Okay, this month’s Around the World is cheating…a little. I had the idea to explore various international versions of stuffing, since I was struck with the distinction between my father’s American-style turkey stuffing, and my Slovenian mother-in-law’s mind-blowing pork rib stuffing that I would happily request for my last meal (though let’s hope it doesn’t come to that).
Researching for the article, I found that the variations on what carbohydrates you might stuff inside a protein was rather limited. It didn’t make for a particularly diverse article, certainly not like the past offerings in the Around the World series. So I decided to instead share what I came across while researching that I immediately wanted to eat. It became more about the variety of savory foods that involve stuffing something inside something else and then cooking it, so the flavors mingle, rather than my initial idea of meat-with-cavity plus grains-and-stuff stuffed inside it.
Perhaps the ultimate incarnation of stuffing: bizarre, slightly savage, Surrealist, is the turducken. Surprisingly, this is actually a word in my Word dictionary, which might be even odder than the dish itself. The turducken is a boneless chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey. The flavors of the three meats mix, the lack of bones means you can slice it clean across as smoothly as if it were meatloaf, and the result is a triple layer-cake of meat. I can’t say I’m a fan. I don’t feel like the flavor of the meats gain anything by proximity to each other. The whole idea weirds me out. But it is undeniably popular, so I’m clearly missing something.
On the other hand, I do love my stuffing. I like it more than the meat, to be honest. On Thanksgiving, I can take or leave the turkey (which always risks being dry), but I’ll happily eat all of that stuffing. My father usually made two varieties, when I was growing up: both with cubed, slightly-stale bread as the core, one studded with dried fruit, the other a mixture of mushrooms and sausage meat. This essentially produces the effect of what the Italians call fare la scarpetta, to “make a little shoe,” a cute analogy for mopping up sauce, juices, gravy and drippings with bread. I always loved doing this—I even tackle the leftover oil and vinegar mix at the bottom of what was once my salad. So a big portion of little shoes sounds like just my thing.
Turkish Yaprak Sarma
The Balkans are packed with versions of this stuffed cabbage-leaves dish, filled with minced meat, onions and rice. I once tried to make this with normal cabbage leaves, and the contents exploded. The cabbage leaves should be “sour,” brined, so they become both more wrappable and also tender once cooked.
Next time I’m in Java, I’m totally trying this coconut and anchovies wrapped in green leaves from a plant like cassava or papaya, then boiled in coconut milk. I don’t even like anchovies, but this sounds pretty great, a favorite way to break the fast during Ramadhan.
Serbian Punjena Paprika
Every culture seems to have their own very slight variation on stuffed peppers. It seems to be a universal human desire to insert ground meat into a pepper. This version is simmered in tomato sauce until the meat is cooked and the pepper’s flesh is melty.
Levantine Kousa Mahshi
When not stuffing peppers, squash will do. Stuffed with meat and flavored with mint and garlic, then baked.
Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers stuffed with rice—good for vegetarians, and for emptying out the veggie drawer of your fridge.
It’s technically stuff stuffed into stuff, right? Sheep’s sweetmeats or “pluck” (lungs, liver and heart) are minced with mixed with onions, spices, suet and oatmeal, and encased in a sheep’s stomach. It’s the predecessor of the turducken, perhaps better called the “sheepsheepsheep.”
Mexican Chile Relleno
From the city of Puebla, hails a dish that featured the mild poblano pepper stuffed with minced meat and cheese, coated with an egg batter, and fried.
Indian Bharva Mirch
India’s answer to Chile Relleno, these green chili are sliced open lengthwise and tucked full of gram flour. Fennel seeds, lime juice, asafetida (a spice I bought but have never figured out how to use, so this is very exciting), coriander and turmeric.
Tex-Mex Jalapeno Poppers
I’m a sucker for Tex-Mex. When I lived in Paris, age 16, I used to occasionally go to the chain restaurant Chili’s (I’m sort of ashamed to admit), not because I didn’t absolutely love French food, but because I was on a tight budget and Chili’s was the only place in the city with unlimited free refills of Coke. Nothing helps wash down six or seven glasses of Coke like hot jalapenos stuffed with cheddar cheese and deep-fried.
Can we throw in some bread stuffed with goodness? Why not, it’s my column! Baked or fried (I’ll take fried, please) dough stuffed with meat, mushrooms, rice and onions will make a nice, not the least bit light, snack.
I bet I know how this was “invented.” Pizza, folded over onto itself (which happens at least once each time I try to make pies in our wood-fired pizza oven, and the bottom of the dough sticks to the peel as I try to woggle it into place. But it sure is good…
I know what you’re thinking—we’re edging into sandwich/burrito territory, which is hardly “stuffing.” But pastry stuffed with a variety of meats and gravy sounds good to me, and if I’m including Pirozhki, then Cornish pasties should surely make the cut.
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