Monday, November 16, 2009

Non-Traditional - Or Is It?

Not everyone loves the turkey, stuffing, cranberry jellies and slivered almond green bean casseroles that typify the culinary fare of Thanksgiving. In the diverse spirit of this country's cross-continental, multicutural heritage - one could ask how representative those dishes are of America, anyway?

In my house, we've moved away from turkey for the holiday meal. For many years now I've enjoyed taking the extra time the day offers to leisurely prepare a special meal of some particular ethnicity. It purely comes down to food preference rather than philosophy. Indian cuisine (that's South Asian Indian, not Native American) for its wide range of flavors, spice intensity, and cool/hot sensations has proven to be the favorite. With the hours of preparation and careful cooking it requires, we can usually plan on the holiday meal to be ready in the early evening. The result MORE than makes the anticipation worthwhile!

By around 6pm or so, my much-loved marble mortar and pestle (stained green from the jalapeno mint chutney) is resting on the counter, its work done at last for the day - and the numerous little bowls (I use my Chinese condiment dishes) that hold everything from chopped coriander, hand-ground cumin and cloves and turmeric and cardamom seeds are all emptied out, these ingredients having found a home aromatically simmering away in everything from Chicken Tikka Masala to spicy cauliflower (Phool Gobi aur Aloo Ki Bhaji) and handmade flatbreads (Naan).

Also non-traditional is the source of the many interesting, colorful dishes at my Thanksgiving banquet. My secret is not in time-tested recipes that have been handed down from (Scandinavian!) relatives - it's a dog-eared, broken-binding book I stumbled upon many years ago at a secondhand bookstore in Denver. As reliably as any family member, the stories it tells and secrets it has shared over the years now make Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking another welcome and familiar guest at our annual Thanksgiving dinner table.

Each family has its own reasons for making the food it does during the holidays. The important thing is to do what you do for a reason, and enjoy the results - whatever they are - together.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at VPR! Whether it's turkey or from Turkey, may you enjoy a beautiful meal with enough to share with friends and loved ones, and maybe even have a little left over to enjoy again (and again) over the weekend.

Me? I'm waiting (not very patiently) for that second helping of honeyed pistachios and Gujerati cabbage/carrot salad with toasted black mustard seeds. You'll find the recipe for Sambhara here, as part of our VPR Cooks series. Enjoy!

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