When the leaves on the Japanese maple start to turn, there's no escaping the turkey. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. But why not spice up the brussels sprouts?
The leaves finally began to change color a few days ago. This morning I woke up, thinking—yikes!—Thanksgiving is less than a week away.
Luckily—or maybe not—howls of anguish erupt if I even hint that I might experiment with the main event. I could probably cook the meal in my sleep: Brined Heritage Turkey with Oyster and Red Chile Dressing? Check. Cranberries Two Ways (spicy and not)? Check. Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes, positively oozing with butter? Yep.
And always, no matter how much I yearn to make a fruit tart, I always end up baking the infamous little New Orleans Pecan Cakes (one for each of us, no make that two, ummm, did I say three?), with Insufferably Rich Toffee Sauce and Coffee-Chicory Ice Cream.
Dinner gets on the table around four in the afternoon, just as the shadows lengthen, so we get to light the candles.
But the side dishes are my playground. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, brussels sprouts, green beans—let's get creative. Bring on the cumin and the cardamom, cinnamon and ginger, orange zest, turmeric and the red hot chiles.
This year, though, it seems like everyone’s talking about spicy side dishes.
Around here, the demise of the Barbecue Joint means that the boys’ addictive brussel sprouts—the ones that are sauteed with garlic and tasso ham, then splashed with vinegar—sadly will not be on our table this year. But that’s almost OK, since “Chefs’ Tips for the Thanksgiving Meal” (New York Times, November 10, 2010, pp. D1 and D9) includes a recipe for Fatty ‘Cue Brussels Sprouts made with double smoked bacon, coriander seed, shallots and garlic. I’ll substitute the last of the ripe red jalapenos from the garden for the Thai bird chilies, and maybe add a few drops of balsamic at the end.
And speaking of Thai, Mark Bittman’s early fall recipe for Sweet Potatoes stir-fried with Thai chilies (The New York Times, September 15, 2010, pp. D1 and D7) could be an easy winner next week. The tubers, shredded in the food processor, get a flavor boost from ginger, scallions and soy.
In “East by Northeast Thanksgiving” (Food & Wine, November 2010, pp. 180-188; 209-212), Joanne Chang, chef at Boston’s Meyers and Chang and the popular Flour bakeries (there are three of them), gives the traditional Yankee feast an Asian spin with sides like Thai Red Curry Squash Soup; Sriracha-and-Wasabi Deviled Eggs; Cranberry, Ginger and Orange Chutney. Chang even tweaks an all-time American standard with her recipe for Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Five-Spice Marshmallows.
Middle Eastern more to your taste? In “A Farm Fresh Thanksgiving,” (also in the November Food & Wine, pp. 198-204; 206), Sam Monaghan, co-owner, with his brother Raphael, of San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, honors the family’s Palestinian heritage with Carrots in Tahini Dressing with lemon, garlic and parsley, and a refreshing Beet-and-Blood Orange Salad with Mint that also features sumac, a wonderful sour spice that flavors so much cooking in that part of the world. Even the Lamb-and-Rice Dressing with Chickpeas gets a spicy kick with cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.
Of course, if your guests are truly adventurous—and you have the stamina—you might actually be able to fiddle with the main event. In "Consider the Turkey" (Saveur, November, 2010, pp. 88-96) Chicago chef Rick Bayless prepares Turkey in Mole Poblano. In this version of a centuries-old Mexican classic, a turkey breast is baked in a rich, spicy mole sauce composed of 24 ingredients, including ancho, guajillo and pasilla chiles; sesame, almond , peanuts and pumpkin seeds; chocolate and raisins; and an arsenal of spices and herbs--aniseed, cloves, cinnamon, marjoram, thyme and bay. With all the roasting and pounding that’s involved, you’ll want to rope your guests into helping out—but isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?
Last, though I don’t usually think of putting cauliflower on the Thanksgiving table, there’s a tempting recipe from Niloufer King in volume 5 of Canal House Cooking, the alluring food “book” that Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton publish three times a year. If you like Indian spices, try Niloufer’s Cauliflower & Chickpeas on page 64: Saute fennel seed in ghee, then add onion, ginger and garlic, and when brown, stir in some turmeric, cayenne and garam masala. Add the cauliflower and cooked chickpeas with a little water and cook until tender. Sprinkle with cilantro and lime.
Whoever said you can't tamper with tradition?