I’m leaving you—and my husband and child—for a little over a week. By the time you read this, I will be cruising the Caribbean with my parents and sister. But at least I’m providing you with a new holiday dish (and the family with leftovers). Since I won’t be getting back until just before Thanksgiving, too close to create a dish, photograph it, and post the recipe before the big day, I decided to get out the good china and serve my Thanksgiving meal a little early.
Thanksgiving dinner, to me, is about comfort food, not necessarily fancy food. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and anything with gravy all spell “comfort” to me. So it occurred to me to revisit a comfort food of my youth, chicken pot pie. In our home, there were two types of pot pie: those frozen ones in the little aluminum pans and my mother’s big casserole dish version, which she topped with biscuits. I cringe a little now to think that my brother and sister and I may have at first preferred the frozen pies to my mom’s, which seemed to our childish minds somehow counterfeit with no crust to break into and biscuits dotting the top but never covering it completely.
As I grew older, and past the novelty of food from the freezer, I came to love my mother’s homecooked casseroles and to see the beauty of the biscuits topping it, each one, dumplinglike, sopping up just a little of the dish’s gravy on the bottom while remaining crusty and biscuity on top. In my own kitchen, I’ve experimented with stretching the dough across the top of the casserole, but I found it actually tastes better, less bready and overwhelming, when it’s cut into biscuits.
My recipe uses seitan instead of chicken, of course, and it’s a bit of a production for something that looks so homey and old-fashioned. It starts with a base of vegetable stew; once that’s cooking, I make up a batch of homemade seitan and add it to the stew to cook and soak up some of the vegetables’ flavors. When the stew is ready, I make the biscuits (pumpkin biscuits in this case because they look so festive), pour the stew into a casserole dish, top it with biscuits, and bake until they’re done. You can make this with a little less work by using cubes of baked tofu, TVP, or store-bought seitan instead of homemade and reducing the amount of water you start with, but to me part of the gift of a holiday meal is making it all myself.
This isn’t a fussy recipe, so you can make it in whatever baking dishes you have on-hand. Serving it in individual casserole dishes, each one a little different from the others, can make for a charming presentation, but just be sure that your dishes are deep enough (see the instructions below) or you’ll find that you’re serving mostly biscuit and little pie.
Celebration Pot Pie with Pumpkin Biscuit Crust
- 2 pounds potatoes cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 large onion cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 2 ribs celery cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 8 ounces mushrooms quartered
- 2 large carrots diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 1/2 cups frozen baby peas
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon mellow white miso
- 6 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
- 2 cups unbleached white flour
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pumpkin canned or cooked and water pressed out
- 1 cup unsweetened soymilk –mixed with 2 tablespoons lemon juice (soy works best but you can use other non-dairy milks)
- additional soymilk or water as needed
Put 12 cups of water on to boil in a large (at least 6-quart) soup pot. Add each vegetable (potatoes, onion, celery, mushrooms, carrots) to the pot as you chop it. Add the bay leaves, thyme, sage, garlic, poultry seasoning, onion powder, celery salt, soy sauce, pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the seitan: Mix the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Combine the broth and nut butter. Stir the broth mixture into the dry ingredients until well blended. Knead gently 10 times. Turn out onto a cutting board and press it as flat as possible. Let it rest for about 5 minutes. Then using a sharp knife, cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the seitan cubes to the simmering vegetables, taking care to separate them before they go into the pot. Stir well and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After 45 minutes, remove the bay leaves and add the peas. Mix the miso in a small bowl with a little of the hot broth, and then add it to the stew, along with the nutritional yeast. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil, stirring often. When mixture thickens, reduce heat and allow to simmer while you make the biscuits. (If stew does not seem thick enough, add a little more cornstarch/water.)
(You can make the recipe up until this point the day before serving and refrigerate the filling. When ready to assemble, reheat the stew as you make the biscuit topping. Stew should be hot when the biscuits are placed on top.)
Preheat oven to 400 and oil two or more deep casserole dishes (any combination of casserole dishes or pie pans to hold about 6 liters). Mix the dry ingredients for the biscuits in a medium bowl. Stir in the pumpkin and the soymilk/lemon juice. Add additional soymilk or water a teaspoon at a time as you stir until all flour is moistened and dough forms a ball. Turn out onto floured board and knead two or three times. Roll out to 1/2- inch thick, and cut into circles using a 1 1/2-inch wide floured glass or biscuit cutter. Gather remaining dough and use it to cut additional biscuits. You should have between 24 and 30. (Alternately, cut the biscuit dough to fit the pans, leaving about an inch all around to allow for dough to expand.)
Pour the stew into the prepared pans, making sure there is at least 1/2-inch free at the top. Place the biscuits on top, spacing them evenly. Bake until biscuits are lightly browned, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand for a few minutes before serving.
Decrease sodium by eliminating the salt.
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Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrate it!