Last night, a full week and a half ahead of Thanksgiving, I found myself with a fierce craving for stuffing. Peeked into the freezer. Not enough stale bread for stuffing.
But there was leftover mushroom gravy. Should I make vegan meatloaf instead? Hmm...
Gripped by a rare indecision—and the fact that I've never met a vegan meatloaf that I liked—I simply started cooking. I figured it would figure itself out.
I diced an onion, a carrot, a celery stalk. I chopped up portobello mushrooms. I rinsed some lentils. I pulled out our precious stash of vacuum-sealed peeled chestnuts. And I took those frozen bread cubes out of the freezer.
And it did figure itself out! Nik loved the result and instantly named it chuffing (which apparently is a dolphin term) but also is CHestnut-stUFFING. If this thing I think I made up is a real thing out there already, please let me know what it's really called (though Nik will probably call it Chuffing forever).
This is a comfort dish that's extremely satisfying without the heaviness of a traditional meatloaf (vegan or otherwise). It slices very nicely, with lots of interesting textures, and full-blast umami. I think it's best with a gravy, though it's moist enough in itself.
Sidebar: vegan meatloafs often call for nuts, which I find very, very strange; the crunch is so...obtrusive. The chestnuts here add a luxurious touch to an otherwise humble dish so I can totally see this being served at holiday feasts. There is zero dairy in this recipe, although you're welcome to use butter instead of EVOO. There isn't even egg as the lentils hold everything together nicely. And you can substitute the bread with gluten-free bread. Could this little accident be the answer to your guests' most challenging dietary restrictions???
🍴 1 small-medium onion, diced
🍴 1 small-ish carrot, diced
🍴 1 celery stalk, diced
🍴 3 medium portobello mushrooms, diced
🍴 ½ cup of red lentils
🍴 ⅓ cup of peeled chestnuts
🍴 1 cup of bread cubes
🍴 splash of tamari/soy
🍴 splash of port
🍴 fresh black pepper
🍴 water (if you want to use broth, make sure it's salt-free or at least low-sodium)
🍴 fresh herbs: sage/rosemary
Dice the onion, carrot, celery, and mushrooms. I would dice the carrot the smallest, and the mushroom the largest.
Sauté the onion, carrot, and celery first in EVOO. When the carrots are soft, add the garlic and the mushrooms. When the mushrooms start browning, add a splash of port and let it cook off. Add the chestnuts and break them up gently in the pan. Add more EVOO if necessary.
Now add the red lentils, and add water/broth. I threw in a sprig of rosemary too, but sage would also be wonderful. Half a cup of lentils will take at least two cups of liquid. Turn down the heat, keep a close eye on it, and add more liquid as necessary. Red lentils cook very quickly, which is why I love them best. Approximately 15-20 minutes covered and they should be done.
Around 15 minutes in, add the bread cubes, and add just a bit more liquid, and season with soy/tamari. The bread should be moist, but not wet. Be light with the soy, especially if you're planning to serve this with gravy. A little black pepper please. Stir, stir, stir.
Now, scoop everything into a lined loaf pan and gently pack it in. Cover and place in a warm oven. Unlike a meatloaf, everything is already cooked; we just want the shape to set so that it's firm enough for slicing, and to make sure that the bread cubes are hot and soak up the flavor from the lentils and veggies. While it's keeping warm in the oven, make your favorite gravy. It's done whenever you're done!
Slice gently (a serrated knife is best) and enjoy. Happy Chuffing to you!