Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. For someone who spends a good deal of time (well, in all honesty, almost all the time) thinking about cooking and food, I take great comfort in the idea that so many Americans are in their kitchens cooking some version of a Thanksgiving feast all at the same time. I love the idea that tables are getting bigger, with more family and friends able to safely gather again, giving even more to be grateful for.
This year I focus on two aspects of Thanksgiving: The first is a meal for vegans or for those who don’t eat turkey. This is a main course — or splendid side dish — of saffron-scented basmati rice topped with almonds, figs and pomegranates surrounded by roasted autumn vegetables.
I have also answered some questions about roasting a turkey. To brine or not to brine? How do I keep my turkey from drying out? When can I safely stuff the bird? These are some of the issues many of us are pondering this week of Thanksgiving. Relax — I’ve got some answers.
I’ve also written up my master turkey recipe and provided many tips for roasting a moist, flavorful turkey. And it’s not Thanksgiving without my annual cranberry-orange-ginger sauce. Have a wonderful holiday.
Want a vegan dish to scream holidays without spending hours preparing? This is an ideal main course for vegans or a great side dish to add to your Thanksgiving table. Basmati rice is cooked with saffron and turmeric (which lends not only a beautiful earthy flavor but a yellow, slightly maroon color to the rice). The cooked rice is then placed in a cake pan and baked.
Meanwhile, an assortment of seasonal autumn vegetables — beets, winter squash, carrots, Brussel sprouts, leeks, etc. — are roasted. You can use any or all of the vegetables listed or add your own favorites like chunks of fennel, turnips, etc. The rice is unmolded from the cake pan and placed in the center of a serving plate, topped with almonds and dried figs sauteed in olive oil and then topped with fresh pomegranate seeds and juice. The dish is a celebration of color, flavor and texture.
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course and 8 as a side dish.
The vegetables and topping:
*To prepare the pomegranate, cut it in half and place the fruit side down over a bowl. Tap the skin with a rolling pin or wooden spoon to release the seeds. You may need to squeeze the fruit a bit to release them all. In a separate bowl squeeze the fruit to release all the juice; set aside. You can keep the pomegranate and juice covered and refrigerated overnight.
1. Fill a sink (or if it’s a really big bird you can use the bathtub — I’m not kidding!) with cold water and submerge the frozen bird in the sink. Flip the bird over after an hour or so. You need to make sure the bird is totally submerged in the water so you might want to put a can of soup or a heavy pan on top to keep it underwater. This keeps the bird safe and chilled. Be sure to change the water every hour to keep it very cold. Defrosting a frozen bird in a sink of water will take about one hour per every two pounds. If you have a 10-pound turkey it will take five hours; 20-pound frozen bird, you’ll need 10 hours. Plan your time accordingly.
2. If you still don’t have enough time, you can always roast the bird while it’s still slightly (but not totally) frozen, but you’ll need to reduce the oven temperature and roast for almost double the amount of time called for. You’ll be cooking it longer and slower allowing for defrosting time. Find more tips on the USDA website.
This recipe is for an 18 to 20-pound bird but can easily work with a smaller one by reducing the cooking time. If you’re working with a frozen turkey, be sure to defrost it in time (see frozen tips above).
*Room temperature simply means that the bird shouldn’t come straight out of the refrigerator. You don’t want to let it sit around for hours; remove from the refrigerator about one hour before roasting while you make the stuffing. And never stuff a bird until you’re just about to put it in the oven.
Stock and gravy:
Every year I tweak my holiday cranberry sauce just a bit, but this combination (tart berries with sweet oranges, ginger, pineapple chunks and meaty pecans) is a real favorite. Serve with holiday birds, on sandwiches, with a cheese platter, or serve it as a dessert sauce for butter cookies, pound cake or pies.
Makes about 6 cups.
*You’ll need about 2 to 3 large oranges. First, use one orange to remove the zest (the outer peel without the bitter white pith) by slicing it off with a small, sharp knife or a wide vegetable peeler. Use another orange for the grated rind and then squeeze both oranges for their juice.
**Toast the nuts in a 350-degree oven on a baking sheet for about 6 to 8 minutes or until aromatic.
Other Thanksgiving Favorites from Past Years:
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.