The Nation's Pulse

Holiday Dinner Reconsidered

The turkey stays. The starch goes.

By 11.30.06

Send to Kindle

We have just finished another Thanksgiving. Once again, I took primary responsibility for the meal. Once again, this meant hitting all the predictable themes: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, and certain side dishes "traditional" with participants. This year, we had creamed onions. I could have fixed what my family calls "cabbage slaw" -- hand-shredded green cabbage dressed with a vinegar-sugar syrup, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. I didn't. We had pecan pie and cranberry tart for dessert.

I hereby serve notice that I will no longer cook this abominable combination of tryptophan and gluey starches. Not for Thanksgiving, not for Christmas. And I hereby register my objections.

Turkey is fine. No problem with turkey, a noble, succulent bird. The mealtime disaster starts with the vast body cavity a turkey offers, which gets filled with "dressing" or "stuffing," made of seasoned bread crumbs, whether wheat or corn. If you were offered seasoned bread soaked in meat juice, would you eat it, thus unadorned? Probably not. I do not intend to make it anymore.

Instead, I will stuff the turkey with basmati rice, made Mexican style: you fry onion or shallot and garlic in some oil, then fry the dry rice, then add hot water. I may make a nod toward holiday traditions by adding mushrooms and chestnuts. The rice will supplant "dressing," and also potatoes of every kind.

There will be no gravy. The rice will be moist enough from its dwell in the roasting turkey.

NOW WE NEED NICELY CONTRASTING TASTES, not more glue. The one absolute hit dish of our recent Thanksgiving I added by impulse at the last minute. I made a recipe of maple syrup-glazed carrots in one frying pan, and then, because of the shorter cooking time required, made the same recipe in another frying pan with snap peas. Then I combined the two and sprinkled chopped fresh cilantro on top. It was eaten to the last bit.

So I think that one's deserving of a repeat.

For the other main dish, I will make black beans from scratch, according to some fragrant and spicy recipe from Central America or the Caribbean. Fried plantains. And a tomato and cucumber chunk salad with basil vinaigrette.

AND TO THE LAST ELEMENT, I will restore the lowly cranberry, turning it into a salsa. This will take some experimenting, and I'll have to set by a store of fresh cranberries in bags to fool around with, because they're sold only around the Thanksgiving and Christmas season hereabouts.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

But I do believe my holiday dinner beats the traditional one all hollow for a nice blend of textures and tastes and colors and nutriments. And it will leave its participants in a lot livelier shape for the rest of the evening -- and the season.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.