Ever since I can remember, my mom has made turkey stuffing with wild rice. In fact, I didn’t even know that most people made stuffing with bread. In grade 8 Home Ec, we made stuffing during class. “Why are we getting out bread?” I wondered.
The quality of bread determines the texture of the stuffing, and I remember being disappointed at this soggy smooshy mass made of wonder bread, because I loved my mom’s stuffing. While I’m sure a sturdy sourdough bread would be delicious, I’m partial to a rice stuffing.
The wild rice (or long grain brown rice) is slightly chewy, the almonds provide a creamy bite. Aromatic sage complements the bursts of sweetness from dried apricot. And it just happens to be gluten free, if that’s an issue.
Now that I live in Slovakia, I’ve had to make concessions. Most years I actually make this stuffing with long grain brown rice, as North American wild rice is hard to get here. When I was given some wild rice, I saved it for Thanksgiving precisely for this dish.
My mom would sometimes put in water chestnuts as well, also in short supply here. At least now I can find celery stalks, which I couldn’t a few years back.
This is the first year since I’ve moved to Slovakia that I’ve prepared a proper Thanksgiving (I celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, which is October). I think it’s because I’m out of the baby and toddler years and can actually think further ahead than just tomorrow. Until now, I would realize that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, but we don’t have Monday off, so I might make mashed potatoes and an apple dessert. Nobody else around me is doing Thanksgiving, so it got forgotten.
This year, I remembered about cranberry sauce during the summer and bought wild lingonberries sold by the roadside in mountainous areas of Slovakia. I invited our neighbours, to show them one of the few truly North American traditions that we have. Ok, I had to compromise a bit on the turkey – I couldn’t find a whole turkey in enough time, so I stuffed a duck and baked turkey legs beside it. Close enough.
It was a veritable feast. While many of you may be trying to find new ways to liven up a classic meal, many of the dishes were unusual for our Slovak guests, and even my kids. “Mom, what’s Thanksgiving?” Oops.
We make gravy differently, and the lingonberry (cranberry) sauce with orange, the rice stuffing, the apple pie and pumpkin squares were all new for them. I’m getting hungry.
Back to the wild rice stuffing – while this was my first year doing Thanksgiving, I make this stuffing every year for Christmas. Although turkey is not a Christmas meal for Slovaks, my husband’s extended family has started having turkey for our meal together on Boxing Day (the 26th). It makes me and my American sister-in-law happy, and it’s easier to bake one turkey than make 60 schnitzels one by one.
As with all my recipes, the are all kinds of variations you can make. One year I didn’t have sage and used spruce needles I buzzed in the food processor. It was delicious. Some years I’ve used hazelnuts instead of almonds, or added dried cranberries too.
To make the wild rice and nuts easier to digest, and to make more of the nutrients bioavailable, I like to soak the wild rice and almonds beforehand. It’s not strictly necessary, but the rice will take longer to cook if you don’t soak it. Soaking is a step, however, that takes no active time, cuts down on cooking time, and makes it easier to digest, so I try to remember.
Also, most stuffing recipes I see call for sauting the onions up first. Frankly, I have enough going on when preparing a big meal that I don’t need to dirty one more pan. I’ve always just mixed the onion raw and made sure I baked it long enough for it to be soft. Call me lazy, but it still tastes delicious.
This wild rice stuffing is part of my family’s celebrations, and I would love if it became part of your celebration with loved ones as well.
Wild Rice Stuffing with Apricots, Almonds, and Sage
Aromatic sage, sweet dried apricots, creamy almonds and chewy wild rice (or long grain brown rice) make this stuffing a well-loved addition to your celebration.
- 2 cups wild rice or long grain brown rice
- 3 cups giblet broth or water
- 1 cup almonds
- 1 cup dried apricots
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 large onion
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1/3 heaping cup fresh sage, finely chopped or 2 tablespoons dried
- 1/2 cup butter or smaltz only if not stuffing turkey but baking alone
The evening before, cover both the wild rice (or long grain brown rice) and the almonds in separate bowls with a generous covering of water. Let them soak overnight.
If you have giblets (turkey innards and neck), you can put them to simmer with a pinch of salt and a quart of water to make a broth to cook the rice in (optional but tasty step). Simmer for several hours the evening before or the morning of.
To cook the rice, drain the water and put in a medium sized pot with 3 cups of giblet broth or water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, stir, and then let it cook over low heat for 20-30 minutes. If you do not soak the wild rice or long grain brown rice, it will take about 50 minutes to cook. If you use water, it is easier to cook the wild rice pasta style, simmering with extra water until al dante and then drain the excess water.
While the rice is cooking, chop the onion and celery, drain the almonds and roughly chop. Cut the apricots in quarters with scissors. Chop fresh sage or stir in dried sage. Add salt and pepper.
When the rice is cool enough to handle, add it to the rest of the stuffing ingredients. Mix well - this is easiest with your hands.
Stuff the turkey. I put in a handful or two, and then make a fist to pack it in tight. When the turkey is full, pull together the skin on both sides of the opening and use an embroidery needle and string to sew the skin together, enough to hold the stuffing in. If you don't have an embroidery needle, bring the skin together and tie together the legs overtop.
If you are not stuffing a turkey or other poultry, pour melted butter or schmaltz (chicken fat) over the stuffing, stir, and put in a casserole dish. Cover and bake until all the ingredients are soft, about an hour.
Enjoy the stuffing with your loved ones!
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