Friday, November 18, 2022

How to make your Thanksgiving meal more exciting

Thanksgiving is a lot of the same each year, and quite frankly, it’s pretty boring for your palette. There’s a lot of beige food, a lot of soft food, and a lot of salty food. But we derive pleasure from variability, and we can achieve that at Thanksgiving dinner with texture, color, and acid.

Texture

Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn casserole, and so forth—it's all the same texture. Adding a little crunch goes a long way in jazzing up dinner. We can easily achieve that without changing your family's favorite recipes by adding a crunchy topping. My favorite crunch toppings are nuts and seeds, pomegranate arils, fried shallots, crunchy bread crumbs, and gremolata.

Below, I share recipes for a crunchy fried shallot, herb and bread crumb mixture, which is a recipe adapted from one of my favorite food writers, Samin Nosrat. There isn't a single thing this tasty fried mixture wouldn't improve (sorry for the double negative), and it's 100 times better than the can of fried onions you can buy from the store. Gremolata with toasted walnuts is another great crunchy addition. Gremolata is an italian condiment made from minced fresh parsley, lemon zest, garlic, and in this case, walnuts. Gremolata is also good for adding color to the table.

Color

The saying "we eat with our eyes first" is definitely true. Our perception of taste is significantly altered by visual cues. And unfortunately, unfortunately, for the most part, Thanksgiving dinner looks pretty boring. Incorporating color makes a significant difference. My advice is to seek out color. Colorful produce like purple carrots and cauliflower will look beautiful next to your monochrome display of turkey, stuffing, and potatoes. The pop of green that comes from sprinkling fresh parsley on a finished dish makes a big difference and takes zero effort. Also, a few pomegranate arils go a long way.

Acid

Acid is VERY important. It brightens and enhances flavors while also balancing sweetness and bitterness. If you sample a dish and it tastes "flat," it probably needs acid. Acid comes in many forms. Some of my favorite acidic ingredients that I use on a weekly basis while cooking are citrus juice, vinegar, and wine.

Cranberry sauce plays a big role in bringing acid to Thanksgiving dinner. I like to put it on one side of my plate and incorporate it in every bite. I'm not a big fan of the super sweet canned version, though, so I'm sharing a recipe with a flavor profile that's a little more complex, with shallots and jalapenos.

Another acidic condiment that would be a delight to each bite is an herby chutney. This recipe is also inspired by Samin Nosrat, and it really brightens up an otherwise heavy spread of food. Mild sweetness is juxtaposed with a little heat from jalapenos and balanced by the acidity of the lime juice. It all blends together well while still making the cilantro and parsley the stars of the show.

And if you want to liven up an otherwise boring plate of roasted vegetables, an agrodolce sauce is the way to go. Agrodolce is an Italian sweet and sour sauce that comes together quickly on the stove.

Fried Shallot Crunch

Ingredients

  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 8 shallots, thinly sliced into rings 
  • 1/3 cup sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup rosemary leaves
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 cup parsley, minced

Directions

  1. Line 2 cooling racks with paper towels. Set aside.
  2. Pour oil into large wok or saucepan. Add shallots.
  3. Heat on medium-high. Stir shallots until they start to bubble. Reduce heat to medium.
  4. Continue to stir until shallots turn golden, about 8 - 10 minutes.
  5. Remove shallots from oil and place on paper towels.
  6. Test oil temperature by adding one sage leaf to oil. If it bubbles, oil is hot enough. If it doesn’t bubble, turn up heat and test again.
  7. Add sage and rosemary to oil and fry for about 30 seconds. Remove herbs from heat and place on paper towels.
  8. In separate saucepan, add about 2 tablespoons of oil from wok. Toast panko in the oil until it’s golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels.
  9. Once everything is cool, combine in bowl. Herbs should crumble into little pieces. Add thyme and season with salt.
  10. Save in freezer in airtight container for up to 1 month.
  11. Add parsley to mixture when ready to serve.


Crunchy gremolata

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of parlsey (about 2 loose cups)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Directions

  1. Finely chop parsley and walnuts.
  2. Combine everything in bowl


Colorful harissa carrots

Ingredients

  • 1 pound petite colorful carrots
  • 1 Tablespoon avocado oil, or other high heat oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons harissa
  • Optional: Parsley, cilantro, and pomegranate arils for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix carrots with oil, cumin, coriander, and salt.
  3. Arrange carrots on rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove carrots from oven and mix with harissa.
  5. Roast for another 10 minutes or until carrots can be pierced by fork.
  6. Garnish with herbs and pomegranate arils before serving.

Colorful agrodolce cauliflower
Ingredients
  • 2 heads cauliflower, cut into florets (combination of purple and orange)
  • 2 Tablespoons avocado oil (or other high heat oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons golden raisins, chopped
  • 1 Thai chili pepper, sliced thin
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Combine cauliflower with oil, salt and pepper. Spread on baking sheet and roast 15 to 20 minutes, or until cauliflower caramelizes on edges.
  3. Meanwhile, combine vinegar, maple syrup, raisins and chili pepper in small saucepan. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Continue to simmer until sauce becomes syrupy, about 10 minutes.
  4. Combine half of agrodolce syrup with cauliflower. Transfer cauliflower to platter.
  5. Spoon remaining agrodolce syrup over cauliflower just before serving.


Jalapeno cranberry sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds removed, minced
  • 1 pound fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest

Directions

  1. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and jalapenos and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add cranberries, maple syrup, water and salt to saucepan and increase heat to medium-high.
  3. Stir often and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until cranberries burst and juices thicken, about 10 minutes
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice and lime zest. Let cool.
  5. Before serving, taste and add more lime juice or zest if necessary.


Herby sweet heat chutney

Ingredients

  • 8 dates, pitted
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 jalapeno, no seeds, chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 cups cilantro leaves (2 bunches)
  • 2 cups parsley leaves (1 bunch)

Directions

  1. Place dates in bowl. Cover with hot water and set aside.
  2. Toast cumin seeds on medium heat until they become aromatic, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Grind with mortar and pestle.
  3. Remove dates from water (keep water) and place in food processor with cumin, lime juice, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, and salt.
  4. Run food processor until it’s mostly smooth.
  5. Add herbs to food processor and pulse until mostly smooth, scraping sides periodically. Add reserved waster from dates 1 tablespoon at a time if necessary to get blades moving.
  6. Taste and adjust lime juice and salt if necessary.
I got the idea for this blog post from Samin Nosrat's "How to Make Your Thanksgiving Dinner Less Boring"

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