After 30 plus Thanksgivings, I’ve gotten a little bored with the usual “Thanksgiving = turkey + stuffing + mashed potatoes + gravy + cranberry sauce” formula. Still, it’s a meal that I look forward to for 11 months out of the year (I spend December in recovery) and doing away with the traditional items and fixin’s just doesn’t seem right.
Sure, I’ve tried stuffing sage leaves under the turkey skin and adding apple cider to the gravy, but there’s only so many variations you can do on the traditional themes. This year, my family is flying out from Cali to have Thanksgiving in NYC (thanks guys!), so I decided to see if I could do something radically different while still retaining that “Thanksgiving” feel to the food.
While I tossed around a bunch of ideas, including a 9 course Kaiseki turkey dinner, I decided to go with a middle east themed Thanksgiving. This was partly influenced by the discovery of the most awesome spice shop in the East Village called Dual Specialty Products. It sells every spice you could possibly imagine, and lots that you’ve never heard of, by the pound (yes you read that right). I picked up 1/4 lb of sumac and 1/4 lb of garam masala for a couple bucks each. They also have fresh curry leaves and naga jolokia peppers. Yes capsaicin-heads, that’s naga jolokia as in over 1 million Scoville units, kick-your-ass then light a pile of thermite under it naga jolokia.
Anyway, back on topic, last night, I ran my first rehearsal of this theme using a chicken. In a word, it was good… really good (I know… that’s two words, but cut me some slack). Different, but not so different that it would have been unrecognizable as a Thanksgiving dinner. If you didn’t smell or taste it, you might even think it was ordinary.
The cinnamon harissa rub I made for the chicken is going on my list of favorite marinades. It’s pleasantly spicy, with great aromas coming from the cinnamon, garlic and cumin and it has just a hint of tang from the sumac. Put simply, this spice mixture would make boot leather taste good (though you might need to do something about the texture).
I’m not much of brussel sprout fan, but shredded, then caramelized with shallots and pomegranate molasses, this will make a believer out of even the biggest skeptic. Pomegranate molasses is a thick sweet and tart syrup made by boiling down pomegranate juice. You can get it in bottles at Middle Eastern groceries, or if you have the time I suppose you could make it yourself.
I’m not really sure why no-ones thought of adding tahini to mashed potatoes before (well a quick google shows that they have, but have you ever heard of it?). The flavours and textures compliment each other very well and you end up with a rich, creamy, nutty mashed potato without adding any butter or cream. I forgot to do it before I took the photos, but if you sprinkle a little sumac on top, it adds some color and just a bit of tang to brighten things up.
Last, but not least, the stuffing. Stuffing and I have a love hate relationship. I love it when it’s been stuffed inside a bird and is saturated with flavorful juices as the whole thing roasts. I hate it when it’s been cooked outside the bird and is dry, chewy, and flavorless. I used to always opt for the stuffing route (after all the method is the namesake), but with food safety concerns these day’s the fine folks at the FDA (a.k.a. ruiners off all good food) tell us that we’re not supposed to stuff poultry unless we’re willing to cook the bird until it’s a giant ball of jerky. The answer? Use a semi-stale firm bread (instead of crunchy wonderbread croutons that came out of the bag) and lots of chicken stock.
For this stuffing I used a multi-grain bread to which I added dried cherries, celery, shallots and Merguez sausage to. It strikes a great balance between savoury, spicy and sweet and the inside is soft and moist while the top layer comes out nice and crisp.
Since I was only cooking for 2, I skipped the cranberry sauce, sweet potato’s, pumpkin and apple pies, but I have big plans for those. I hope these recipes inspire you to create your own unique takes on holiday classics:-)
Cinnamon Harissa Roast Chicken (Turkey)
2 cloves garlic pressed
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sumac
1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs harissa
3.5 lbs chicken
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Prep a rack to roast the chicken on and lower the shelf in the oven so the chicken will be sitting right in the middle of the oven.
Mix everything except the chicken in a small bowl until combined. Wash the chicken inside and out and trim any excess skin or fat. Tuck the wing tips under the chicken. Pat dry with paper towels and spread the spice mixture all over the inside and outside of the chicken. I like to separate the skin from the meat near the entrance to inside of the chicken and spread the mixture in between so the breast are nice and flavorful.
Place the bird on the rack and roast until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer to a plate and tent with foil for 10 minutes.
Multi-grain Stuffing with Dried Cherries and Merguez
3 C cubed semi-stale mult-grain bread
1 stalk celery diced
2 shallots diced
1/2 C cooked and drained Merguez sausage
1/2 C chopped dried cherries
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 to 3/4 C low sodium chicken stock
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs sumac
Preheat oven to 425 and grease a 9″ x 9″ baking pan.
Combine the bread, celery, shallots, sausage and cherries in a bowl. Sprinkle the salt and spices on top and toss well to coat evenly. Drizzle the chicken stock over the mixture while stirring. I tend to like my stuffing very moist, so I add enough stock so the bread is well saturated, but not mushy. Drizzle the olive oil on top and toss to coat.
Empty the stuffing into the baking pan and sprinkle with the sumac. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 7-10 minutes or until the top layer of stuffing is crisp. If your oven is big enough, you can put this into the oven towards the tail end of the chickens cooking time then brown the top while the chicken rests.
Sesame Mashed Potatoes
4 medium russet potatoes pealed and quartered
1/4 C tahini
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4-1/2 C milk
sumac for garnish
Boil the potatoes in ample water until a fork easily passes through a potato, but be careful not to overcook them.
Put the hot potatoes into the bowl of an electric mixer (or a regular bowl if you want to mash by hand). Add the tahini, salt and 1/4 cup of milk and turn the mixer onto the lowest possible setting (be careful, hot potato flying all over the kitchen is no fun). If the potatoes look too firm keep adding more milk until it’s smooth and creamy. Don’t over mix the potatoes otherwise you’ll end up with glue.
Serve with a sprinkle of sumac on top.
Caramelized Brussel Spouts with Pomegranate Molasses
1 Tbs olive oil
2 shallots sliced thinly crosswise
4 C shredded brussel sprouts
2 Tbs pomegranate molasses
salt & pepper
Heat the pan over high heat until hot. Add the oil and then the shallots, quickly fry until fragrant. Add The brussel sprouts and saute until they are wilted and bright green. Add the pomegranate molasses and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat evenly then serve immediately.