Anyway, though, regardless of decadent chocolate cake and the strange weather in Northern California this weekend (in the 70s, dry and sunny, the poor trees shedding their leaves must be so confused), we all are well-aware of what's coming up next week: Thanksgiving.
I often like to post some of my favorite (vegetarian) Thanksgiving recipes in the days leading up the holiday, and I thought I'd do the same this year. I'm a vegetarian so I tend to go heavy on the vegetables (well, I do all the time, don't I?), especially so at Thanksgiving because at its origins it's a celebration of the harvest which to me means making use of all that gorgeous seasonal produce. Also vegetables? They taste darn good. And I want to treat them to a little something extra special at the holiday table.
I'm still mulling over next week's feast and reminiscing about feasts past -- o, butternut squash-apple soup! O, stuffed mushrooms! O, bbq-ed tofu! O, baby spinach salad! O, beloved cheese plate! -- and trying to nail down a concrete menu. For some reason (maybe because of the unseasonably warm weather?) I still can't quite grasp that the holidays are nearly upon us -- happily so, I might add, yet they have arrived swift and sudden. Now the days are shorter and the Winter Solstice is a whole month-plus away (my benchmark for seeing the virtual light at the end of the winter tunnel), but no matter. There is plenty enough to do in the meantime 'til the light lingers later once more.
Here, some of my favorite start-offs to the feast. I'm not sure which of these I'll make this year (did I mention I'm still mildly obsessing over what to include? Advice welcomes.), though probably for sure the sweet potato biscuits as well as the dip, but they come well-tested and well-approved. I hope they find a place on your table this November -- for Thanksgiving, or for any time.
Also, look for some healthful twists on traditional fare next week in my NPR/Kitchen window piece.
THANKSGIVING —> Appetizers
Phyllo and Vegetable Parcels, adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle
I'm ashamed to admit I haven't made these in a few years -- but I should! They are so good. I've deviated a bit from the original recipe here, substituting quite a few vegetables from the original recipe because I just went with those I picked up at the farmers’ market. I think you can use nearly any variation here, but I love the spinach especially. The Chron version also calls for goat cheese which … just … no (Nicole doesn’t do goat cheese), so I omitted it, and swapped melted margarine for the butter to make them wholly vegan. But butter is just fine, too.
1 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into ¼- inch dice
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon (scant) finely chopped mint (optional)
¼ cup torn basil leaves
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped thyme (optional — can use oregano or another fresh herb)
about 6 mushrooms, diced
1 bunch spinach, washed, with stems removed, and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 package phyllo dough
½ cup melted butter
In a heavy, small saute pan over medium heat, saute tomatoes, yellow onion and garlic in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar; saute, stirring constantly, until vinegar evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in basil. Reserve.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute red onion, mushrooms and spinach in the 3 tablespoons butter, stirring frequently, soft 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, in remaining herbs; season with salt and pepper. Reserve.
Unfold phyllo dough; keep unused sheets covered with damp paper toweling. Lightly brush 1 sheet of phyllo with melted butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo; brush lightly with butter. Using a sharp knife, cut phyllo dough in half, width-wise. Cut each half into 4 even strips to make 8 strips.
Place a generous ½ tablespoon of spinach mixture at the base of 1 strip. Top with a scant ¼ teaspoon of sun-dried tomato mixture. Fold a corner of the strip over the filling to enclose it. Continue to flag-fold the strip into a neat triangle. Lightly brush edges with some butter. Repeat with remaining strips.
Repeat process 6 more times, using 14 sheets of phyllo in all. Chill triangles for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the triangles until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool briefly on a rack. Serve warm.
Note: Follow the instructions on the phyllo package in terms of thawing the dough; most is sold frozen, so you’ll need to place in the fridge before using. Try to plan ahead it will have enough time to thaw properly before using.
Sweet Potato Dip, inspired by Kim O’Donnell when she wrote about it ages ago for the Washington Post. Definitely check out her new cookbook, Licking Your Chops: The Meat Lovers Meatless Cookbook
I like to call this vegetableshummus — meaning that it’s a kind of hummus, only with sweet potatoes instead of chickpeas. I add a lot of tahini because I so love its taste. The texture should be thick and creamy, so be careful not to add too much extra if you go that route. I have a feeling roasted pumpkin would also be very good here.
2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 medium onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon lemon juice
At least 4 tablespoons tahini paste (I go with a bit more)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 400. Slice onion in half, and remove papery outer layer. Rub the onion and garlic with oil to lightly coat. Wrap in a large piece of aluminum foil. Peel and slice sweet potatoes in half or quarters, depending on size. (Smaller pieces will cook faster.). Repeat oil/foil step with potatoes. Bake until the sweet potatoes are soft, about a ½-hour.
Remove veggies from oven and puree until mixture is creamy. Add tahini. Season with salt and pepper, and the ½ teaspoon of cayenne if using. Add a splash of lemon juice. Taste for tahini, and add more if the flavor is not coming through.
Serve with crackers, or thin slices of apples and pears.
Sweet Potato Biscuits, adapted from several recipes I found online
Because you can eat these with butter, straight out of the oven. Or you can dip them in your first-course soup. Or you can slice and slip in a bit of cheese. Or save for the next day, with all of the turkey leftovers. Because they are addictively delicious.
3 c. all purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. baking powder
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
10 Tbs. butter
2 c. mashed sweet potato (about two large potatoes roasted and mashed, with peels discarded)
⅓ cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Mix the dry ingredients and sift together. Cut in butter to make a coarse meal. Stir in sweet potatoes. Add milk and stir until sticky. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and roll to one-half inch thick. Cut with a small cookie cutter or a round glass and put on a greased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart (or: drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheet if you’re pressed for time, like me).
Bake 12-15 minutes until very lightly browned.
Vegans: swap margarine or vegetable shortening for the butter and put 1 tsp. vinegar into 1 cup of soy milk (and then use ⅓ cup of that) to make non-dairy ‘buttermilk.’
Cranberry Margaritas, essential to the pre-meal festivities
1 cup tequila
¼ cup Triple Sec
⅓ cup cranberry juice
¼ cup cranberry juice
¼ cup (or more cranberry sauce)
handful frozen (or fresh) cranberries)
Fill half a blender (or so) with ice; add rest of ingredients and puree until ice is crushed. If your cranberry sauce is not too sweet, you may want to add a bit of sugar.