Turkey might be the star of the Thanksgiving meal, but side dishes are essential to the success of the overall food experience.
Every year, it’s the same usual suspects of mashed potatoes, green beans, squash, corn and carrots that make up the spread. So instead of recycling the same recipes,
give your side dishes an ethnic flavor.
Novices might feel intimidated by an unfamiliar cuisine, but they don’t have to reinvent the wheel or radically change their Thanksgiving sides. They just need to give “little twists to ingredients that are familiar to an American Thanksgiving table,” said Eleanor Ford, co-author of “Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus.”
Also, ethnic accompaniments will bring something “a little unexpected to an otherwise traditional meal,” Ford said.
For instance, tweak the pumpkin dish with seven spices (cumin seeds, black peppercorns, Sichuan pepper, ground cinnamon, cardamom pods, cloves and anise), which is a traditional dish prepared by the Uighurs (Muslims who live in the western corner of China). Or upgrade the predictable carrots with a sweet and sour version that has ground cumin and cinnamon and tomato paste. Or dress up those green beans with a Turkish garlicky sauce and shower them with blanched hazelnuts.
There’s an oversight and culinary black hole in the West’s knowledge about Central Asia, Ford said. “Central Asia is a mirror of many different cultures that have passed through the region: Chinese, Middle Eastern, Russian, Eastern European,” she added. “It is a real fusion of cooking.”
Ford added that these trimmings have different flavors, which bring an exotic magic to the dining experience as well as a historical element of the culture and cuisine they come from.
“It’s fun to experiment with flavors and cooking,” Ford said. And there is no better time than Thanksgiving to taste something that’s a tad unfamiliar and play with unusual flavor combinations for friends and family to try.
Besides, Ford says, “if you share food together, you form mutual bonds of love.”
PUMPKIN WITH UIGHUR SEVEN SPICE
FOR THE SEVEN SPICE
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1½ tablespoons black peppercorns
1½ teaspoons Gochugaru chile flakes
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
Seeds of 3 green cardamom pods
2 star anise
FOR THE PUMPKIN
2¼ pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, seeds and fibers discarded
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
½ teaspoon dried chile flakes
For Seven Spice: Roast spices separately in a dry pan until fragrant. Grind together in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar.
For pumpkin: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut pumpkin into 2-inch chunks, leaving the skin on if you like. Toss with oil, chile flakes and a good pinch of Seven Spice mixture.
Season with salt and spread out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, turning half way through the cooking time, until golden brown and caramelized.
GREEN BEANS WITH HAZELNUT TARATOR
1 ounce (about 1 slice) country bread, crust removed
1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts, plus extra to serve
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound 2 ounces green beans
Soak bread in a bowl of water for a few minutes, then squeeze out as much of the water as possible.
Blend bread along with hazelnuts and garlic to a paste.
Add lemon juice, yogurt and oil, and blend again. If needed, add cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin the sauce to a smooth consistency. Season with salt and pepper and give it another pulse to blend.
Steam or boil the green beans until just tender. Drain and drizzle with the tarator and a little extra oil. Finish with a scattering of chopped hazelnuts.
SWEET AND SOUR BRAISED CARROTS
5 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon chile flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
14 ounces carrots (about 5 large), cut into batons
1 tablespoon raisins
Dill or parsley, chopped (optional)
Melt butter in a pan. Add garlic, cumin, cinnamon and chile and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste, sugar, lemon juice and a large pinch of salt.
Add carrots and raisins to the pan along with 1/3 cup of cold water. Stir, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Sprinkle with dill or parsley before serving.