Cornbread stuffing is a must have Thanksgiving side dish. This delicious recipe is equal parts salty, savory, sweet and herby for a flavorful and moist gluten-free and vegan stuffing that’s soft underneath and crispy on top.
This post has been updated from the original posted November 18, 2020.
Stuffing is a quintessential Thanksgiving side dish. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of stuffing….but this gluten-free cornbread stuffing recipe has changed my mind.
To the classic stuffing combination of onion, celery and sage, I added mushrooms, kale and fennel. Cornbread stuffing with tons of veggies satisfies my need for balance, and totally earns its spot on the Thanksgiving buffet.
This is the perfect gluten-free stuffing recipe. It’s both savory and a bit sweet with plenty of vegan umami too. I use my easy vegan cornbread recipe that I make ahead and freeze.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Gather your veggies and get them ready. Make sure everything is prepped before you begin. Everything combined adds a wonderful earthy, rustic savory taste to this stuffing.
- Cornbread: If you have dietary restrictions, make your own. My vegan and gluten-free cornbread recipe tastes great and works well in this recipe.
- Mushrooms. Any kind will work well. I used baby bellas, sliced thin. They will shrink when cooked, but I like the slices as part of the texture in the final product. Mushrooms add a vegan umami that really adds to the overall flavor. If you don’t like mushrooms, omit and add a Tablespoon of miso paste to the broth and whisk well before pouring over the stuffing.
- Fennel: Contributes to the overall flavor and savory sweetness. Save the fronds to sprinkle onto the top of the cooked stuffing. Add additional celery if you skip the fennel.
- Celery: If you have the leafy tops, include them as well. No celery? Add a teaspoon of celery seed when you add the salt and pepper for the flavor and then substitute for another veggie like yellow or red bell peppers. A chopped green apple would also work. Or, you could double up on the fennel or use bok choy sliced thin, including the green leafy part.
- Onion: I think purple onions add another sweet dimension, but you could also use yellow or white onion. Shallots or leeks would be another equal swap.
- Sage: If you don’t have fresh sage, use 2 teaspoons dried sage as a replacement for the 2 Tablespoons fresh. .
- Parsley: Fresh chopped parsley adds great flavor. Use oregano or thyme if you need a sub.
- Kale: Why not? Added nutrition and texture…plus it’s the perfect partner to mushrooms and it looks pretty too.
- Garlic: Recipe calls for 3 cloves. More would be good too.
- S+P: I like the smoky taste of white pepper in this dish, but freshly ground black pepper would also work well.
How to dry out cornbread for stuffing
The best cornbread stuffing is made from scratch with homemade cornbread, If you can, make your cornbread a few days in advance so it has time to dry out. Cut it into cubes and leave on a baking tray overnight.
After sitting out all night, the only thing I noticed in the sheet pan full of cornbread cubes is that some were missing. Par for the course at my house….and I bet at yours too! But, they weren’t dried out enough to use in stuffing.
So, I popped them into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes and they got dry, and a bit crisp, which is exactly what you want for your stuffing. Kinda like a crouton texture on the outside.
PRO TIP: Don’t discard the crumbs. Include all the bits and pieces, as they will lend a varied texture which is key to a good stuffing.
How to cut fennel
Don’t skip the fennel, just because you don’t know what it looks like or how to chop it. It’s really delicious! Cooking fennel reduces the licorice taste and brings out a sweet caramelization that is just divine.
- First cut off the fronds. Set them aside, they make great decorations for the top of the finished stuffing.
- Then, stand the fennel bulb on its flat end so you can slice through the center. If needed, cut a small sliver off the bottom so bulb will sit flat.
- Place one half with the flat side down and then cut into thin strips.
- Then, cut across the other way so you have small pieces. Repeat with the other half of the fennel.
How to make stuffing
Saute veggies: Heat heavy skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil (water or veggie broth will also work OK) and add in mushrooms, onions, celery and fennel.
Cook and stir until veggies are soft and beginning to caramelize. Stir in salt and pepper and cook, stirring until garlic becomes fragrant.
Then, turn off the heat, stir in the kale, sage and parsley and mix well until the greens are wilted.
Place veggie mixture into a large bowl with the cornbread croutons, plus any crumbs. Mix well.
Pour into a baking dish and spread evenly. Pour vegetable stock over the mixture. The bottom will soak up the stock and be soft, while the top will become crisp when baked.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then, remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes to allow the top to get brown.
Debra’s Pro Tips
- Take the extra step to dry out the cornbread cubes before mixing them into the veggies.
- If you’re making this for Thanksgiving, make the cornbread croutons as far as a month in advance and freeze them, for an easier and more relaxed Thanksgiving week.
- Take foil off and bake the last 15 minutes uncovered for a moist inside and crisp outside.
Stuffing and dressing are used interchangeably, and which you use generally depends on where you grew up and what your family used. But, technically, dressing is cooked in a pan outside of the turkey and stuffing is cooked in the turkey cavity.
My Grandmother never cooked it inside the turkey and we always called it stuffing. So, I still call this stuffing, even though it’s baked in a casserole dish.
Yes! You can make it all the way until putting it in the baking dish and then refrigerate overnight before baking. OR, you can freeze it, then bring to room temperature before baking.
No, not stale, but definitely dry. You can cube and leave it out overnight or bake it if it’s too fresh and moist.
Eggs are not necessary. Some people like to add scrambled eggs to the stock they pour over the stuffing mixture to create a more custard like texture. You can achieve a similar result from pouring on extra stock and letting it soak up into the cornbread for 30 minutes or even overnight before baking the stuffing.
More Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes
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- 8 cups cubed vegan cornbread
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 8 oz. mushrooms* sliced thin
- 1 large purple onion sliced thin
- 1 bulb fennel chopped
- 3 stalks celery diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced or pressed
- 1 cup chopped curly kale
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- Preheat oven to 350
- Turn cornbread into croutons. Essentially, you want to dry it out. It’s easiest if your cornbread is a few days old. You can cut it into cubes and leave on a baking tray in a single layer to dry. If they’re not crumbly yet, or if you have just made the cornbread, you can bake them on a baking tray in a single layer at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Place cubes, plus any crumbs in a large bowl.
- Turn oven up to 400 degrees.
- Heat heavy skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and then add mushrooms, onions, fennel and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, as veggies soften. Add in salt, pepper, and garlic. Continue to cook for another 5-ish minutes, stirring, until veggies are soft and beginning to caramelize. If pan becomes too dry, add in 1 Tablespoon veggie stock at a time, as needed.
- Turn off heat and stir in kale, parsley and sage. Stir well and continue to stir until kale is wilted and thoroughly incorporated into mixture.
- Add veggies to bowl with cornbread croutons and mix well.
- Pour cornbread/veggie mixture into 9 x 13 baking pan. Pour on 2 cups veggie stock and cover with foil. Bake covered for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake additional 15 minutes.