the recipe steps all the way through cooking the vegetables. Then, an hour or so before show time, heat the oven, combine the bread, stock, and vegetables, top with butter, and cook to perfection.
This stuffing calls for a healthy serving of fat, in the form of both olive oil and butter, but the full flavor is worth it. In the end, because the recipe makes a big batch, the amount of butter per cup of stuffing works out to less than two teaspoons, so no need to fret too much about calories. But, if you prefer to skip the butter and go with all olive oil, use a total of six tablespoons: four tablespoons to sauté the vegetables, one to grease the skillet, and the remaining one tablespoon to drizzle over the top before baking.
Use herbs generously--without them, stuffing can be bland and one-dimensional. Here, they act as a bright, fresh foil to deeper, darker flavors like mushrooms and caramelized onions. Our recipe only calls for sage and thyme, but that’s no reason to limit yourself. Other herbs like parsley, rosemary, basil, and oregano can all give stuffing a different, subtle accent. Fresh or dried are both fine. One tip: when cooking with dried herbs, rub them between your palms or fingers; the oils in your skin will help release their aroma and flavor.
For the base of the stuffing, look no further than a good quality loaf of sliced white sandwich bread--ideally, something that’s got a substantial texture and a good taste, with little or no additives. There’s no need to remove the crust, and since it’s already sliced, all that’s left to do is dice the bread evenly for even cooking. Buy the bread a few days ahead of time, then take it out of the package and spread it on a wire cooling rack at room temperature to get stale. Why? Bread that's been dried holds its shape and soaks up flavors better during cooking.
Chestnuts are a classic holiday ingredient for good reason: they have a warm, subtle sweetness and a creamy denseness that’s comforting and pairs well with other fall ingredients. Chestnuts also add a satisfying note of fat and mimic the rich taste and texture of turkey giblets, resulting in a vegetarian stuffing that’s meaty and has layers of flavor. During the holiday season, most supermarkets carry cooked chestnuts in various packaging: jarred, bagged, canned, or frozen.
When cooking your stuffing, make sure to sufficiently brown the onions and mushrooms, as they are the backbone of flavor for the whole dish. Every stove is different, so although our recipe calls for cooking both the onions and mushrooms for 10 minutes until brown, on your stove it might take a bit more or less time. The important things to watch for are color and smell. Don’t add the next round of ingredients until there is nary a white piece of onion in sight. And with the mushrooms, move on to the next step only when the mixture has a rich, caramelized aroma.