Articles in Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is surely a time for gastronomic excess, but at the same time, unless your children are adult cooks as mine are and the work is joyfully parceled out, the task of cooking Thanksgiving dinner can become burdensome and stressful. But dinner, especially the Thanksgiving sides, shouldn’t be stressful.
When I was a kid, I remember it was my aunt or my mom cooking and we kids played football in the cold late November air. Entering the house to the aroma of that roasting turkey is as indelible a memory as any.
Simple, satisfying green Thanksgiving sides
These days we all cook, and there is much hilarity as we cook and eat all day. We gather about 11 a.m. and shoot for the turkey carving around 4:30 p.m.
I can’t say our food is simple — it’s mostly labor-intensive — but there are three wonderful Thanksgiving side dishes that can fit right into the program of a too-tired cook or a teeny kitchen. I call them the three B’s, three vegetable recipes that are perfect for Thanksgiving, easy to do, more-or-less traditional and all begin with the letter B: broccoli, beans and Brussels sprouts.
I like to make this preparation when I’ve cooked something else in the oven that is either richer or more complex and has taken more of my time, such as a roast turkey. It seems almost no one has had broiled broccoli, so you’ll get positive comments. And it’s so simple it barely needs a recipe. The turkey is going to rest for 20 minutes, so that’s the perfect time to raise the oven to “broil” and cook this.
Prep time: 15 minutes to preheat broiler
Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings
3 pounds broccoli
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the broiler.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil and plunge the broccoli in, stems first. Boil until the broccoli is still bright green and slightly tender when skewered into the stem portion, 6 minutes, but not more. Drain well.
3. Slice the stem at a sharp diagonal, then slice the florets in half. Toss the broccoli in a large bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the broccoli, cut side up, on a broiler tray. Broil until blackened on the edges, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.
Green Beans with Pine Nuts
This is about the easiest way to make green beans sparkle in taste and color. This preparation occasionally appears on our Thanksgiving table as it can be assigned to someone who feels they are not a good cook and they won’t mess it up. It makes a nice room-temperature antipasto the day after.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 to 6 tablespoons pine nuts
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the green beans until no longer crunchy, about 10 minutes. Drain the beans and cool quickly under cold running water so that they stop cooking, and then let drain further.
2. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the pine nuts until golden, about 1 minute. Add the green beans. When the pine nuts begin to brown, take the pan off the heat and serve.
Griddled Brussels Sprouts
This is as simple as it gets. Typically we serve this preparation as a kind of appetizer, as it’s easy to cook, easy to eat and tossed with salt — just perfect with a pre-turkey drink.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 8 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
More from Zester Daily
Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
Coarse sea salt
Preheat a cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat for 10 minutes. Pour oil into the skillet or griddle until slightly thicker than a film of oil. Place the Brussels sprouts in the skillet, cut side down. Cook until blackened golden brown, then turn with tongs and cook until the convex side is also browned, 5 to 8 minutes in all. Sprinkle with sea salt, drizzle with more olive oil, if desired, and serve hot.
Note: By the time you place the last cut Brussels sprout down, you will probably need to begin turning the first.
Main photo: Griddled Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright
Thanksgiving is the best of times. Friends and family gather together to celebrate one another and the season. And yet there is the nagging problem of devising a menu that protects tradition but still surprises. Chef Keith Stich has an answer. Use the flavors of Mexico. In his kitchen at Red O Restaurant in Santa Monica, California, Stich demonstrated how to spice up a traditional succotash by adding Mexican ingredients.
The Santa Monica restaurant is one of a dozen restaurants and bistros opened by chef Rick Bayless, well known for his many awards, cookbooks and television appearances. When Bayless was looking for a chef to help him expand his Southern California operation, he searched for chefs who shared his passion for Mexican cooking. Stich was selected for a cook-off in Chicago at Bayless’ Frontera Grill.
Inspired for succotash fusion
Growing up, Stich loved eating Mexican food. As a young chef, he specialized in the preparation of steak and seafood in restaurants in Colorado and California. He learned to cook dishes with strong, clean flavors. For the competition at Frontera Grill, Stich had to prepare one entrée. Four chefs competed. Stich would win or lose the job based on whether Bayless liked his lobster enchiladas.
The competition among the chefs was tough. But Bayless was impressed. He hired Stich to open Red O in Newport Beach. In a competitive setting, the restaurant did very well. After Newport Beach, Stich was asked to open the restaurant across from the Santa Monica pier, a prime tourist destination, and as corporate executive chef to oversee all three of the Southern California restaurants with more planned in the future.
Celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients
As the seasons change and the cooks come up with innovations, Stich proposes new dishes to Bayless either over the phone or in person. Sometimes he’ll fly to Chicago and prepare the dishes in the Frontera Grill kitchen. Once Bayless signs off on the new dishes, Stich updates the Red O menus on the West Coast.
Making everything from scratch is an essential part of the Red O identity. Fresh limes and oranges are juiced in-house. All the salsas and sauces are made fresh. The produce comes from local purveyors and the farmers markets. In that sense, the West Coast cooks have a distinct advantage over their Midwestern colleagues. Leafy greens are available in abundance in January at the farmers markets in Los Angeles long before they appear in the Chicago markets.
Adding a Mexican twist to a classic
To create a flavorful side dish that would go well with traditional Thanksgiving dishes, Stich used butternut squash, the quintessential fall vegetable, as a substitute for beans in succotash. He gave the dish a flavor boost by adapting the restaurant’s street corn side dish. To the squash he added dry-salty cotija cheese, earthy poblano peppers and spicy cilantro.
So this Thanksgiving as you help yourself to slices of turkey, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, now you can add spice to tradition with a large serving of Mexican succotash.
Street Corn and Butternut Squash Succotash
Given how busy Thanksgiving Day can be, an advantage of Stich’s succotash is that all the elements can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated in airtight containers. Just before serving, when the turkey is resting and the gravy is simmering, the succotash can be given a final sauté on the stove and served with the other dishes.
Poblano chilies and cotija cheese are available in Latin markets. In order to achieve the Mexican flavor profile, the chilies cannot be substituted with green bell peppers; nor can the cotija cheese be replaced with feta cheese.
Because corn season is ending, Stich suggests buying fresh corn now if possible, boiling the cobs as directed, cutting off the kernels and freezing in corn stock, which is made as described below. Cover the kernels with the stock, seal and freeze. The stock will protect the kernels from freezer burn. The day before using, defrost the containers. Strain out the kernels and use them as indicated in the recipe. Reserve and refreeze the corn stock to use in soups and stocks.
When fresh corn is not available in the markets, frozen corn may be substituted, but not canned corn.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
3 ears of yellow corn, shucked, washed
1 small butternut squash, washed, seeded, diced, yielding 1½ cups
1 small red onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, diced, yielding ½ cup
1 roasted large poblano chili, washed, charred, seeded, cleaned, yielding ¾ cup cooked
2 tablespoon grated cotija cheese plus ½ tablespoon as garnish
½ tablespoon fresh cilantro, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
More from Zester Daily
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon micro cilantro (optional)
2 tablespoons sour cream or Mexican creama (optional)
1. Preheat a grill.
2. Boil the corn on the cobs in water uncovered for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the corn from the water. Using tongs, place the corn on the hot grill. Turn frequently until the outside is slightly charred.
4. Place the grilled ears of corn into a bowl of water with two cups of ice cubes.
5. Once the corn is chilled, use a sharp knife and cut off the kernels. As much as possible, keep the kernels together in slabs. Set aside and if not using until the next day, place in an airtight container and refrigerate.
6. If the kernels are to be frozen, place the cobs back in the hot water. Boil another 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Set aside to cool. Then place the cooked kernels in an airtight container and cover with the corn stock. Seal and freeze.
7. Peel the butternut squash, removing the outer skin, seeds and fibers inside. Discard. Using a sharp knife, cut the squash into ¼-inch dice.
8. Add the kosher salt to a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add the diced squash and cook quickly, approximately 45 to 60 seconds or until fork tender.
9. Prepare an ice bath. Strain the cooked squash and place into the ice bath to chill. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.
10. Place the poblano chili over a high flame on the stove burner. Char the outside, turning often to evenly blister the skin. Remove and place under running water. Rinse off the blackened skin. Cut open the chili. Remove the stem and all the seeds and discard. Cut the poblano into ¼-inch dice.
11. Finely grate the cotija cheese. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.
12. With all the elements cooked and prepped, all that is needed is to combine and lightly sauté the ingredients. Heat a large saucepan. Add the canola oil.
13. Sauté the diced red onion until translucent and lightly browned. Add the poblano chili, stir well to heat, then add butternut squash and corn kernels until all ingredients are hot.
14. Sprinkle the cotija cheese on top and heat until the cheese melts. Mix in the chopped cilantro.
15. Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl. Garnish with more grated cotija. Decorate with dollops of sour cream or Mexican creama (optional) and micro cilantro (optional). Serve hot.
Main photo: Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt
Salads are the last thing we think about when we’re planning a Thanksgiving menu, but they are a great way to begin the feast. We like to serve this course before people sit down to dinner. We’ll plate them in the kitchen, then pass them around while the crowd sips champagne before the meal. Or we’ll place them on a buffet along with other hors d’oeuvres, a stack of salad plates and forks close by.
Here are some of my favorite choices for this holiday meal, salads that show off fall produce, feel autumnal, but won’t fill you up too much before the main event.
Endive and Baby Arugula with Pears and Toasted Hazelnuts
Toast about 1/4 cup hazelnuts, set aside. Combine baby arugula, endive, a sliced ripe pear or two, some chopped fresh tarragon and parsley and toss with a lemon vinaigrette made with lemon juice, mustard, a little garlic, hazelnut oil, olive oil, salt, pepper and some shaved Parmesan. Add hazelnuts just before serving.
Marinated Vegetables with Coriander Seeds and Herbs
Simmer 3 cups water, 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 1/2 cup olive oil, a few crushed garlic cloves and chopped shallots, a bouquet garni made with parsley sprigs, bay leaf and thyme sprigs, 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, a teaspoon of peppercorns and salt to taste in a large saucepan or soup pot 15 to 30 minutes. Remove vegetables to a bowl. Reduce marinade by half and add lemon juice to taste, and pour over vegetables. Refrigerate for a few hours. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, tarragon or chervil.
Baby Spinach Salad with Balsamic Roasted Turnips or Beets
Cut peeled turnips or beets in wedges and toss with a few tablespoons olive oil and a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes at 425 F. Stir and bake for another 10 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then toss with baby greens and vinaigrette. Walnuts, blue cheese or feta, fresh herbs all welcome.
Make a creamy dressing with 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, a little honey, 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice, salt and 2 tablespoons walnut oil or grapeseed oil and toss with shredded turkey, chopped apples, diced celery, chopped walnuts and chopped radicchio or endive.
Broccoli, Baby Arugula and Purslane with Quinoa
Slice broccoli crowns as thin as possible. Toss with a vinaigrette and marinate 10 minutes. Add baby arugula and purslane and toss together. Add just a little quinoa, about 1/4 cup, and toss again.
Marinated Carrot and Cauliflower Salad
Cut carrots into 2-inch sticks and break cauliflower into florets. Steam carrots 5 minutes. Steam cauliflower 5 to 8 minutes, until just tender. Toss at once with coarse sea salt and equal parts sherry vinegar and olive oil. Before serving, toss with a few tablespoons chopped fresh mint.
Radish and Orange Salad
Cut navel and blood oranges into rounds or sections. Cut radishes and daikon radishes into thin rounds. Make a dressing with lemon juice, a little agave syrup or honey, cinnamon, cayenne and pistachio oil. Toss radishes and citrus with dressing in separate bowls and arrange on a platter or on plates. Garnish with pistachios and fresh mint.
Romaine and Couscous Salad
Toss romaine (broken into small pieces), diced red and yellow peppers, and abundant fresh herbs with a lemon vinaigrette.
More from Zester Daily:
Main photo: An endive and baby arugula salad with pears and toasted hazelnuts makes a perfect Thanksgiving salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
Everyone is always shocked when I use pumpkin in Latino or Middle Eastern foods. But it’s nothing new. Not for Jews and not for me.
More from Zester Daily:
For Jews of Sephardic or Mizrachi backgrounds, edible gourds — pumpkins and thick-skinned squashes (which I often think of as winter squashes) — are everyday foods. Pumpkin is also a vital part of the Jewish New Year’s feast. The pumpkin, or k’raa in Hebrew, is a symbolic food connected to the wish that evil decrees be torn, squashed, quashed, vacated or otherwise gone. Why so many possibilities? The meaning varies from community to community, and the way those edicts are dissolved is a source of fun and global creative wordplay. But the pumpkin, no matter the variety, is always on the table.
My paternal roots as an Ashkenazi Northeasterner run for four generations, and pumpkin simply meant fall and Thanksgiving. It was ubiquitous, and came in cans aplenty. For me it was all-American food all the way growing up, but until I started traveling the world, tasting and cooking along the way, I didn’t realize that it was global. Or in any way Jewish-esque.
So when it comes to fall and the multitude of Jewish and American holidays, pumpkin reigns supreme in my kitchen. Here are some dishes that feature this versatile squash:
Main photo: This lovely vegetable dish called Pumpkin Arroz Tapado, courtesy of Peruvian healthy-food writer Morena Escardo, is perfect for a dinner party. Credit: Copyright 2015 Morena Escardo/TheWeiserKitchen
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, or possibly a monster with babies — a large lump wrapped in foil along with hundreds of little foil packages and plastic containers. You are hard-pressed to find the milk and suddenly feel overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with all that food.
After years of feeling this way post-turkey day, I’ve come up with a method to deal with the leftovers and leave behind that overwhelmed feeling.
More from Zester Daily:
First, have some plans for the leftovers so you can craft your turkey day dinner accordingly. For example, if you plan to make turkey pot pie (see recipe below), be sure to make extra gravy so you’ll have enough left for this pie. Second, pick all the meat off the turkey carcass and get stock going after the holiday meal — otherwise the big lump wrapped in foil in the fridge will be easy to avoid and end up going to waste.
Making stock is an easy exercise and will really pay off in the days and months ahead. It freezes well and can be used in any recipe calling for poultry stock or as a base for soup during the winter.
Wrap all the turkey meat carefully in plastic wrap or foil and then seal the packet inside a plastic bag. If you don’t plan to use the meat within three days, then make several meal-sized packets and put them into the freezer.
Of the following recipes, the enchiladas and the minestrone soup both freeze well if you would like to make them now and freeze them for another time. Here are some other tips for using up the turkey day meal parts:
For sweet potato casserole
Scrape off any marshmallows and swirl in a teaspoon of chipotle purée (purée a can of chipotles in adobo and store in a ziplock bag in your freezer — this makes it easy to use a little of this spicy condiment at a time) for every 2 cups of sweet potatoes. Make patties using about 1/2 cup potatoes per patty and then fry in butter in a sauté pan until golden on each side. Serve with grilled sausages and leftover cranberry sauce.
For mashed potatoes
Use them as a topping for shepherd’s pie. Brown 1 pound ground beef with half a chopped onion; add 1/2 cup of frozen peas. Put all this in a shallow baking dish and cover the top with mashed potatoes. Grate on a little cheddar cheese and bake at 350 F for a half-hour until cheese is melted and potatoes are a little crusty on top.
Make hot turkey sandwiches by placing a slice of bread on a plate and topping it with a scoop of heated stuffing and a couple slices of turkey. Cover the whole thing with piping-hot gravy and you have Thanksgiving revisited.
Use cooked vegetables in the pot pie or soup recipes below. You could also use them in the shepherd’s pie or slip them into a frittata for weekend brunch.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours
Total time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Yield: 6 quarts
There are more complicated recipes for making stock involving roasting bones, but you’ve already cooked enough. This recipe will yield a flavorful stock suitable for soups, risotto, sauces or anything else calling for poultry stock.
2 medium onions, quartered
2 carrots, cut in large pieces
2 celery stalks, cut in large pieces
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/4 cup fresh parsley sprigs
1. Break the carcass into 2 or 3 pieces with a cleaver, large knife or your hands.
2. Put turkey into a large (8-quart) pot with the other ingredients and cover with water.
3. Simmer 2 hours. Do not bring to a hard boil.
4. Strain into another pot and refrigerate overnight.
5. Before using, skim the fat from the surface.
6. Use within 4 days or freeze in 3- to 4-cup containers.
No Stress Minestrone
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
I don’t put turkey meat in this soup, but you could if you like. A steaming bowl will ward off the chill of a November day. It’s also good as a remedy for colds and the flu.
2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup medium-diced potatoes
7 cups turkey stock
2 cups medium-diced zucchini
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, undrained
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup uncooked medium- or small-shaped pasta, such as corkscrews, elbows or gemelli
1/3 cup sliced fresh basil leaves
1. Sweat the onion and carrot in olive oil in a covered soup pot for 10 minutes over low heat.
2. Add potatoes and stock and cook until potatoes are barely tender.
3. Add zucchini, tomatoes and cannellini beans and cook another 5 minutes. Taste and add 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grindings of black pepper.
4. Bring mixture to a boil and add pasta. Cook until pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes.
5. Taste again and adjust seasonings. Stir in sliced basil and ladle into bowls.
6. Top with grated Parmesan if you wish.
Note: Add enough pasta only for the portion of soup to be consumed right away. The pasta with swell and fall apart if not eaten.
Red Turkey Enchiladas
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Enchiladas can dry out easily, so have extra sauce on hand just in case.
2 cups cooked turkey, cut into bite-size pieces
2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup mild onion, finely chopped
1 dozen corn tortillas
Two (15-ounce) cans of mild enchilada sauce
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Mix onion, turkey and 1 1/2 cups cheddar in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Wrap tortillas in paper towels. Microwave until pliable, about 50 seconds, stopping to turn over the packet after 25 seconds.
4. Cover the bottom of a 9-inch-by-11-inch baking dish with sauce, about half a can.
5. Lay a tortilla on a plate and put 3 tablespoons of turkey mixture on one end. Roll up tightly and place in casserole. Continue in this manner until all the filling and tortillas are used.
6. Pour enough remaining sauce over the enchiladas to amply cover them.
7. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top and bake covered with foil for 10 minutes.
8. Remove foil and finish baking for another 10 minutes until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.
Wild Rice Salad With Turkey, Dried Cherries and Pecans
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Here is a light lunch or supper dish perfect for the days after Thanksgiving. The chewy texture of the wild rice is complemented by the earthy flavor of the turkey, the tartness of the cherries and the crunch of the pecans. This recipe was inspired by one in the first “Greens” cookbook by Zester Daily contributor Deborah Madison.
For the salad:
3/4 cup wild rice
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fennel bulb
1 large crisp apple
1/2 cup toasted pecans, broken into pieces
For the dressing:
Zest of one orange
4 tablespoons orange juice
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fennel leaves, (from the bulb in the salad)
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1. Rinse wild rice then place into a pot with 4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
2. Bring to a boil, cover and turn temperature to low.
3. Simmer until rice grains have popped and texture is chewy and tender, 35 to 45 minutes.
4. While rice cooks, make the dressing. Put the orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt and fennel seeds in a small mixing bowl.Whisk in the oil and then the herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
5. Once rice is done, drain in a colander briefly.
6. Add the cherries and fennel to the warm rice and toss with enough dressing to moisten all the ingredients. Let cool to room temperature.
7. Just before serving, cut the apple into a medium dice and mix into the salad along with the pecans.
8. Add some ground black pepper. Taste and add more salt, if necessary, before serving.
Turkey Pot Pie
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups leftover gravy
1 tablespoon white wine
2 cups mixed cooked vegetables, such as peas, carrots, green beans and pearl onions
1 cup peeled, diced cooked potatoes
2 cups cooked turkey in bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1 sheet puff pastry
1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
2. Heat gravy in a large saucepot and thin with a little stock and 1 tablespoon of white wine.
3. Add all the other ingredients except the puff pastry.
4. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
5. Pour into a 3- or 4-quart casserole dish.
6. Top with a sheet of puff pastry and trim to fit the top.
7. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the puff pastry is golden and flaky and the turkey mixture is bubbling.
Main photo: Red turkey enchiladas. Credit: Brooke Jackson
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.
More from Zester Daily:
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.
More from Zester Daily
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