As the song goes, "I'm just a Mississippi boy. Still got Mississippi mud on my boots. I'm just a Mississippi boy. Well, I wanna go back to my roots. Tired of the fast food. Raised on cornbread and collard greens. Chitlins and hog maws! A big old pots of beans... " Uhh, now what y'all know 'bout that?
It's that time, again! The winter holidays are here. While the holidays are largely a time of year to celebrate cultural traditions and enjoy our families, it's also important to maintain the utmost regard for cultural competence during the holiday season. We can all do so simply by respecting the different faith traditions and cultures in our communities and country at large. For a case in point, consider an acquaintance whom I witnessed wishing someone Merry Christmas and the person turned out to be Jewish. Awkward. As another example, I was recently at a legislative breakfast for work and one of the attendees decided to pray in the middle of his introduction. It was not ecumenical. Then, on two separate occasions, the absolute worst thing imaginable happened: I had to eat stuffing.
I am obviously joking about the stuffing, but cultural competence does, in fact, extend to the traditional foods that we eat. About once a year, I tell one of my friends (from the Northeast) that I'm making cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving or Christmas and without fail, I'm met with a puzzled look. Then, I explain to them exactly what I mean, and we get a good laugh out of the ordeal because they usually think I'm talking about salad dressing. Bizarre! So, I figured it's as good a time as any to revisit the stuffing vs dressing debate. While the terms have technical meaning: stuffing the bird as opposed to dressing the bird, they are also regionalized descriptive terms: dressing (in the South) is traditionally made with cornbread and stuffing (in the North) is traditionally made with dry bread or croutons. According to Clinton Kelly from ABC's The Chew about "83% of northerners say stuffing and about half the people in the South say dressing". Over on the Food Network Blog, they state that "many southerners are die-hard dressing fans" and I fall squarely in that category.
Cornbread dressing has more of a cohesive, casserole-like consistency and there are a variety of techniques for making it. Some cooks use only cornbread, while others use leftover biscuits, sandwich bread, crackers, or other breads that are leftover and/or frozen for later use. I, personally, like the casserole-like consistency of dressing and the added textured of toasted bread in my dressing so that's what I use. Then, for some protein, I usually add oysters; however, I was out of luck this year. I went to two different grocery stores and they were both out of oysters. So, I improvised. Considering I've made yellow squash dressing in the past with great results, I decided to use yellow squash and a gourmet mushroom blend of baby bella, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms. After tasting the dressing, I must say that I'm officially sold. The dressing was absolutely scrumptious and considering that yellow squash and the gourmet mushroom blend cost about half as much as the oysters would have, I might call it a bargain.
Yellow Squash Cornbread Dressing w/ Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs
- 1/2 lb cornbread
- 1 loaf Italian bread (1/2 lb total), cut into 3/4-inch cubes (6 cups)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 lb gourmet mushrooms (baby bella, shiitake, and oyster)
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
- 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried thyme, crumbled)
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage (or 2 tsp dried sage, crumbled)
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 4 yellow squash, washed and sliced into 1/4" rounds
- 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 1/4 cups vegetable stock
Prepare cornbread batter and bake until fully cooked and golden brown. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread bread cubes in two shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden, 25 to 30 minutes total. Cool bread in pans on racks, then transfer to a large bowl.
Heat olive oil in a 12-in heavy skillet over moderate heat. Cook mushrooms, celery, onions, thyme, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, steam or blanch the yellow squash rounds until just soft, about 4 to 6 minutes. Set aside.
Transfer cornbread and bread cubes to a large bowl and crumble to the desired texture. I prefer to crumble the cornbread and some of the bread cubes (about 1/3) into small pieces and leave the remaining bread cubes intact. Add the vegetable mixture and yellow squash to the bowl, then stir in parsley and butter. Drizzle with stock, then season with salt and pepper and toss well.
Transfer stuffing to a buttered casserole baking dish. Bake, covered, in middle of oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned, about 30 minutes more.