When it comes to Thanksgiving, my family celebrates in nontraditional ways – we make our favorite foods and my dad offers a blessing that usually includes a line like this: “We thank you Lord for the food on our table and thank you to the people who made the food.” He has many other eloquent things to say before we dive in.
Our menus are a mashup of cultures and my mom has long forgone the turkey. We eat on Thursday and again on Friday. It’s a two-day affair. For your back pocket, here are a few ideas from the VWK archives:
Dumplings to be Thankful for
Start with a dumpling making session or make them beforehand and freeze them; check out these dumpling freezing tips, if you need guidance. For the fall season, consider a roasted kabocha and vegetable dumpling (below) if you’re entertaining vegans.
If you’re using ground pork in your stuffing, buy a little extra for a batch of pumpkin and pork pot stickers. The recipe (photo at the top) from the Dumpling Galaxy cookbook is fun and includes a cool trick for making a crisp net that holds the dumplings together.
Thanksgiving Main Dish
There’s been a lot of chatter at the New York Times about the pros and cons of brining a turkey. One year, I had to roast four turkeys for various assignments and magazine stories. The easiest route was to spatchcock (butterfly) the big bird because it roasted evenly, quickly, and took on flavor well. I recently stuffed a bunch of curry leaf, salt and pepper under the skin like I’ve done before here.
It’s fun to spatchcock a bird, and I have step-by-step pictures for how to spatchcock a turkey or chicken. If this your first try at spatchcocking, practice on a chicken and use good poultry shears like these. With a 10 to 13-pound turkey, you’ll need a good bread knife. My favorite is the F. Dick offset one.
What if you’re vegetarian? Make your own torfurkey! They sell meatless turkey at Trader Joe’s and I noticed that it contained a lot of vital wheat gluten (seitan). A few years back, I make a fancied up tofurkey with miso mustard sauce and it was great fun and tasty.
To stuff the tofurkey or just to serve on the side, prepare a sticky rice stuffing (what you see a glimpse of above). The recipe for sticky rice and pine nut dressing is vegetarian and great for omnivores so you can make one dressing and serve everyone.
When my family goes all Viet at Thanksgiving, deepfried cha gio (imperial rolls) is usually on the menu. It’s popular with young and old. The filling varies by family and I use the recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. What trips people up is frying the rolls without them bursting. I offer up cha gio frying tips in this post. If you have ideas to add, please jot down a comment (or two!).
Healthy-ish Soup, Sides and Salads
Thanksgiving can weigh you down but you can keep things on the light side with a zippy soup like a pumpkin soup with lime leaf and coconut. You can sub butternut squash or sweet potato for the pumpkin. And if you don’t have lime leaf, use lemongrass.
Citrus is coming into season and Whole Foods is currently selling pomelos. A vendor at our farmer’s market is bringing them in from California’s Central Valley (think Fresno), too. It takes a little work to remove the segments from the pomelo but you can ask someone to do that for you while you prepare the rest of the ingredients for Vietnamese goi buoi, pomelo salad with shrimp and chicken.
The hardcore traditional Viet goi buoi entails separating each segment into tiny tear-drop pieces. I’ve found that the best way to do that is with an oroblanco grapefruit. Its season is short so if you get your paws on some, use one for an oroblanco grapefruit and shrimp salad.
Also in season now are Asian pears. You only need one for a great Asian pear, beet, and fennel salad that’s a modern take on Vietnamese goi special event salads. You need a mandoline for that salad but a sharp chef’s knife is all you need for a colorful red cabbage, fennel, carrot and cashew salad.
As for Thanksgiving dessert, I’m sure you have many options. But if you’re looking for something showy and doable with few ingredients, make an apple tart tatin. Instead of bread for the crust, use a short-crusty pastry or even puff pastry. The baking is the same for this apple tart tatin recipe in which the apple pieces get pillowy and caramelized from slow, gentle cooking. Unmolding is easy too, with the tricks I learned from two pastry chef friends.
Or, make an Asian take on cheesecake. The honey lime tofu cheesecake is simple to prepare and keeps well for days. You can make the recipe ahead of time. I like to eat it as is but you can serve fresh persimmon slices on the side, if you like.