West Asia, a region comprised of the Near East and Middle East includes countries like Turkey and Syria which were at the center of the spice trade for centuries. It’s no surprise then that West Asian cuisine makes extensive use of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and sumac.
For Thanksgiving this year, my family flew out from California, so I wanted to make something a little different than the usual turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Still, it wouldn’t be Turkey Day without the eponymous bird and the traditional fixin’s so I created this West Asian inspired Thanksgiving dinner.
While the flavours may taste exotic to the western palette, the preparations stick to their more traditional North American roots. I also borrowed some North African flavors such as Harissa for the Turkey and Mergueza sausage for the stuffing. While it might sound like it’s all over the map, the ingredients all play together very nicely with the spices adding vibrance to the late autumn meal without loosing the comforting feel of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen to host one of the 24 Thanksgiving meals being featured on Foodbuzz this month. For those of you not familiar with Foodbuzz, it’s a community of people who are passionate about all things food. If you have a blog, you can become a featured publisher which gets you access to food events and you can submit a proposal for their monthly 24,24,24 event. If you’re chosen, you get a stipend to cover the expenses of your proposed dinner.
Like my last 24, 24, 24 meal, I tried to source as much of the ingredients as I could locally. Most raw ingredients including the 8 lbs. heritage turkey came from within a few hundred miles of Manhattan. The Mergueza sausage I used for the stuffing came from a cool little stand at Union Square that sells both wool and lamb.
An unintended side benefit, of this meal is that it’s actually quite healthy by Thanksgiving standards, using no butter or cream and making spare use of processed sugar. The potatoes use tahini for creaminess and both the brussel sprouts and yams use fruit juice reductions for sweetness. We also had a guest that’s gluten intolerant, so with the exception of the stuffing(which you could make with gluten free-bread), the rest of the meal is entirely gluten-free.
So what was on the menu you ask?
fresh local baby carrots with cherry wood smoked sea salt
selection of local cheeses
multi grain and seed bread & home made zucchini bread
salt & sumac sweet potato chips
harissa cinnamon roast turkey
fiery cinnamon cranberry sauce
tahini mashed potatoes
sweet potato sumac gratin with meringue
brussel sprouts caramelized with pomegranate molasses
multi-grain stuffing with dried cherries and mergueza
Crust less milk and cardamom “pumpkin pie”
These chips were a result of leftover sweet potatoes and yams after I made the gratin. They’re just deep fried until crisp and are dusted with salt and tangy sumac.
The turkey came out golden brown and perfect with a crisp fragrant skin and moist flavorful meat underneath. The rub is the same as I used on the chicken except I doubled the quantity. I roasted the turkey at 425 for 30 minutes, breast side down then reduce the heat to 325, flipped it and cooked breast side up until it was done. Stay tuned for a more detailed recipe.
I’m normally not much of a cranberry sauce fan, but this one really worked. The chili pepper and cinnamon overdose really gives it the kick it needs to be more than just a tart jam. In our family, cranberry sauce is usually what ends up being consumed over the following week as leftovers, but this batch sold out the first night. See recipe here
These tahini mashed potatoes were also a part of my preview dinner, but I swapped in Yukon Gold potatoes for their smoother texture and added a ton of milk. This resulted in the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. Honestly they tasted like they had cream and cheese in them. The flavour and creaminess comes courtesy of the tahini, which is a smooth paste (like peanut butter) made out of ground sesame seeds. Tahini does have a way of absorbing a lot of water though so I ended up adding about twice the amount of milk I’d normally put in mashed potatoes. See recipe here
For this dish I layered thinly sliced yams (orange) and sweet potatoes (yellow) along with cinnamon and sumac then covered it in a reduced apple cider. It’s topped with a lightly sweetened meringue which is browned until slightly crisp on top. Stay tuned this week for a recipe.
Brussel sprouts are one of those reviled veggies that I’d try about once a year hoping I’d like them better. I realized this year that the thing I liked best about brussel sprouts where the bits around the edges that got caramelized, so instead of halving or even quartering them, I decided to shred them like cole slaw. This worked better than expected and 6 people managed to polish off 2 lbs of brussel sprouts in one night. See recipe here
This stuffing was good the first time I made it but it was even better the second. I like really moist stuffing and the key is to douse it with chicken stock until it’s nearly mushy. The spicy North African lamb sausage is packed with flavour and goes nicely with the sweet and tart dried cherries. The multigrain retains a pleasant texture even after being thoroughly soaked in stock, and a light dusting of sumac on top gives it a bit of color and a nice tang. See recipe here
Having a gluten intolerant guest I knew I’d need to make a dessert that didn’t involve the use of flour. Sure, I could have cheated and used a gluten-free flour, but I wanted something a bit more interesting. The Turkish have a fantastic baked milk custard dish which was my initial source of inspiration. I ended up straying pretty far from the Turkish original using an egg based custard and steaming it instead of baking it. I infused the milk with with green cardamom, nutmeg and orange zest and it gets its intense creaminess from the sweetened condensed milk (similar to a flan). While it looks fantastic and the custard was the perfect texture, I wasn’t a huge fan of the tough skinned sugar pumpkin. Next time I think I’ll try it with a finer textured Kabocha pumpkin. See recipe here