There are basically three approaches to devising a Thanksgiving menu.
In the first, the foods are typical of New England where the first thanksgiving was celebrated some 250 years before it became a national holiday with a capital “T” in the mid-19th century.
In the second, families follow local and regional traditions. Or, if they are first- and second- generation immigrant families without a familiarity of traditional American Thanksgiving foods, they add avocado salad, curry or lasagna to the menu.
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In the third, which no one I know uses other than the historically re-created village denizens of Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts, cooks attempt the authentic 1621 menu.
The hardest part of the last approach is that no actual menu exists. We are left with just some cursory description from two sources supplemented with comparative studies of what we know American Indians and Englishmen ate in the 17th century.
At the center of the 1621 table was probably roast venison and a variety of water fowl. There were no mashed potatoes, no cranberry sauce and no pumpkin pies, although there were probably dried cranberries and pumpkins in some form. There was probably maize in the form of bread, griddle cakes or porridge.
Pilgrims’ harvest celebration
We know this from the two and only surviving documents from the harvest celebration shared by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony in 1621. The sources are the English leader Edward Winslow’s “A Letter Sent From New England,” “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth” and Gov. William Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation.”
Winslow wrote to a friend that the governor (Bradford) had sent “four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.” The hunters brought back enough food to feed the colony for a week along with “their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.” Bradford adds that “besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys” venison and Indian corn.
As far as all the other food the colonists and Wampoanoag ate, culinary historians only have educated guesses based on a number of secondary sources including archeological remains such as pollen samples. The Wampanoag ate wildfowl, deer, eels, lobster, clams, mussels, smoked fish, and forest foods such as chestnuts, walnuts, and beechnuts, and they grew flint corn, the multicolored Indian corn suitable only for being ground into flour and never eaten off the cob. They also had pumpkin and squashes, sunchokes and water lily. We can surmise that those foods were on the table. The Indians had taught the colonists how to plant native crops, which they did in March of 1620, but the things grown are only known from a later time, namely turnips, carrots, onions, and garlic.
In 1621, the sweet potato and the white potato had not yet arrived in New England, so they were not found on the Pilgrims’ harvest table that autumn. Later Plymouth writings mention eagle and crane begin eaten.
Winslow, in his letter to a friend, describes the foods available in Plymouth in 1621. “Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels … at our doors.”
He went on to describe plentiful strawberries, gooseberries and many varieties of plums. “These things I thought good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us,” Winslow wrote
“Our Indian corn,” wrote Winslow, “even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meal as rice.” In other words, traditional English dishes of porridge, pancakes and bread were adapted for native corn.
In September and October, a variety of dried and fresh vegetables were available. The produce from Pilgrim gardens is likely to have included what were then called herbs: parsnips, collards, carrots, parsley, turnips, spinach, cabbages, sage, thyme, marjoram and onions. Dried beans and dried wild blueberries may have been available as well as local cranberries, pumpkins, grapes and nuts.
One dish that very well might have been on that harvest table of the fall of 1621 is “stewed pompion,” as it was called by the 17th-century English. One of the earliest written recipes from New England is found in a book by the English traveler John Josselyn who first went to New England in 1638 and whose book “Two Voyages to New England” was published in 1674. He called it a “standing dish,” suggesting that it was an everyday dish. The adapted recipe you can make is based on his original description where he says “it will look like bak’d Apples.”
Stewed Pompions (Stewed Pumpkins)
4 cups cooked (boiled, steamed or baked) pumpkin flesh, roughly mashed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 or 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir and heat all the ingredients together. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve hot.
Main photo: Pumpkins for Thanksgiving. Credit: Scott Hirko/iStock
What’s all the fuss over turkey sandwiches on squishy white bread? Been there, done that. This year, go a different route and try the big day’s leftovers on wonderfully warm, healthful corn tortillas.
Get yourself a package or two of corn tortillas for a post-holiday meal. They’re absolutely heavenly with cooked turkey that’s shredded, Mexican taco-style, rather than sliced for sandwiches.
For a side dish, look to the Native American cranberries, an old standby once eaten by sailors to prevent scurvy. They’re not only loaded with vitamin C, but downright exciting when the cold sauce is kicked up with a few tablespoons of sweet agave syrup and minced, spicy green jalapeño or serrano chiles.
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When reheating stuffing or yams, mix in a few finely chopped, canned chipotle chiles for an out-of-this-world, smoky flavor boost. Crunchy green beans, even green bean casserole, benefit from a small, chopped white onion, chopped fresh chile and handful of fresh cilantro leaves sprinkled on top before serving.
A perfect addition to your relish tray (and don’t we all love an old-fashioned, ice-cold relish tray on Thanksgiving?) is peeled jicama cut into sticks the same size as your carrot and celery sticks. For a little more flavor, dust spicy chile powder on the slightly sweet jicama, which has a crunch like water chestnut.
The easiest of all post-holiday meals — the Thanksgiving taco — is made from your cold leftovers with a squirt each of fresh Mexican lime (aka Key lime) juice and a Mexican hot sauce such as Tapatío or Búfalo brand for the right flavor profile. Fold up the warm tortilla and take a bite. I told you so.
Leftover Turkey Tacos
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: Makes 1 to unlimited
1 (or more) package(s) of corn tortillas
Leftover Thanksgiving foods
Mayonnaise if desired
1. Heat the tortillas by laying as many as can fit in one layer on a medium-hot, ungreased griddle. After 30 seconds, flip over and heat through another 30 seconds. Pile into a napkin-lined basket to keep warm and moist. Continue with the others.
2. Pass the basket of warm tortillas, bowls of Thanksgiving leftovers, mayo if you must, Mexican hot sauce and lime wedges for make-your-own tacos.
Main photo: Corn tortillas are a perfect choice for wrapping Thanksgiving leftovers. Credit: iStockPhoto
At this time of year, holiday recipes pile up almost as quickly as calories. For some cooks, not having recipes chosen at this point might be a problem. For others, it just adds fuel to the imagination for those who work better on deadline.
From table decorations to leftovers, Thanksgiving tips go well beyond the turkey and stuffing. The right cocktail can get things going just perfectly, and the right leftovers can make the holiday sweet for days afterward.
Here is a sampling of more Zester Daily Thanksgiving stories to get you through the last days marching toward the holiday. The notes are directly from the contributors. Click on the links for each story.
Ethically Raised Heirloom Turkeys for Thanksgiving by Wendy Petty: On a long trip across America’s heartland, I spotted a pair of button eyes peering out at me from a passing semi truck full of livestock. The pig that I had locked eyes with was probably being taken to slaughter.
Game Plan for a Perfect Last-Minute Thanksgiving by Louisa Kasdon: Hello, my name is Louisa, and I am a procrastinator. Especially about big, fancy things like making a Thanksgiving feast for 20 of my nearest and dearest.
Farm-to-Table Centerpieces For Eco-Chic Entertaining by Adair Seldon: If you ask me, perfection is overrated. I give it an 8.2. You can obsess and compulse until you’re just the right shade of blue in the face, but to create an artful eyeful that requires little primping, preening or pruning? That’s a 10.
Something to sip
Transform Your Holiday Cocktails With Shochu by Hiroko Shimbo: This year, you can transform your ordinary Thanksgiving dinner into an extraordinary one — not with food, but with drink.
Sherry, a Holiday Sipper Worth Talking About by Ruth Tobias: For the past couple of years now, sherry has begun making a slow but steady comeback among wine drinkers in the know — as well as it should.
The main event
Make Thanksgiving a Melting Pot of Food Cultures by Ramin Ganeshram: For me, growing up as the first-generation child of Trinidadian and Iranian immigrants, Thanksgiving was a chance to be “truly American.” But it was also a battle between me and parents, whom I wanted to serve only “white people’s food.”
De-Stress Thanksgiving by Simplifying Side Dishes by Rinku Bhattacharya: It has taken me some analysis of classic side dishes — especially the vegetarian ones — to realize why we tend to get so overwhelmed by Thanksgiving meal planning. We have overcomplicated our vegetable dishes.
A Family Firmly Rooted in Thanksgiving by Carole Murko: Heritage has many meanings, from cultural and ancestral connection, to traditional breeds of animals raised for food in the past. Carole Soule is that rare individual whose life intersects both.
10 Ways to Bring Parsnips to the Table by Christine B. Rudalevige: Parsnips used to get a lot more love in the United States. When this pale taproot — native to Eurasia — made its way to the New World in the early 1600s, the inherently sweet but peppery parsnip was a commonplace carbohydrate.
Savory Ginger Pumpkin Mash, a Bit of Pilgrim Pride by Clifford A. Wright: There are basically three approaches to devising a Thanksgiving menu. In the first, the foods are typical of New England where the first thanksgiving was celebrated some 250 years before it became a national holiday with a capital “T” in the mid-19th century.
Skip the Pie: Go for Turkish Pumpkin Dessert by R. Eckhardt and D. Hagerman: Pumpkins are a fixture at autumn farmers markets in Turkey, where they grow so large that they’re often cut with saws and sold in halves or by the slice.
Puritan Fantasy: Crazy Good Apple Pumpkin Pie by Michael Krondl: Was there pumpkin pie at that first legendary Thanksgiving? My bet is there was.
9 Fresh Ideas for Memorable Thanksgiving Leftovers by Brooke Jackson: It’s the morning after Thanksgiving. Bleary-eyed you stumble to the refrigerator to get some milk for your first cup of coffee. You open the fridge door and there is a monster inside …
Leftover Turkey Tacos Are A Reason To Give Thanks by Nancy Zaslavsky: What’s all the fuss over turkey sandwiches on squishy white bread? Been there, done that. This year, go a different route and try the big day’s leftovers on wonderfully warm, healthful corn tortillas.
Main photo: Zester Daily 2014 Thanksgiving favorites include stories on farm-to-table centerpieces, crazy-good apple pumpkin pie and heirloom turkeys. Composite image: Karen Chaderjian
Parsnips used to get a lot more love in the United States.
When this pale taproot — native to Eurasia — made its way to the New World in the early 1600s, the inherently sweet but peppery parsnip was a commonplace carbohydrate. It sustained English settlers both as a daily, wintertime starch and as a special occasion sweetener. In “Roots,” cookbook author Diane Morgan, explains that Native Americans picked up this new crop and ran with it as a staple root vegetable for quite a while. But then parsnips got pushed aside by the prolific potato and the burgeoning sugar trade. They were further slandered by wandering seeds that made parsnips more of an invasive weed (the leaves of which oozed a sap that causes a nasty rash) than a useful crop, and botanists discovered the scary similarities between wild parsnips and their deadly cousin, poison hemlock.
Centuries later, things are looking up for the lowly parsnip. Cultivated parsnips — the three main varietals, the All American, Hollow Crown Improved and Harris Model, are all pretty similar in taste — are now being celebrated by chefs in the more northern climes of the United States. Parsnips are particularly highlighted this time of year because chefs know these roots get sweet like candy after they sit in the ground after a few hard frosts. The cold forces the parsnips to metabolize some of their starch reserves into sugar.
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Once Greg Sessler has had to scrape the frost off his car’s windshield several mornings in a row, the chef of Cava Tapas and Wine Bar in Portsmouth, N.H., knows it’s time to call one of his farmers, Chuck Cox of Tuckaway Farm in Lee, for sweet parsnips.
Bred for flavor
“The difference between a parsnip picked before a cold snap and one picked after is pretty amazing,” said Sessler, who makes a parsnip and vanilla soup with which he pairs crispy, fried lobster.
Chef Brendan Vessey of The Joinery, a farm-to-table place that offers a Southern flare to its fare but is located in Newmarket, N.H., makes a distinction between the straight and crooked parsnips that come into his kitchen. He knows the gnarly ones have been bred for flavor and not uniformity.
“You’ve got to work back from what comes in the door,” Vessey said. With the more uniformly sized parsnips, Vessey makes a confit in which he very slowly cooks the roots in oil or tallow, garlic and fresh herbs. The more gnarly ones get scrubbed, gently scrapped clean of the peel with a knife and roasted in all their twisted glory.
Parsnips can also easily be celebrated at home. Although the USDA does not track parsnip production or consumption on the national level as it does with its orange cousin, the carrot, anecdotal evidence shows that home cooks have increasingly better access to parsnips. They are popping up in farmers market stalls at a steadier clip and becoming more prolific in community-supported agriculture winter shares.
If you happen to find yourself in possession of more parsnips than you know what to do with, here are 10 ways to get them out of the market bag or CSA box and onto the table for dinner.
- Surprise guests expecting potato chips with spicy parsnip crisps.
- Grate parsnips for latkes, fritters or pakoras.
- Use parsnips in any puréed soup that could benefit from their sweet, earthy flavor that has hints of both parsley and nutmeg. Straight roasted parsnip and leek soup is a classic, but you can easily mix that up with additions of curry or ginger.
- Add parsnips to a pot of potatoes destined to be mashed.
- Purée parsnips as you would celery root or cauliflower to have a surprisingly sweet, snowy white pillow for braised winter meats.
- Add parsnips to long-simmering beef or vegetarian stews.
- Replace half of the carrots in your favorite maple glazed carrot recipe with similarly sized parsnips for a fun, visual side dish.
- Sauté parsnips in tangy goat’s milk butter, as author Morgan suggests, which plays off the sweetness of the root for an easy but out-of-the-ordinary application.
- Swap the carrots in your favorite muffin or cake for parsnips.
- Roast parsnips in a hot oven to bring out the sweetness even further and spice them up with trendy ingredients such as harissa and preserved lemons (recipe below).
Roasted Parsnips With Harissa, Preserved Lemons and Tangy Yogurt Drizzle
I became acquainted with parsnips while living in England and eating many a Sunday pub lunch after wet, rainy walks in the countryside. I’ve adapted this recipe, which I originally found in a grocery store advertisement, to fall more in line with the ingredients I can find easily now in my home state of Maine.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes
Total time: 40 to 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 pounds small parsnips, scrubbed well and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons harissa
1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces plain yogurt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Skin of 1 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add parsnips, bring back to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain parsnips, lay them out flat on a clean towel and pat dry. Toss parsnips in a bowl with harissa, honey and 1/2 teaspoon salt until they are well coated.
3. Slather olive oil all over a baking sheet and place it into the oven for 5 minutes. When the oil is hot, add parsnips to the sheet and spread them out in a single layer. Roast until the parsnips are crispy and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.
4. As the parsnips roast, mix yogurt and garlic. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes and then season with salt to taste.
5. When parsnips are roasted, scatter chopped preserved lemon and parsley or celery leaves over the top. Serve warm or room temperature with a drizzle of yogurt sauce.
Main photo: Roasted parsnips with harissa, preserved lemons and tangy yogurt drizzle. Credit: Christine Burns Rudalevige
Heritage has many meanings, encompassing not only our cultural and ancestral connections, but also the breeds of livestock our forefathers raised. Carole Soule is that rare individual whose life intersects both. Carole is a 13th-generation Mayflower descendent whose family heritage is deeply tied to its origins and she is a farmer who raises heritage breed cattle as well.
Carole’s lineage began with George Soule, an indentured servant who survived the journey to Plymouth and became one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact. Carole notes the Soule genetics must be strong because there are about 30,000 Soules who trace their roots back to George. That is one prolific progeny.
Carole’s grandparents’ dining room table was the center of all the family holidays, especially Thanksgiving. The table took up the entire room, and one needed to skirt around the edge to get to the other side. To have a personal connection to the very first Thanksgiving was not lost on Carole or the Soule family. It was worn like a badge of honor. They are proud to share that they are connected to the origins of our country.
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As a child, Carole recalls piling into her family’s tiny Renault , all three siblings squished in the back seat for the three-hour drive from Bedford, Mass., to Hillsdale, N.Y., where her grandparents, Ida and Charles Soule, lived. At Thanksgiving, the table was always piled high with food, but the dishes Carole remembers most are her grandmother’s homemade cranberry sauce and creamed onions. The cranberry sauce is simply equal amounts of cranberries and sugar with a little cornstarch. It is cooked until the cranberries are soft, then the dish is cooled.
The creamed onions, though, are Carole’s favorite. They are rich and thick, and all kinds of yummy.
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Cook time: About 1 hour, 10 minutes
Total time: About 1 hour, 30 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
3 pounds fresh pearl onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons apple cider
1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Peel onions and trim both ends.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to the onions.
4. Layer onions in pan large enough to fit in one layer.
5. Place in oven; roast for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and brown in spots.
6. Remove the pan from the oven, add broth.
7. Roast for 10 minutes more.
For the cream sauce:
1. Melt butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in large saucepan.
2. Add flour and whisk until the mixture bubbles and is free of lumps.
3. Add milk, bay leaf, thyme, pepper and salt.
4. Boil, whisking often. Thicken to consistency of thick gravy. Remove from heat. Discard the bay leaf.
5. Add the roasted onions and any broth from the pan to the cream sauce. Stir in apple cider.
6. Serve warm
Old-fashioned farm, cattle
It was those same car trips across the state of Massachusetts that began Carole’s love affair with cows. Across from her grandparents’ house was a pasture full of beautiful doe-eyed cows. Carole would visit with the “girls” whenever she could.
Fast-forward a few decades and Carole and her husband bought an 1850s farm called the Miles Smith Farm in New Hampshire. Her dream and vision was to go back to the old-fashioned way of raising animals She knew it would begin with an easy-to-raise heritage breed — the Scottish Highland. There would be no antibiotics, no corn. Just grass.
The Scottish Highland breed is hearty. The breed’s shaggy coat helps protect them from the elements, which means they don’t need a layer of fat to keep warm and, instead, produce lean beef that is low in cholesterol.
Carole’s herd is grass-fed, even in winter. She leaves many of her grass fields uncut for winter grazing. The cows paw through the snow to find their food. The breed is adaptable to a wide range of conditions and are equipped to forage and to live without shelter. Feeding on grass rather than hay also saves money, from the cost of fossil fuels to plant and harvest the hay to the cost of the seed. It is a perfect “circle of life,” too — while the cows are grazing, they are also fertilizing the field. Most hayfields are generally commercially fertilized, which costs more money.
Carole has found a win-win solution in this method. Plus, this heritage breed is well-suited to her state. The mountainous parts of New England are perfect places for these cattle because they can easily maneuver around the rocky outcroppings and graze on the hillsides, which are difficult to mow and cultivate.
Each year, the Miles Smith Farm slaughters 120 cows. They sell the meat through several channels: meat community supported agriculture (CSA) programs; wholesale customers including schools, regional hospitals and restaurants; and direct to consumers through their on-site, solar-powered store.
Carole has just received a USDA grant to work with a heritage pork farmer to create and sell a beef-pork mix. Carole shares that her new venture’s tagline is: “A burger that squeals with flavor.” She is again tapping into an old-fashioned tradition: Many people used to blend pork into their lean beef to create juiciness and flavor.
The Soule heritage is alive and well in Carole, in both namesake and familial traditions. Just as George Soule was drawn to a life in the New World, Carole has been drawn to a life on the land, an old-fashioned breed and traditional farming methods. Perhaps there is more to the Soule heritage than we will ever know. One thing is for sure, Carole is grateful for her heritage and her heritage cattle.
Main photo: Miles Smith Farm owners Carole Soule and Bruce Dawson, with Missy, a Scottish Highland breed cow. Credit: Miles Smith Farm
This year, you can transform your ordinary Thanksgiving dinner into an extraordinary one — not with food, but with drink. Shake up cocktail hour with shochu, a delicious distilled alcoholic beverage from Japan that’s caught the fancy of American bartenders.
Shochu is often wrongly described by Americans as a kind of vodka. Although it comes in a variety of flavors, it is lower in alcohol and calories than vodka or other distilled alcoholic beverages.
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Shochu production in Japan began around the 16th century in certain regions. The famous production areas include the large southern island of Kyushu and the neighboring small islands of Amami, Okinawa and Iki. The warm winter climate in these areas is not well-suited for producing good quality sake, as this rice wine requires very cold winter months for proper fermentation.
Shochu production involves two steps. The first step is to produce alcohol in a way that is very similar to that of sake. Koji, the magic mold that creates flavorful enzymes and sugars from starch, is inoculated into steamed rice to produce a fermentation starter. The starter is mixed with yeast, spring water and the selected and cooked main ingredient: usually rice, barley, sweet potato, potato, buckwheat or sugar cane. It is left to ferment for about 14 days. This is half the fermentation period for sake, and so this brewed batch is very rough and wild in taste, texture and aroma. The second step, distillation, removes all sugars and roughness from the brew, and transforms it into a clean, clear and elegant alcoholic beverage.
Top-quality shochu is distilled only once. This is called Honkaku shochu. Single distillation leaves each shochu with a delightful hint of the distinctive taste and fragrance of its base ingredient. After distillation, the alcohol content approaches 80 proof (40% alcohol). Then, it is diluted to about 50 proof (25% alcohol). Honkaku shochu can be served straight-up or on the rocks in order to enjoy the full flavor of each variety.
Another less expensive type of shochu is usually made from lesser quality ingredients and goes through multiple distillations. The resulting shochu is deprived of the unique and sometimes funky taste and fragrance of the real thing. After multiple distillations, the alcohol content approaches 160 to 180 proof (80% to 90% alcohol). This is then watered down to around 72 proof (36% alcohol). In Japan, it is this less expensive shochu that is used to make cocktails at bars and restaurants.
But craft-conscious bartenders in the United States are taking a different approach. Jesse Falowitz, founder of Nehan Spirits LLC in New York, manages the production of his own award-winning brand of barley-based shochu, Mizunomai, in Japan and imports and markets it in the U.S. For this breed of bartenders, Falowitz says, “it is important to preserve the unique flavor of each spirit. whether it be shochu, whisky, brandy or gin, in the cocktails that they craft.”
For your Thanksgiving gatherings, reach for Honkaku shochu to enjoy the wonderful flavors of high quality shochu alone or in delightful cocktails. Here are the flavor profiles for some types of high quality shochu.
Imo-shochu, made from sweet potato, comes from Kagoshima Prefecture on Kyushu Island, a major sweet potato producing area. When you sip Imo-shochu, you can’t miss the hint of slight funky, sweet potato flavor and fragrance. Once you are hooked, you will love it.
Kokuto-shochu, made from sugar cane, comes from the small Amami Islands south of Kyushu Prefecture toward Okinawa. Kokuto-shochu will remind you of good-quality rum, but on average it is 12 percentage points lower in alcohol. Kokuto-shochu has a round mouth-feel and a subtle sweetness. It also is unique in being slightly alkaline, while all other distilled alcohol has a neutral pH. The sugar cane grown in the Amami Islands’ coral-rich fresh water is responsible for this unusual characteristic.
Kome-shochu, made from rice, comes from Kumamoto Prefecture. Kome-shochu presents a flowery and rich flavor similar to what you find in some sake.
Omugi-shochu, made from barley, may surprise you with a hint of banana, cantaloupe and caramel flavor.
Finally, if you are not a cocktail person, this is how we enjoy Honkaku shochu in Japan.
1. Mix 6 parts shochu with 4 parts cold water. This is called mizu-wari.
2. Mix 6 parts shochu with 4 parts warm water at about 98º degrees F. This is called oyu-wari. Warming shochu in this way allows the fragrant aroma to burst forth.
3. Or, try it simply on the rocks or straight up.
However, I encourage you to get creative with shochu cocktails, such as the following recipes provided by Jesse Falowitz.
Ringo, I Love You
This will be a smash hit for your Thanksgiving party, and for any gathering in deep autumn. This cocktail is characterized by a crisp and refreshing character with a delicate sweetness and hint of spice. Ringo in this case is “apple” in Japanese, not a member of the Beatles.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
1/2 red apple, plus a few thin slices for garnish
2 1/2 ounces Mizunomai shochu or other Honkaku shochu
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce maple syrup
1 dash of cinnamon powder
1. Core and cut the apple with skin into coarse pieces.
2. Add the apple half, shochu, lemon juice and maple syrup into a cocktail shaker or tall glass. Press the apple with a muddler, like the one used for making a mojito, to extract the most juice.
3. When the juice has been pressed out from the apple, close the shaker with the shaker top and shake vigorously.
4. Remove the shaker top and strain the cocktail through a cocktail strainer into a rocks glass in which you have placed a large piece of ice or two.
5. Garnish the cocktail with thin slices of apple. Lightly dust the apple with cinnamon powder and serve.
Neguloni, a Shochu Negroni
This is a Japanese twist on the Italian classic. This satisfying cocktail has smooth texture, a tinge of bitterness, sexy deep-dark red color, and pleasant buttery texture. You can make this cocktail without the grapefruit bitters, but it enhances the flavor of the cocktail, and the inclusion is highly recommended.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
1 1/2 ounces Mizunomai shochu or other Honkaku shochu
3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Campari
3 drops grapefruit bitters
1 peel of grapefruit skin
1. Pour the shochu, sweet vermouth, Campari and grapefruit bitters into a rocks glass in which you have placed a one large ice cube.
2. Stir the glass with a cocktail spoon for 10 seconds to chill and slightly dilute the alcohol.
3. Remove a long grapefruit zest from the grapefruit with a peeler and lightly squeeze the oils over the cocktail.
4. Garnish the drink with the grapefruit zest twist and enjoy.
Main photo: The Ringo, left, and Neguloni cocktails. Credit: Jesse Falowitz
It has taken me some analysis of classic side dishes — especially the vegetarian ones — to realize why we tend to get so overwhelmed by Thanksgiving meal planning. We have over-complicated our vegetable dishes.
A green bean casserole or even a sweet potato gratin with marshmallows can be fussier than we realize. The heavy ingredients end up competing with the real taste and appearance of the vegetable.
The summer months, with their ever-flowing bounty of produce from my garden, have taught me to keep it simple, flavorful and fresh. This is also my mantra when I plan my Thanksgiving table.
I have wasted no time in playing around with the harvest table to give it my own personal stamp. This is an interactive process with my children, who like that our Thanksgiving table meshes the traditional with elements of Indian cooking, giving the holiday an Indian-American touch.
Spice up simple side dishes with not-so-simple flavors
My Thanksgiving table gets a nice touch of Indian flavor from all the fragrant spices and herbs at my disposal. I have also worked at simplifying dishes to create an assortment of sides that get done without much fuss — but with that nice boost of flavor.
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Whole fragrant spices, such as fennel or cinnamon, tart citrus flavors, and herbs such as sage and cilantro are easy and healthy. They add loads of flavor and pizzazz to that side dish without much effort.
The purpose of the side on the Thanksgiving table is to showcase the bounty of the year — or at least, of the harvest season — and add some flair and color. I try to do that with dishes that don’t take loads of extra time. That can mean a side of serrano-spiked macaroni and cheese, kale livened up with caramelized onions and cumin, roasted beets with a fresh sprinkle of lime and black salt, and variations of sweet potatoes and winter squashes.
Winter squashes and sweet potatoes are not uncommon to Indian (especially Bengali) harvest celebrations, so I feel right at home with them. They also have been created with the perfect color coding for Thanksgiving, when orange, red and golden hues dominate. Those colors balance out the greens on the table, and they are good for you.
The cooking technique that I often favor for Thanksgiving sides is to roast the vegetables, which works very well for the squashes and roots that abound in markets this time of year. You can pop in the vegetables right alongside the turkey. An added plus: Those vegetables can be prepped and assembled ahead of time and then cooked, just in time for dinner.
Simple sides make for a happy cook
Cooking can be enjoyed best when the cook does not get too worn out or overwhelmed in the process.
I am sharing two of my favorite harvest recipes with you here. Both feature minimal prep time and mostly unattended cooking time. Both can be made ahead of time — and reheated to serve on Thanksgiving Day.
The butternut squash recipe uses sage leaves that are still growing or available in abundance in East Coast gardens — including mine — along with a nice bouquet of flavors from panch phoron or the Bengali Five Spice Blend.
The second dish features acorn squash stuffed with finely crumbled tofu, spinach, collard greens, pecans and some coconut milk. It also can be the perfect main dish for someone who is adhering to a vegan or gluten-free diet. I love to make this sometimes with mini-squashes so that everyone can have a personal squash. A dish that does double duty as a centerpiece and meal all at once!
Whole Spice Roasted Butternut Squash With Sage
(Recipe from my cookbook “Spices & Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors.”)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes (mostly unattended)
Yield: Serves 6
1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon Bengali Five Spice Blend (panch phoron)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ginger paste
Salt to taste (optional, I really do not think that this dish needs it)
1 tablespoon salted butter
15 fresh sage leaves
1. Heat the oven to 375 F.
2. Peel the squash, remove the seeds and cut the squash into 2-inch chunks.
3. Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the Five Spice Blend and when it crackles, mix in the black pepper and ginger paste and mix well. Add the squash and stir well to coat.
4. Place the seasoned squash on a greased baking sheet.
5. Roast the squash in the oven for about 35 minutes. It should be soft and beginning to get flecks of golden brown at spots. Taste to check if it needs any salt.
6. Heat the butter in a small skillet on low heat for about 2 to 3 minutes until it melts and gradually acquires a shade of pale gold. Add the sage leaves and cook until they turn dark and almost crisp.
7. Pour over the squash and mix lightly.
8. Serve on a flat plate to showcase the spices and sage.
Rainbow Stuffed Acorn Squash
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes (mostly unattended)
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
4 small acorn squash or other winter squash (use evenly shaped, colorful squash)
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium-sized onion, diced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
3 cups of chopped spinach
1 cup (about 12 ounces) crumbled tofu
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin coriander powder
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Salt to taste
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 juicy lime)
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1. Heat the oven to 350 F.
2. Place the squashes in a single layer and bake for 15 minutes. Cool.
3. While the squash is cooking, heat the oil and add in the onion and cook until soft. Add in the ginger and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add in the spinach; cook until just wilted. Add the tofu and mix well.
4. Stir in the garam masala and the cumin-coriander powder with the pecans, salt and coconut milk and mix well. Bring to a simmer.
5. Carefully cut the tops from the squashes using a crisscross motion to follow the grooves of the squash and remove the top.
6. Remove the seeds and scoop out the flesh, leaving the shell intact.
7. Add the flesh to the spinach tofu mixture and mix and mash. Add in the lime juice and cilantro and some of the pomegranate seeds. Turn off the heat.
8. Stuff the prepared filling into the squash shells.
9. This can be served right away or set aside and then heated for 10 minutes in a hot oven before serving.
Main photo: Simplify side dishes on your Thanksgiving table with easy-to-prepare and healthy vegetable dishes like this stuffed acorn squash. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya
As you’re simmering your cranberries with sweetness this holiday season, you can thank Mother Nature for their astringent qualities.
The compounds that produce the cranberry’s bite — their proanthocyanins (PACs) — not only ward off enemies such as small animals and insects but provide possible health benefits for us human predators.
PACs in cranberries have extremely strong chemical bonds, says Amy Howell, Ph.D., a research scientist at Rutgers University. Instead of being broken down and absorbed into the blood, they appear to travel intact and take their benefits with them, to various parts of your body.
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While cranberry juice’s ability to efficiently fight infections has been called into question, Jeffrey Blumberg has done research to identify why there may be conflicting results, and Howell is among those who suggest potential health benefits in areas such as these:
- Stomach and bladder: You may already be familiar with how cranberries are reported to benefit these organs. PACs bind to harmful bacteria that cause ulcers and urinary tract infections and thus keep those bugs from adhering to the stomach lining and bladder walls. If the bacteria can’t stick, then they can’t multiply and cause damage, Howell says. “Thus, they harmlessly leave the body.”
- Mouth: The same action happens here. PACs can help bind bacteria that contribute to decay and gum disease.
- Intestines: But it’s new research on how cranberry’s PACs behave in the gut of model animals that’s getting berry scientists excited. PACs can improve the bacteria in the colon, Howell says, and compounds produced by those bacteria have far-reaching effects on your health.
“A top story on cranberry right now, just published in a very prestigious journal [Gut], is beautiful evidence for how compounds in cranberries — PACs in particular — act in the gut,” says Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University.
Fermentable fiber and your health
When it comes to fiber, “fermentable” is the latest buzzword. Once foods have been digested in the small intestine, the parts that aren’t digestible — their fiber — then travel to the large intestine. There, healthy bacteria feed on certain plant fibers and ferment them into important fatty acids. In turn, those fatty acids get absorbed into the blood and help control blood sugar, appetite and inflammation. They also help enrich your gut lining, which acts as a barrier to keep harmful particles from leaking out or in.
And that’s where cranberries come in. “The fiber in cranberry skins serves as a prebiotic to help establish colonies of probiotic bacteria,” Howell says. In addition, she is researching the possibility that cranberry’s PACs may help keep harmful bacteria such as E coli from invading the gut.
“This is very, very, very exciting stuff,” Lila says. “The cranberry PACs were able to create a healthy population of gut bacteria in those animals and protect against obesity, insulin resistance and inflammation caused by a poor diet,” she says.
In addition to PACs, cranberries have about 150 healthy compounds, as identified in research led by Jonathan Bock and Howell on esophageal and pharyngeal cancer — vitamins C and E; anthocyanins, which act as antioxidants and give them their vivid color; quercetin and myricetin, which bind minerals (iron and copper) that promote oxidation. Howell suggests that many of the compounds in cranberries may protect DNA from damage caused by oxidation and help guard against inflammation in body tissues beyond the colon.
- Cardiovascular system: Research suggests that regularly consuming cranberry products “can reduce key risk factors for heart disease,” says Howell, by reducing inflammation and oxidation of harmful LDL cholesterol and by increasing good HDL cholesterol and the flexibility of arteries.
- Brain: Scientists think that some of these anti-inflammatory compounds may also protect the brain against damage caused by stroke or aging, Howell says.
- Cancer: Preliminary studies, all done in lab animals and cell cultures, suggest that cranberry’s compounds have the potential to inhibit tumor growth of some types of cancer, but much research remains to be done, suggests Howell.
If you’re still stirring those cranberries, you may be wondering whether all that cooking will destroy their healthy benefits. Howell suggests that “cranberry PACs are not seriously damaged by cooking or processing.” But other health-promoting compounds may be damaged by heat, and the effects of cooking on foods “is an area that needs considerably more research,” says Ron Prior, a research chemist at the University of Arkansas. In general, harsh cooking methods will result in degradation.
With all the scientists out there investigating berries, the dream is that there will be a verdict on cranberries by next season’s holidays. For this year, however, we’re sticking to a quick cooking method — in hopes of pleasing some hungry guts. Should we tell them about the microbes?
Quick Cranberry Sauce, with healthy bugs
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Yield: 8 servings, 1/2 cup each
4 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 oranges, juice and zest
1 teaspoon grated ginger
4 to 6 tablespoons maple syrup
1. Put cranberries and water in a medium saucepan, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Take off heat. Add cinnamon, orange juice and zest, ginger and maple syrup. Sprinkle pecans on top.
3. Cranberries have no sugar, so you do have to sweeten them. Start with 4 tablespoons, let the dish sit for a while, then decide whether you want more.
Main photo: Cranberry sauce. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller