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San Diego Cooks: Orange Stuffing

I didn’t know stuffing was “supposed” to be brown until I was 8-or 9 years-old and realized the bready, lumpy dish on my paternal grandmother’s Christmas table was ALSO stuffing. I say “also” because until that point, to me, stuffing had only been one color…an earthy shade of orange.

Deanna Martin Mackey

Deanna Mackey, and her mother, Connie Martin in December 2011.

I was raised in a home of mixed cultures. My mother is a native of Nicaragua, my father an Irish-American and San Francisco native. English, Spanish and a sprinkle of Gaelic were commonly heard in our house and the cuisine ranged from American, Latin to Irish. But, when it came to stuffing, only one country’s influence ruled, and that country was Nicaragua.

My parents loved to entertain and from my earliest memory they hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinner. There was the traditional fare of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but the most anticipated dish was Nicaraguan Stuffing, or as I always referred to it, Orange Stuffing. This was a savory mix of breadcrumbs, butter, chicken stock, sautéed onions and garlic, pickled vegetables, green olives, capers and the secret ingredient that turned the whole thing orange – tomato paste. The piquant flavor perfectly balanced by a healthy dose of sugar.

It was only served during the holidays and I looked forward to it every year. As a pre-teen I was taught how to make it myself and as a freshman in college I lured a whole floor of co-eds away from the blandness of American stuffing, and toward my Latin ways, by hosting Thanksgiving and serving my savory stuffing. I can honestly say I don’t think their lives were ever the same.

I’ve been making it for Thanksgiving for more than two decades and I’ve turned so many people onto orange that many of them join my dinner just for a taste of this once-a-year treat. While I love it with turkey and gravy, my favorite way to eat Orange Stuffing is the next day, stuffed inside a dinner roll with turkey, mayo and cranberry sauce. Now that’s what I call Yummy!

Nicaraguan (Orange) Stuffing

2-3 tablespoons butter

1 diced onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 15 oz. container of Plain or Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

1 can tomato paste

1 16 oz. jar Giardiniera (Italian pickled) vegetables

1 7-12 oz. jar small green olives with pimiento (jar size depends on how many olives you want)

1 4 oz. jar capers

Chicken stock as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

Sugar to taste

In a large, deep pan, sauté onion and garlic in butter in medium-low heat until onions soften and turn golden. Add ¾- 1 can of tomato paste and mix in well. Add breadcrumbs and chicken stock alternately so the breadcrumbs meld with the onion, tomato and garlic and the mixture begins to hold together. Do not add so much stock that the mixture becomes sticky or dough-like.

Drain the Giarndiniera, olives and capers and save the juice from the jars in a separate bowl. Meanwhile, by hand or in a food processor chop the Giarndiniera.

Take the pan off the stove and blend in the chopped vegetables, whole green olives and capers. Add a small amount of the vegetable juice alternately with the chicken stock to soften the stuffing mixture and allow the breadcrumbs to mix well with the other ingredients. Use more stock than juice or the stuffing will become too sharp tasting. Add salt and pepper to taste and enough sugar to allow the savory flavor to just come through. I usually use a couple of tablespoons of sugar.

Stuff in a turkey or chicken or bake in a Pyrex pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Enjoy plain or with gravy (or in a sandwich…as mentioned above).

Deanna Mackey is the KPBS Station Manager, and a guest blogger for "Hey, Neighbor!"

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