Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast

Someone just asked me what I'd serve at a strictly vegetarian Thanksgiving. I'd follow the usual criteria and cover the table with eye dazzling color, stomach filling heartiness, comforting yet glamorous dishes of seasonal ingredients. Plus it has to be memorable.  So, like this:

*   indicates recipe is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking (Wisdom Publications)
**  indicates recipe has been posted on this blog
*** indicates recipe is in How to Fix a Leek and Other Food from Your Farmers' Market (Eat These Words Press)

First Round
Turkish Pumpkin Pancakes*
or Libyan Pumpkin Dip** and
Corn Tart*
Wild Rice and Pecan Salad*
Nutmeat Paté*

Second Round
Root Vegetable Pot Pie*
or Winter Vegetable Timbale*
Red Kuri Squash with Kale Mushroom Stuffing***
Pumpkin stuffed with Rice, Saffron, Apricots**
Grit Souffle with Piperade*
Potato Tart***
Apples Stuffed with Sweet Potatoes***
Blueberry Apple Chutney***
Cranberry Walnut Preserve***

Third Round
Raw Kale Cranberry Salad*
Assorted local cheeses

It's all vegetarian so enjoy yourself to the hilt!
I usually offer a fruit crisp, Indian pudding, apple tart and chocolate cake.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

An All American Thanksgiving: New World Foods

Thanksgiving is America's take on a traditional harvest festival. That's why the menu feels inflexible: gotta serve turkey and hold your beef. But the menu can be exciting, flexible and all American if you include these authentic all-stars: foods native to the Americas.

Turkey (wild turkeys are native. I suppose you could say the manufactured, insipid Butterball now is also)

Lobster:  Okay, here's a chance to get away from turkey and still stay all American. Have it your way.
Bison/Buffalo: Well, you know that old cowboy lament: O give me a home where the buffalo roam....
so you would not be apostate serving this in lieu of turkey. Or you could just get ground meat, and in honor of all the Chinese who built the crosscountry railway tracks, put it in dumplings

Smoked Trout: makes a great appetizer.
Salt Cod: The United States of America is the end product of the race to conquer the cod market and monopolize salt cod. So it's in our DNA. It's also in many very yummy European recipes, my current favorite being France's brandade: a casserole of salt cod and, ta da, potatoes--a gift from South America. This is such a perfect stomach and heart warming first course, here's the recipe I use:


Serves 8-10 as a first course

1 lb skinless, boneless salt cod
1c milk
1 thyme sprig or 1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
5-6 peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground allspice or 2 allspice berries
2 whole cloves
1 lb boiling potatoes, cut in 1” cubes
6 lg garlic cloves, peeled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3-1/2 c olive oil
Pinch cayenne or red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp if you like this tangy)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 c crème fraiche plus another 3 tbsp
3 tbsp butter
1/2 c bread crumbs (coarse is preferred but fine works)

Rinse salt cod carefully, rubbing off any noticeable salt. Soak in a large bowl of water at least 8 hours, changing the water every four hours or leaving it overnight.  Drain and rinse again when ready to use.

In a medium/lg saucepan, heat milk with 1 c water. Add salt cod, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, allspice and cloves. As soon as the pot wants to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until the fish falls apart and flakes, about 15-20 minutes. Remove fish from the pot.

While the cod is cooking, put cut potatoes in another pot with a good pinch of salt and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Add the garlic cloves.  As soon as the potatoes are soft enough to mash, remove from heat and drain. Keep both the garlic and cooking liquid; you’ll need them.

Put the garlic in a small saucepan and crush or smash it lightly. Add the olive oil and over medium heat, warm the garlic. Don’t fry, just warm it.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes and flaked salt cod. Use a potato masher to blend them. Drizzle in the warm garlic and oil and keep mashing toward the look of mashed potatoes. Add the cayenne, nutmeg and lemon zest, thoroughly blending. Stir in 1/2 c crème fraiche and mash to blend.
Now using an immersion blender or hand mixer or your masher, add about 1/2 cup potato cooking liquid to thin the brandade into a soft mash. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste. 

Grease a shallow 1 qt baking dish or pie plate with 1 tbsp butter. Fill the dish with the brandade, leveling it with a spatula. At this point, you can refrigerate the mix overnight if you need to.

Heat oven to 400º. Bring the brandade to room temperature if you refrigerated it. Paint the top with those 3 tbsp crème fraiche and sprinkle on the breadcrumbs. Dot the surface with bits of the remaining 2 tbsp butter. Bake until golden on top and bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Serve immediately with toast.

Cranberries: add dried ones to wild rice or kale salad or cornbread stuffing or use fresh in a chutney.
Wild blueberries (the little ones): make a chutney (see How to Fix a Leek... book) or pie

Cornmeal: great cornbread or cornbread stuffing, cornmeal pancakes (arepas recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking) maybe topped with avocado and salsa (both come from all American ingredients). or with creme fraiche from Vermont and smoked salmon from the Atlantic or Pacific. And then of course there's Indian Pudding, probably the most perfect dessert for the day: cornmeal and molasses glorified in this photo into the shape of a cake, about to be iced with whipped cream.
Recipe in Veggiyana, The Dharma of Cooking.

Squash: this means pumpkins too of course because all winter squash comes from the Americas. So indulge in squash soup or roasted squash glazed with maple syrup, another American native. Stuff large squashes with spicy chili since peppers and beans are all American too. Make squash or pumpkin pie, or check out the post before this for more exotic dishes.

Potatoes: These were the brainchildren of the Inca in South America. If you don't want them on the main plate mashed, baked, stuffed or roasted, think about a first course of lobster/potato salad with a red bell and smokey poblano pepper, both\ central American natives.

Beans: except for the fava and chickpea, beans come from the Americas. Pinto, kidney and black beans are especially tasty in cornbread stuffing or a chili stuffing for squash. Black bean soup is a great meal opener. I happen to love buttery cranberry beans, sometimes cooked with lots of garlic, tomato (another American native) and sage or rosemary.  And then, of course, there's succotash: lima beans with corn, that can be very tasty when you toss in a smidgen of chorizo or bacon, and a bit of hot pepper. I've got lots of deliciously easy bean recipes in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking if you need one.

Wild Rice: This grain, which has no relation to other rice and is especially nutritious, is native to specific lakes of Northern Minnesota.  It's fabulous as a salad with cranberries, mandarins, kale and pecans (from the South). It's fabulous mixed with white rice and vegetables as turkey stuffing. It's nutty flavor and texture is simply great plain too.

Chocolate: Now we get to the good stuff! Viva Mexico that gave us cacao. Molé your turkey if you don't want chocolate pudding or cake for dessert.
Vanilla: the original came from Mexico too, from the pod of a particular climbing orchid, so feel free to use it anyway you can.


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Squash racket

It's time to break into those colorful winter squashes whose uses can be endless and endlessly fascinating. I'll cut to the chase and serve up a splendid presentation: a Turkish wedding dish that takes some doing but is not difficult in the slightest. It would be a conversation piece on your Thanksgiving table.

Red Kuri Squash Stuffed with a Saffron, Apricot and Cherry Pilaf

1 lg (2 1/2 lb) red kuri squash--or sugar pumpkin
1 cup (heaping) long grain Basmati or Jasmine rice (rinsed)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
a big pinch of saffron threads
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
Peel of 1/3 orange (no pith please), sliced into very thin strips
1/4 cup pistachio nutmeats
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 cup dried cherries soaked in boiling water 5 minutes and drained
8-10 dried apricots, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 tsp rosewater
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to your taste
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 bunch mint coarsely chopped or 1/2 cup dried mint leaves
1 bunch dill, coarsely chopped
1 lemon cut in wedges for garnish
1 cup thick fresh yogurt for serving

Preheat over to 400º. Soak the saffron threads in 1 tsp hot water.

Wash the squash and microwave it just long enough to soften it so you can put a knife in.
Cut off the stalk end to use as a lid. Scoop out all seeds and strings. Put the lid back on the squash, put the squash on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for 1 hour.

Now, put the rice in a pot with just enough water to cover it. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, partially cover the pot and cook 10-12 minutes until all the water is absorbed. (The rice will not be totally cooked, no worries.)

Meanwhile in a wide lidded skillet or casserole, heat oil and butter until butter melts. Stir in coriander, orange peel, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, drained cherries and apricots. Sauté one minute. Add the rice, saffron (with water) and rose water. Season with salt and pepper.

Turn off the heat. Cover the pot with a clean, dry dish towel and press the pan lid down over it to a tight fit. Let the pilaf steam for 10 minutes. Toss in the parsley, dill and mint.

When squash is ready, lift off the lid and fill it with the pilaf, gently stuffing it in. Put the lid back on and put the stuffed squash back in the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove the lid to serve. Slice the lemon into wedges. There are two ways to present this: one is to simply put the wedges all around the squash on a serving plate, put 1/4 of the yogurt on top of the pilaf and pass the rest in a separate bowl, and let everybody dig in. Or you can slice a 1/2" thick round off the top of the squash, lay this ring on a plate, fill it with the pilaf, top this with yogurt and place a lemon wedge to one side.

Serve as the center of attention with a side of garlicky steamed greens or serve with roasted meat.

Turkish pumpkin pancakes, recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, are always crowd pleasers, eye dazzlers and cook friendly. They are also gluten free! 

And here is something equally wonderful and unique: Libyan Pumpkin Dip

1.2 lbs  fresh pumpkin
2 cloves garlic, pressed
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp caraway seed ground
1/2 tsp crushed chili pepper
4 tbsp olive oil

This recipe should be made with orange pumpkin but I couldn't find any at my farmer's market so I used another variety. Cut the skin off, deseed and cut into small chunks. To cook, place in a pan with a little olive oil, cover and let simmer, turning every once in a while. You can use canned pumpkin and skip this step of course, but here it can only be bought in a few specialty stores and it is extremely overpriced. Once the pumpkin has softened, mash it with a fork until it has a smooth texture. In another pan, sauté the pressed garlic and crushed chili pepper in a little olive oil and then mix into the pumpkin and keep simmering over low heat. In the meantime, crush the caraway seeds with a mortar and pestle. After about 10 minutes, add the vinegar and salt into the pan and let cook for another 10-15 minutes. Just before taking the pan off the heat, add in the caraway powder and mix well. The texture should be dense, soft and creamy, not liquid. Let cool and serve with crunchy bread.