All holiday dressings are special, but if you're looking for one that's a cut above, this Cajun Eggplant Dressing may be just what you're looking for. It starts with the Trinity, browned meats, Cajun and Creole seasonings, lots of eggplant and rice as the binder. Check out this simple, no-angst recipe for Cajun Eggplant Dressing. One taste is all it will take to make this a year-round family favorite.
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What's Special about this Dressing?
Holiday and festive meals always go the extra mile. A majestic turkey or beef roast may be the main event, but it’s the special side dishes that say it's a celebration. In South Louisiana, the dressing, probably made from Grandma's or Great Grandma's recipe passed down through the generations, that's the royalty of the holiday table.
Do you think it’s stuffing? Check out the Hints and Tips section below for more on the dressing vs stuffing discussion.
The origins of many Cajun recipes begin with ingredients that are available and relatively inexpensive. This dressing features eggplant (which is very popular in South Louisiana) flavored with ground beef and pork, likely from the least expensive parts of the animals. While it’s common to feature oysters or other seafood in areas near the coast, there really are no rules. This recipe skips the seafood, in favor of ingredients popular and available in areas of South Louisiana away from the Coast.
Most dressing recipes, like this one, start with a foundation of the Trinity (yellow onions, bell peppers, and celery). Many traditional dressing recipes use day-old french bread as a binder. French bread absorbs the juices and disperses the flavor throughout the dish. Besides, we can’t waste that day-old bread. However, given that rice is a staple in South Louisiana, it’s the binder used in this and many popular recipes for dressing and other stuffed vegetables and meats.
Given the small footprint of South Louisiana relative to the world, there are certainly many regional distinctions within, that form the culinary mosaic of South Louisiana cuisine. This is when the creativity of Cajun and Creole cooks really shows and I’m okay with that!
Here’s What You Need
Here is some of the equipment I used to prepare this recipe:
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Here’s What You Do
First...you have a beer. Prepare the ingredients and prepare the cook. This is mise en place which starts by getting in the right frame of mind, then thoroughly reading the recipe from top to bottom. Learn what ingredients and equipment you will need and what you are going to do with each. Preparing this recipe will go much smoother if all the ingredients are prepped and placed in their own bowls and the cook is in the right frame of mind!
Mise en place
Take the time to prepare all the ingredients so that you can focus on the process and not have to worry about preparing ingredients as you go.
- Cook the rice according to your usual method. (1 cup of raw rice will yield 3 cups of cooked rice). If you don't have a usual method, here's how I do mine.
- Peel the eggplant and chop into approximately ½ inch cubes. See the Hints and Tips section below for more on preparing the eggplant.
- If using bacon, chop the slices into approximately 1” pieces. If you are using saved bacon grease, measure approximately 3 tablespoons.
- Place the ground beef and pork into one prep bowl.
- A rough chop for the vegetables works well for this recipe. The roughly chopped yellow onions, bell peppers and celery can all go in one prep bowl.
- The prepared garlic should have its own prep bowl but the green onions (tops and bottoms) and parsley can go together in another prep bowl.
- Measure the remaining ingredients.
- Combine the Herb and Spice ingredients into a prep bowl.
Brown the meats and Trinity
What happens in this step? This is when we build the first and second layers of flavor. The first layer is created by browning the meat in bacon fat. Frying the Trinity, garlic, and seasonings on top of the browned meats builds on top of that first layer of flavor.
Add the bacon (or bacon grease) to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and fry until the bacon fat has been rendered. (About 5 minutes). You can leave the crispy bacon in the pan or remove it if you prefer.
Add the meats to the bacon fat and brown them just until the pink is gone. (About 5 minutes). You can remove any excess grease after browning the meats if you prefer. I usually leave it in unless there is an excessive amount.
Once the meat is browned, add the Trinity and saute for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Next, the garlic and the Herb and Spice Blend are added. Stir thoroughly and cook until the garlic is aromatic, which should only take about 3 minutes.
Here's a Tip: At this point, you may want to deglaze the pan if there is some fond developing on the bottom. Use a small amount of chicken or beef stock or even some water. Make sure to mix all the fond that is released into the meat and vegetables (super flavorful). Simmer for a few minutes until the liquid evaporates.
Add the eggplant
What happens in this step? This is when the eggplant smoothness cooks into our building flavor foundation.
Next, add the cubed eggplant to the Dutch oven and stir to combine. This will need to simmer for about 30 minutes (see Hints and Tips) while the eggplant softens. Stir occasionally and mash the eggplant with the back of your spoon or a potato masher.
Tip about the eggplant: The eggplant is the main ingredient and we really want that flavor to shine. This recipe was made with about 10 cups of cubed eggplant, but if you have more it's fine to add it. Eggplants don't come in standard sizes so the yield of the eggplants you use will vary from mine. If you use more, just cook it down and adjust for seasonings. It's hard to get too much eggplant!
Once the eggplant has cooked down and been incorporated with the meats and Trinity, add the cooked rice, green onions, and parsley to the meat/eggplant mixture. Start with about 1 cup of cooked rice and add more until it's the consistency you like.
Stir thoroughly to blend all the ingredients into a homogenous mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Keep the Dutch oven over medium heat for another 5 minutes, then cover the Dutch oven and remove it from the heat.
Tip about the rice: Cook the rice the way you always make it. If you don't have a certain way to cook rice, the next paragraph summarizes how I do it. Feel free to add more (or less) cooked rice to this recipe depending on your personal preference. Some folks like a ton of rice in their dressings, while some don't want so much, so do it your way.
How I Cook Rice
To cook the rice, I add about 4 to 6 cups of cold water to a saucepan, bring it to a boil and add a large pinch of kosher salt. Stir in 1 to 2 cups of uncooked rice. Each cup of uncooked rice will yield 3 cups of cooked rice. Return the water to a boil. Stir occasionally and check the rice for doneness after about 10-11 minutes. (Add more water if you need to, this is not a method where the rice absorbs all the water-you are boiling the rice in the water, so add more if you need to). Taste the rice to test the doneness. Drain the rice in a colander. I usually rinse the rice, but it is not necessary. The grains of rice should be separate (as opposed to all stuck together), and tender but not mushy. The only way to screw this up is to undercook it or overcook it, so make sure you test it after 10 minutes and keep it going until it's to your liking.
Bake the casserole
What happens in this step? Now that the layers of flavor have been built, this step melds them into one incredible flavor.
Prepare an oven-ready casserole dish by spreading softened butter all over the inside.
Fold the Eggplant Dressing into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle a light coating of seasoned breadcrumbs on top then add about 6 small tabs of butter.
Place the casserole into a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (uncovered) for 20 to 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the edges are bubbly. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
Hints and Tips (FAQs)
The short answer is yes. Actually, they are basically the same thing as far as ingredients go, but the cooking method and the region in which it is prepared may distinguish the difference. As the name implies, a stuffing is cooked inside (stuffed into) the turkey, fowl, or meat while a dressing is cooked in its own dish. At the same time, if you are from the deep south, your family tradition is generally dressing, while your cousins from elsewhere in the country can't wait for Grandma's stuffing. Like most regional things in cooking, there are more options than just dressing or stuffing, but we'll save for another time.
A couple of other things to think about: When cooking stuffing inside the bird, the flavor profile is influenced by the juices rendered while cooking. In South Louisana, seasonings may be adjusted to make up for this. It's also important to recognize the food safety aspects of cooking stuffing. Make sure to take extra care that the stuffing deep inside is cooked to the recommended 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Here's what the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says about this and other food-safety topics with stuffing and dressing. It may be a challenge to cook the stuffing to a safe temperature while not over or under-cooking the bird. Too much to think about, so I'll have another beer and wait for the dressing to be finished!
Properly store your leftover Cajun Eggplant Dressing in an airtight container and it will last in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. You can also freeze leftovers for about 10 months if held in an airtight container. Defrost the dressing in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 20 minutes or until warmed through to about 165 degrees internal temperature. You can also reheat it in the microwave. That same article from the USDA has some good info on handling the ingredients and storing leftovers, so check it out.
You can boil the cubed eggplant in water for 5 to 10 minutes until it is softened. This should cut down on cooking time when you cook the eggplant. I personally do not do this as the eggplant may lose some flavor if boiled too long. Full disclosure, I have not done scientific studies on this statement, it just makes sense to me.
When cooking down the eggplant, moderate the heat and use the Dutch oven’s cover as needed while the eggplant breaks down. Generally, use the lid when you want to create some steam and smother things, take the lid off when you want to reduce and "fry" things.
Sometimes the seeds in the eggplant can cause a little bitterness, particularly in older eggplant. In this case, the seeds may be hard and dark in color and can be removed if you want. If you are getting a slightly bitter taste, add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to the mixture before you add the rice.
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Yeah You Right!
Cajun Eggplant Dressing
Here's What You Need
- 3 tablespoons bacon grease
- ½ pound ground beef
- ½ pound ground pork
- 2 medium eggplants About 10 cups cubed
- 3 cups yellow onion rough chop
- 1 cup bell pepper roughly chopped
- 1 cup celery roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons garlic roughly chopped
- 1 ½ cup cooked rice
- 1 cup green onions sliced
- ½ cup Parsley roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons Bread crumbs
Herb and Spice Blend
- 1 tablespoon Creole Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon Dy oregano
- 1 teaspoon Dry basil
- ½ teaspoon Dry thyme
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne optional
Here's What You Do
- Cook the rice according to your usual method. ! cup of raw rice will yield 3 cups of cooked rice.
- Peel the eggplant and chop into approximately ½ inch cubes. (See Notes)
- If using bacon, chop into approximately 1” pieces. If using saved bacon grease, measure approximately 3 tablespoons.
- Roughly chop the yellow onions, bell peppers and celery. Place these in one prep bowl. Roughly chop the garlic, the green onions (tops and bottoms) and parsley and place those together in another prep bowl.
- Combine the Herb and Spice ingredients into a prep bowl.
- Place a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon (or bacon grease) and fry until the bacon fat has been rendered. This should take about 5 minutes. You can leave the crispy bacon in the pan or remove it.
- Brown the meats in the bacon fat until the pink just disappears. This takes about 5 minutes. It’s optional to remove any excess grease from the Dutch oven.
- Add the Trinity to the browned meat and saute for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Add the garlic and the Herb and Spice Blend until aromatic, about 3 minutes.
- If needed, deglaze the pan with a small amount of chicken or beef stock (or water). Make sure to mix all the fond that is released into the meat and vegetables. Simmer for a few minutes until the liquid evaporates.
- Next, add the cubed eggplant to the Dutch oven and stir to combine. Simmer this for about 30 minutes (see Notes) until the eggplant is softened and mushy. Smash the eggplant with the back of your spoon or a potato masher.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add the cooked rice, green onions, and parsley to the meat/eggplant mixture. Stir thoroughly to blend all the ingredients into a homogenized mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. After about 5 minutes cover the Dutch oven and remove it from the heat.
- Prepare a casserole dish by spreading softened butter all over the inside. Fold the Eggplant Dressing into the prepared casserole dish
- Sprinkle a light coating of seasoned breadcrumbs on top then add about 6 small tabs of butter.
- Place the casserole into a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (uncovered) for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the edges are bubbly.