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The Stuffings of Virtue

December 22, 1996|MARY CARROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Carroll is the author of the "No Cholesterol (No Kidding!) Cookbook" (Rodale Press, 1991)

Testament to America's love of stuffing can be seen on the shelves of the supermarket: long rows of boxed stuffings to take the place of potatoes on our holiday dinner tables. We love the savory taste, the melange of herbs and bread, the crunch of the browned top. We also feel virtuous making a pan of stuffing. It has long been an economical way to use leftover bread, rice and vegetables, with or without something to stuff the mixture into.

I serve a variety of healthy stuffings at holiday meals because they are so easy to make. All month I accumulate plastic bags of leftover cooked grains and loaf ends from whole grain breads and place them in my freezer to form the base of the stuffings.

Experimenting with different stuffing recipes, I've found the secret to successful combinations: the proper balance of dry ingredients (cooked millet, barley, wild rice, brown rice or bread cubes), moist ingredients (sauteed vegetables, broth, water, fruits, fruit juice) and flavorings (herbs, spices, garlic, onions).

Precook your grains and let them cool. Build a flavor base by cooking garlic, onions, celery or other vegetables in a small amount of stock, olive oil, wine or Sherry, then add the cooked grain. Cook the grain for several minutes to let it more readily absorb the flavors of the onions and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, herbs and spices right before piling the stuffing into a lightly oiled casserole to bake.

Bake the stuffing in a deep casserole, such as a loaf pan, covered with aluminum foil. Remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking time to allow the stuffing to brown and crisp. If you make a few of these stuffings ahead, you can freeze them to reheat for holiday dinners, a great timesaver.

HERBED WILD RICE STUFFING

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for pan

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup minced onion

1/3 cup minced celery

3 cups cooked wild rice

1 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs

1/2 cup raisins or currants

1/2 cup minced parsley

2 tablespoons dried chives

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

You can substitute any kind of rice, but the wild rice in this herbed stuffing makes it chewy and rich-tasting.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil and wine in 10-inch nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until soft but not browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add celery and continue cooking 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in wild rice, bread crumbs, raisins, parsley, chives, sage and thyme.

Pack stuffing into lightly oiled 2-quart loaf pan or casserole. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned, about 5 minutes more.

Makes 10 servings.

Each serving contains about:

110 calories; 41 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.49 gram fiber.

APPLE-PRUNE STUFFING

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1/2 cup dry Sherry or defatted stock

3 cups peeled and chopped apples

1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes

1 1/2 cups French bread crumbs

1/2 cup minced parsley

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Oil

This fruit-filled stuffing is a favorite alongside the holiday turkey or as a side dish with any entree.

Cook onion and shallot in Sherry in 10-inch nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat until soft but not browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in apples, prunes, bread crumbs, parsley and nutmeg.

Pack stuffing into lightly oiled 2-quart loaf pan or casserole. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned, about 5 minutes longer.

Makes 10 servings.

Each serving contains about:

113 calories; 63 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.56 gram fiber.

CRANBERRY-CORN BREAD STUFFING

1 teaspoon olive oil plus extra for pan

1/3 cup white wine or defatted stock

1 cup chopped onion

2 stalks celery, diced

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup cranberries

4 cups crumbled corn bread

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

Leftover corn bread makes the most delicious stuffing; its sweetness contrasts nicely with the tart cranberries in the following recipe.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil and wine in 10-inch nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and garlic and cook until soft but not browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in cranberries, corn bread, honey, thyme, pepper and sage.

Pack stuffing into lightly oiled 2-quart loaf pan or casserole. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned, about 5 minutes longer.

Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

95 calories; 130 mg sodium; 13 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.33 gram fiber.

DRIED FRUIT STUFFING

2 teaspoons oil plus extra for pan

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 stalk celery, chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup defatted stock

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup diced dried pineapple

2 cups whole-wheat bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

Salt, pepper

Dried cranberries and pineapple lend an exotic flavor to this easy stuffing, adapted from "Prevention's Healthy One-Dish Meals in Minutes," (Rodale Press, 1996).

Heat oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, celery and thyme and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add stock, cranberries and pineapple. Bring to boil. Simmer 3 minutes or until liquid thickens slightly. Add bread crumbs, pecans and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.

Pack stuffing into lightly oiled 2-quart loaf pan or casserole. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing is lightly browned, about 5 minutes longer.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

176 calories; 160 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 36 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.93 grams fiber.

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