Turkey stuffing is one of those dishes that can either carry the weight of tradition or the freedom of experimentation. It all depends on one’s own personal preferences. I like both and sometimes make more than one stuffing as a result.

Every holiday, I sift through my recipe files to look for old favorites and new ideas. Images of sausages, plums, apricots, chestnuts, wild rice and more come dancing through my cook’s head.

I think my all-time favorite combines two Greek classics, olives and figs. They are great together, an irresistible contrast of textures and flavors that work in total harmony inside or outside the bird.

Another favorite is one that awakens childhood memories, the stuffing my mother used to make with ground meat, chestnuts, pine nuts and raisins. This is sometimes known as “politiki gemisi” or stuffing made the way the Greeks of Constantinople (Istanbul) always prepared it. My mom was half Ikarian and half Calabrese. Go figure…

All stuffings need a bit of starch to come together, usually bread (either dry or in crumbs) or rice. I prefer bread because I like the compact, soft, almost spongy texture that results when cooking dried or stale bread cubes together with all the other ingredients. It’s a very comforting texture. Rice can sometimes be problematic because it tends to turn into one soggy mass inside the bird.

A piece of advice concerning all stuffing: leave enough space for the stuffing to expand when adding it to the cavity of the turkey. To get the best “siglino”, figs, olives and honey for the recipes suggested go to TITAN FOODS if in the USA and To Pantopoleion tis Mesogeiakis Diatrofis if in Greece.

Stuffing Tips

Stuffing a turkey is easier than you think! The stuffing must always be at room temperature before you start. Stuff both sides of the turkey, cavity and neck. Tie the lower part of the turkey’s thighs in front of the cavity opening, with a piece of cotton cooking string, so it doesn’t fall apart while roasting or alternatively place half an orange or an apple in front of the opening. If you have left over stuffing cook it separately in a buttered ovenproof dish. It is very likely you might need a bit more stock.

To better control the color of the turkey while roasting, cover with buttered tin foil. Remove and replace when basting.

with bread, olives and figs

For a turkey of 5-8 kilos (11-17lbs)

15 slices of whole wheat bread

6 tbsp butter

2 large onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ cup dark raisins

3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

1 cup coarsely chopped Greek pitted green olives

1 cup parsley, finely chopped

12 dried Greek (Kalamata or Kymi) figs, finely chopped

14 boiled chestnuts, peeled and chopped

Salt and pepper

½ 1 cup chicken stock

1. Cut the bread into cubes and toast til dry in the oven or in a dry skillet. Saute the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp butter in a non-stick pan until soft.

2. Mix the rest of the ingredients excluding the stock and the rest of the melted butter. Stuff the turkey.

… with sausage and rice

For a turkey of 5 – 8 kilos (11-17lbs)

½ cup olive oil

1 ½ cup celery or Chinese celery, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 ½ cup chicken stock

1 ½ cup basmati rice

½ kilo (1.1lbs) sausage with orange or leeks (pork), cut in thin slices

125g (4.4oz) small fresh mushrooms, washed and cut in thin slices

1 tbsp mushroom powder

½ cup white wine

1 cup grated tomato

1 twig fresh sage, leaves only

Salt and pepper

Parsley to garnish

1. In a heavy non-stick pan heat 3 tbsp of olive oil and sauté the celery, onion and garlic over medium flame until soft for about 6-7 minutes.

2. Meanwhile heat the stock in a medium sized pan and when it boils add the rice. Boil until it absorbs all the stock but is still al dente.

3. In a separate frying pan, brown the sausage over medium heat. Remove the sausage pieces, drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat and sauté the mushrooms in that. Pour in the wine and cook for a few minutes, until the alcohol sizzles of and the liquid is reduced by half.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, vegetable mixture, sausage, mushrooms, grated tomato, sage, salt and pepper. Let the mixture cool a little and stuff the turkey with it.

... with ground meat, chestnuts, raisins and pine nuts

For a 5 – 8 kilo (11-17lbs) turkey

1 lb/500g chestnuts, cooked and shelled (sous vide are ok)

3 tbsp butter

2 large onions, peeled and finely cut or ground in a mixer

2 celery stalks, cut in cubes

Turkey giblets, chopped (optional)

1 lb/500g minced beef

½ tsp cumin

1 pinch ground cloves

1 small cinnamon stick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup dark raisins

1 cup cut almonds and pine nuts mixed

3 cups croutons

1. In a big, heavy, non-stick pan heat 3 tablespoons butter and saute the onion for 2-3 minutes until wilted. Add the celery, stir using a wooden spoon and continue sauteing until the celery and onions are soft, approx. 3-4 minutes. Add the giblets (optional) and the ground meat and cook, stirring until lightly browned. Add ½ cup water, the spices, salt, and pepper and simmer uncovered over low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the raisins, almonds, pine nuts and chestnuts and mix well. Continue simmering uncovered for 4-6 minutes until all liquids are absorbed. Remove the dish from the heat and let the stuffing cool a little. Remove the cinnamon. Add the croutons and stir.

… with bread, Greek cured pork, prunes and cheese

For a turkey of about 5 – 8 kilos (11-17lbs)

12 pitted prunes

450g (15.8oz) bread, without crust

1/4 cup olive oil

4 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

6 tbsp butter

1 ½ cup onion, finely chopped

1 ½ cup finely chopped celery

1 cup green pepper, finely chopped

1 ¼ cup chopped Greek cured pork (singlino) or other cured (smoked or salt-cured) pork (you may also use dried sausage)

1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

½ toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 ¾ cup chicken or turkey stock, heated

200g (7oz) Greek goat’s cheese, such as kalathaki Limnou or tyrovolakia Lesvou, crumbled

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).

2. Cut the bread into 2,5cm cubes (10 cups approx.). Place the cubes in a large bowl and toss with the oil, thyme and garlic. Bake the mixture on a shallow baking pan, tossing occasionally, until golden, about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly and transfer back to the mixing bowl.

3. In a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the onion, celery, and green pepper til wilted, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, add the cured pork, parsley and prunes. Toss to combine. Add to the bread mixture. Pour in the stock and cheese and mix well. The mixture should be moist but not soggy. Stuff the turkey with the mixture and roast.

The gravy

Make the gravy after roasting the turkey. You will need:

Pan juices from roasted turkey

2 cups red wine

2 cups chicken stock (using stock cubes is fine)

2 bay leaves

3-4 thyme sprigs

Salt and pepper

and 1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 2 tbsp tepid water

Pour the pan juices into in a measuring cup. With a spoon, skim off the fat, which rises to the surface. Place the roasting pan over two burners, heat on medium heat and add the red wine. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan over the heat, to loosen the charred bits, which are delicious! When the wine is reduced by half, remove the pan from the heat and strain the liquid directly into a saucepan. Add the skimmed pan juices and the chicken stock. Add the bay leaves, the thyme and salt and pepper. Simmer the gravy over medium heat and as soon as it comes to a boil whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring, until thick and velvety.

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