How to improve your Thanksgiving dinner


Ever since my Iranian immigrant mother spent my childhood resisting assimilation, I didn’t sit down for a nice Thanksgiving dinner until I was in my early twenties. I like to think that I am not burdened by all the nostalgic associations that cloud everyone’s judgment of the meal. And so I’ll say what no one else does: it’s pretty boring on the palate.

Of course, I love a leftover sandwich just as much as the next person, and once I’ve tasted a decent stuffing, I could go for it. But after 20 years of Thanksgiving meals with different friends and families, I couldn’t help but notice how the food is a dark landscape of similitude: brown, sweet, soft, too rich or too dry, too much. salty or too bland. Besides the cranberry sauce, which everyone ends up relying on for brightness, there’s nothing acidic – let alone something crunchy, fresh, vibrant, or even spicy!

As a champion of cooking in any form, I love watching so many people enthusiastically walk into the kitchen for Thanksgiving. I’m just wondering, despite all the time and energy spent, wouldn’t you want to delight your taste buds a little more? With that in mind, here are five ways to make every bite of your Thanksgiving meal exciting and irresistible.

I often dress roasted vegetables with a simple agrodolce, or sweet and sour marinade. This version is inspired by Sardinian in saor, a classic Venetian dish whose ingredient list hints at the city’s role as a central port in the medieval spice trade. The fried sardines are topped with a mixture of sautéed onions, pine nuts, saffron and raisins soaked in wine, and are deliciously tangy with a little sugar and vinegar. I thought the saor mix would make an ideal accompaniment to roasted Brussels sprouts, served hot or at room temperature, although you can use it on any vegetable side dish. Simply finish with a little lemon and a shower of freshly chopped parsley, and get ready for a mouth-watering delight.

With so little freshness and crunch on the Thanksgiving table, salad strikes me as essential. I love the sweet bitterness of fall chicory like radicchio from Castelfranco and radicchio from Treviso, but curly radicchio and radicchio from Chioggia, which are even more readily available, are also welcome additions to the dish. They’ll all stand up well to the occasional intrusion of sauce or any other hot dish on the plate.

I usually dress the chicory with a rich balsamic or sherry vinaigrette, but after a neighbor served me a memorable salad she made with rice vinegar and lemon after she ran out of everything. rest, I got into the habit of lightening my dressing with them. I always like to put some anchovy in for an umami rumor – just enough to alert the palate and complement the Roquefort, the crunch of pecans and the silky sweetness of the pear – but the crisp, sour dressing is such a refreshing surprise, you won’t want to stop eating this salad.

Sage was one of the first things I was taught to fry, and I’ve never forgotten how a dip in hot oil turns herbs into crispy leaves. No longer tough, they’re still perfectly aromatic, ready to crumble in a simple combination of parsley, oil, shallots and vinegar. Drizzle some fried sage salsa verde over turkey, roasted vegetables, stuffing, casseroles, or anything else that needs a little sprucing up.

I can hardly go through a meal without pouring chili oil into every bite, so of course I want something on the Thanksgiving table to be spicy and hot. Inspired by two favorite chutney recipes from chef and anthropologist Niloufer Ichaporia King’s iconic cookbook, “My Bombay Kitchen,” I developed a cilantro-date chutney with fresh ginger, jalapeño and lime. Ginger and dates blend in nicely with the sweet spices and other dried fruits that are already appearing on Thanksgiving menus, giving the sauce an anchor. Cilantro and lime provide freshness, while peppers provide a much appreciated kick. This sauce is also fantastic on leftover turkey sandwiches.

Last year, Chef Nite Yun from Nyum Bai in Oakland, Calif., Taught me the Cambodian way to fry shallot rings. It’s so incredibly simple that I will never do them any other way. You don’t need a thermometer or any other special equipment, just patience and a keen eye. In return, you are rewarded with sweet caramel shallots that crunch, then melt between your teeth. The frying oil left over from the shallots is so tasty it’s a shame not to reuse it, so I used it to make this herbed breadcrumb topping – the Thanksgiving addition that I’m most excited about. Stale breadcrumbs, rosemary and sage take turns in the oil, each crisp as it cools. Then they are mixed with chopped parsley, thyme and a little salt in flakes. Once it’s done, you won’t be able to stop eating it. But if you wait, it will make the perfect garnish for a casserole of green beans, potato gratin, or macaroni and cheese. Or sprinkle it over mashed potatoes drizzled with sauce. Or, just put a bowl on the table and let people do what they want with it – they’ll likely end up putting it in with every bite.

Be guided by these principles and you will see: Whether you prepare one recipe or all five, your meal will be more varied in texture, tastier and more inspiring than ever. Don’t you think that’s the least you deserve for all the time you spend in the kitchen?


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