The beauty of most Southern dishes is that they use what you already have in your cupboard. But times have changed—our pantries are not filled with sacks of flour and cans of lard; instead, we buy biscuits in the freezer section. Shelves once lined with jars of green beans from last year’s harvest are now occupied by commercially canned vegetables and box mixes. While there’s a time and a place for homemade specialties, some days you need to depend on the ready-to-make items you have on hand.
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Few dishes taste more like the South than chicken and dumplings. But if your grandmother was anything like ours, she spent a lot of time cutting shortening into flour and mixing in buttermilk to reach the right consistency for the pillowy drops of dough floating in a warm creamy mix of broth and shredded chicken. Today, grandma’s recipe is unarguably the best, but when time is short and your craving for chicken and dumplings is real, there’s a trick you can use to make two-step dumplings from what you already have in your pantry.
Pancake mix is a simple mixture of flour, salt, and some leaveners (baking powder and baking soda). When you add the liquid ingredients to the dry pancake mix and cook it, the baking powder and baking soda react with the liquid and puff up to create a fluffy pancake. By adding less liquid to the dry mix, you make a soft dough rather than a thin batter, and that dough is perfect for dumplings cooked in a bath of steamy broth.
Here’s how you do it: for every 1 cup of dry pancake mix, add ⅓ cup of milk or buttermilk and stir until it forms a soft and shaggy dough. Drop 2 tablespoon pieces of the dough into the boiling stew; cover the pot, and simmer for 20 minutes. If you want to enhance the flavor of your dumplings, add shredded cheese, chopped herbs (like chives or parsley), or even a little horseradish when you stir the milk into the pancake mix. These versatile and easy dumplings make an excellent and simple addition to any stew simmering on your stove.