Dietary restrictions can be a source of stress during the holiday season, but they can also spur creativity. When I was a new vegetarian, I tried the cutely-named soy and wheat-based imitation turkey products, but ultimately decided it was healthier and tastier to celebrate the harvest by eating whole foods, prepared with care and creativity. Roasted root vegetables are a must, along with cranberry sauce, rolls, and some sort of rich bean and vegetable casserole.
This year presents more of a challenge, as it will be my first gluten-free Thanksgiving. As a vegan, I’ve never felt deprived during the holidays, but this new constraint gives me pause. I return again to vegetables and whole grains, most of them gluten-free to begin with. My experiments with biscuits and pie crust have been disappointing, but I refuse to be the hungry, sad-eyed, food-allergic vegan with nothing but boiled carrots and a scoop of cranberry sauce on her plate.
I love wild rice; its nutty, mushroomy flavor is a wonderful complement to sweet autumn squash and root vegetables. This stuffing, with apples, leeks, and toasted pecans offers a joyful contrast of fall flavors. I’ll stuff it into halves of roasted winter squash for a main dish so hearty and colorful, I won’t feel I’m missing anything.
Wild Rice and Pecan Stuffing
3 cups vegetable broth, water, or combination
2 bay leaves
½ cup wild rice
½ cup pecan halves
1 Tablespoon walnut or olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large leek, sliced thinly (white parts only, about 1½cups)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried sage leaves
1 sweet apple (like MacIntosh), diced
¼ cup raisins (optional)
In a medium pot, boil broth or water and bay leaves. Add wild rice, return to boil, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cover, and cook rice for 40-50 minutes, until fluffy. Drain excess liquid if necessary. Remove bay leaves and set aside.
While rice cooks, gently toast pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently, and remove pecans from skillet when they become fragrant and begin to darken. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add leeks, garlic, thyme, and sage, and sauté gently for 8-10 minutes, until leeks are soft. Add cooked rice, pecans, chopped apple, and raisins to leeks, and stir until warmed through. Season with salt to taste.