Now that there are only a handful of days left until turkey day, the time needed to plan and prepare the holiday feast is slipping away. Thank goodness I am not responsible for the cooking in my house — that falls on the very capable shoulders of my husband/personal chef. This means I can sit back and read all of the cookbooks I want without the worries of having to produce results. I find this role to be quite pleasant.
But if I did have to contribute to the Thanksgiving meal, I would probably try something a little different just to shake up the traditional menu but without losing the familiar flavors many of us associate with this holiday. I recently checked out two cookbooks that would accomplish my make-believe task, and they’re a delight to read for cooks and noncooks alike. Perhaps one or both of them will provide inspiration for Thanksgiving meal-planning, especially if it’s still a work in progress.
First up is “The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods” by Erin Gleeson. If you want to look at a pretty cookbook, this is a gem. Never have vegetables looked so tasty or lovely; yes, that’s right, lovely. And the recipes just might convince this noncook to bake some Curried Crispy Carrots or roast a plate of Cauliflower Cheese Steaks. Yum. If you want potatoes with your turkey dinner but are tired of the mashed variety, the recipe for Bay Potatoes made with sweet potatoes, red potatoes, red onions and bay leaves and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic cloves sounds like a perfect alternative — and it’s so visually appealing. If you just can’t have Thanksgiving without green beans, might I dare suggest that you give the green bean casserole a break this year (seriously, it’s overdone). Get your beans and spuds in one dish with the Potato-Green Bean Salad. The surprising addition of cilantro, rice vinegar and olive oil elevates this dish to a new level (or completely blow your guests away by serving it with Greek Caesar Dressing, page 89).
The second cookbook takes the reader on a culinary journey through the region of Palestine. “Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen” by Yasmin Khan showcases the flavors that Khan describes as “sharp, salty, fresh and bright.” This is another cookbook that prompts me to move from passive armchair cook to slicing/dicing culinary enthusiast. There are plenty of recipes to satisfy the more adventurous eater using less familiar ingredients such as freekeh, za’atar, maftool (see pages 18-19 for more information about staples in a Palestinian cupboard); but there are many recipes that call for Thanksgiving-related ingredients such as pumpkin and squash. For example, a vegetable and grain dish, Freekeh With Butternut Squash and Kale, would make a very tasty side dish to accompany your turkey. Or perhaps it’s time to try a variation on pumpkin pie by making a Spiced Pumpkin, Olive Oil and Orange Cake for dessert. It is topped with a powdered sugar, orange and pistachio icing and that sounds pretty darn delicious to me.
I recognize that there may not be time to check out these cookbooks and have the recipes ready for Thanksgiving, but the holiday season continues through the end of the year, so there’s still time between now and New Year’s Day for Sweet Potato Latkes (from “The Forest Feast”) or Apricot and Rose Water Rice Pudding (from “Zaitoun”). Or maybe you’ll be content with a bit of armchair cooking. No judgments here.