Earlier this week I tweeted my idea for a restaurant called “Just Sides” that served only side dishes. Just sides, you ask? Sure, why not? Think about those times when all the sides on the menu looked good, and you were bummed you could only choose two.
Or take Thanksgiving; with all due respect to the beloved turkey, what makes that meal special and unique are the sides: the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, popovers, stuffing, whatever’s part of your family’s tradition. Side dishes are limitless, and often the best part of the meal.
I eat sides on their own all the time. This Bon Appetit recipe for Bread Stuffing with Crawfish, Bacon and Collard Greens caught my eye for four reasons: bread, crawfish, bacon and collard greens. Need I say more.
But, I had no crawfish, and I tend not to buy real bacon, so my version substitutes shrimp and turkey bacon, and also uses a lot less butter. I’ll post the original recipe though, and you can modify it if you choose.
1 lb loaf crusty bread
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 garlic clove, minced
6 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups sliced celery
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 lb peeled cooked crawfish tails
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
1 lb collard greens, coarsely torn
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, divided
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the bread (I used sourdough rolls) into 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Add the oil, thyme and garlic, and toss to coat.
Spread the cubes out on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and bake for 20 minutes.
(The smell that fills the kitchen from this one step is incredible — it’s that combo of the thyme and garlic.)
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Here’s where I deviated — while 6 tbsp of butter would taste GREAT, it’s a bit much; instead I used 1 tbsp of butter and about 3 tbsp of olive oil.
Stir in the onions, celery and bell pepper and saute until soft. Add in the shrimp and cook until just pink (or add the crawfish tails if using). Transfer to a bowl.
Saute the turkey bacon until crisp.
Transfer the bacon to the vegetables. Pour 1 tbsp olive oil in the pot and add in the collard greens, plus 1 cup of broth. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the greens soften.
Add the greens back to the vegetable mixture and mix in the parsley.
Preheat the oven to 375. Transfer the vegetable mixture and the bread into a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish, pour in 3/4 cup broth and toss the whole thing together until it’s well mixed.
The recipe says to cover with buttered foil, buttered side down (I left out the butter) and bake for 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake uncovered for another 25 minutes, until the top begins to brown.
Here’s how it looked when it came out.
In hindsight, my bread cubes were probably too large — for stuffing purposes, they should have been cut smaller. But as dinner accompanied by a salad, the chunkiness of the cubes made the dish satisfying and hearty.
What’s that slogan… “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” Better make it, “Sides, they’re what’s for dinner, too.”