A diverse Thanksgiving
On Thanksgiving Day
Turkey, squash, potatoes, pie
gobble, gobble, gulp.
For food, fun, friends, family,
Give thanks today, and always.
Winter snuck in upon us – and we weren’t completely prepared. Clothespins were frozen on the clothesline, the porch windows were open and the garage was not cleaned out and ready for the car. Shorts, swimsuits and sandals had to be put away, replaced by long-hidden gloves, boots and mittens.
Now we’re getting ready for Thanksgiving — the season of gratitude that comes between Halloween and the winter holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza. Leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, many begin each day by listing something they’re thankful for. On Thanksgiving Day we gather with family and friends to give thanks for the blessings we’ve received: blessings of food and shelter, blessings of friendship, family ties and love.
On Thanksgiving Day, 300 million Americans will all eat the same basic menu: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, winter squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, salad, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls. Most of these foods are symbolic of what the Pilgrims found when they arrived. Turkey is an American bird; potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, beans and winter squash are all native to the American continent. Only the wheat in the rolls and stuffing came from the old world. Dessert is pie — usually pumpkin or apple. Pumpkin is native; apples, however, came from the other side of the Atlantic, and pie is traditionally British. This has been the Thanksgiving menu for almost 200 years. It’s predictable. No matter whose Thanksgiving table you dine at, it’s the same old.
This is also the time we remember the pilgrims, who arrived on these shores as uninvited aliens and foreigners and were welcomed, fed and aided by the native residents. It is the day we celebrate our ethnic heritage. Our ancestors came here from all over the world. Our families all have cultural memories — often represented by the foods we eat.
But what if you want to do something different? Maybe we should incorporate some of those ethnic traditions into our gratitude feast?
How about lasagna — an Italian dish — made with kale and winter squash in place of turkey? Or turn the boring mashed potatoes into colcannon or boxty if Ireland is part of your heritage? Instead of mashing them, serve sliced potatoes with dill and garlic, a popular dish in Uzbekistan. Serve latkes with turkey to honor Jewish heritage. Switch out regular dinner rolls for Swedish Cardamom Rolls if your heritage is Scandinavian.
Instead of the traditional turkey side dishes of mashed potatoes and winter squash, why not have each guest bring a dish from their ethnic and cultural tradition?
Maybe you’re tired of turkey. In central and Eastern Europe, pork is often the meat of choice — what about serving pork loin roast instead? Orientals might serve duck instead. And if you’re not serving a crowd, try one of the smaller birds like a Cornish game hen or guinea hen.
For an even bigger change, give thanks with a simple meal of soup, salad and bread instead of cooking up a big feast. After all, it’s those simple things in life — good friends, good food, the beautiful part of the country we live in with mountains and lakes that we’re most grateful for.
Do your guests have special dietary needs you need to consider? Many today can’t eat dairy, or gluten, or nuts. Some are vegetarians, vegans or on low-carb diets. Food allergies are common; the most prevalent are nuts and soy but there are others. I have friends who are allergic to lettuce, broccoli, and beans. All these things need to be taken into consideration when planning your menu if you’re the host of the party.
An Irish-style mashed potato dish
3 pounds potatoes
2 pounds kale, cabbage, or other winter greens
1 teaspoon salt, divided, or more (to taste)
1 large onion, 1 leek or 1 bunch scallions
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup milk or cream
If using the kale, strip from the stalks. If using cabbage, cut in quarters, remove outer leaves and cut out the core.
Either scrub or peel the potatoes and place in a pot with salted water. Cook until tender. You can also cook them in the peels and slip out of the peels after they’re cooked and slightly cooled.
Cook the kale or cabbage, either in a wok with a little butter until desired tenderness, or steam 7 to 10 minutes for cabbage, 10 to 20 minutes for kale.
Cook leeks or onion in a little butter 10 minutes or longer. Or chop scallions and add raw at the end. If using a wok, you can add the onion or leek and cook with the greens.
To combine the dish, place cooked, peeled potatoes in bowl or casserole and mash with the butter and milk using a ricer (don’t beat them too fine). Chop kale or cabbage fine, and stir in. Stir in cooked onions or scallions.
Kale with butternut squash and chickpeas
Add an Indian touch to the ho-hum squash with this curry dish. This also counts as a vegetarian main dish; omit the yogurt sauce, and it’s vegan.
1 or 2 butternut squash (depending on size)
1 can chick peas or garbanzo beans (19 oz.)
1 bunch kale
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt, and more for serving
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place butternut squash in oven while it is preheating for easier slicing.
Drain the chick peas in a colander.
To prepare the butternut squash, remove from oven after 5 to 7 minutes. Use a sharp knife to cut off ends. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and fibers.
Use a peeler to peel off the skin, then slice in 1″ cubes and place in bowl.
Add olive oil and toss to coat. Then toss with the curry powder. Add the chickpeas and toss to combine.
Spread out on a large rimmed nonstick baking sheet. Roast 30 minutes. Check for doneness; you may need to roast a little longer.
While squash roasts, prepare the kale. Remove the tough stems; wash and chop the leaves. Place in steamer basket and steam over boiling water to desired tenderness, 10 – 20 minutes.
Drain and arrange in serving bowl.
When squash is tender, toss with the kale. Sprinkle with coarse salt and fold in 1/2 cup plain yogurt. Place additional yogurt in a bowl for serving.
Note: you can also use baby kale or spinach, omit steaming, and serve as a salad.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.