Photo by Regina Charboneau
Thanksgiving to Americans is what a smorgasbord is to the Scandinavians: a buffet filled with an array of dishes. I think what makes everyone love Thanksgiving meal is the variety of choices we have to put on our plate. When I plan a holiday meal, I think of each category--main dishes of poultry and meat, starches, vegetables, salads, chutneys, gravies and sauces, breads, and desserts. Like everyone in America I start with turkey, and I add brisket for a variety. I don't do a fish because if someone is a non-meat eater there are so many vegetarian choices that there plate is easily filled.
There are never just mashed potatoes but always a cornbread dressing and I often prepare my wild mushroom brioche dressing. It is one of the few days in the South that everyone can look beyond green beans and prepare creamed spinach, yams, squash, asparagus, and many other side dishes. Salads are always more thought-out than usual and are needed to lighten the meal. It is the time of year for chutneys, brandied cranberries, and the rich gravy that comes with the roasting of the poultry or meat. There is never just one dessert--typically two or three. There has to be a pumpkin or sweet potato pie (never both) and pecan pie, a Southern staple. I always have to make something chocolate to balance the menu. There is something about pie and Thanksgiving that seems to be one and the same.
With every heavy dish, I try to come up with a lighter dish.
I could make a meal of creamed spinach, and my recipe is so rich it's only legal to eat it twice a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. The good thing is it freezes well, and you can make it ahead of time. My family and friends refer to this as Natchez Spinach because everyone in Natchez makes a version of it. It brings traditional creamed spinach to a new level with cream cheese, sharp cheddar, and pickled jalapeno. I make this ahead and then use it to stuff tomatoes for baking on Thanksgiving Day. This is a colorful, flavorful side dish with all the comfort you are looking for on a Holiday Menu.
With every heavy dish, I try to come up with a lighter dish. My favorite holiday salad is hearts of romaine with artichoke hearts in preserved lemon vinaigrette. Preserved lemons can be purchased, but they are not difficult to make and keep for a very long time if refrigerated. I do a quick version and keep them in my refrigerator for roasting chicken, sautéeing shrimp, or making this tangy-lemony vinaigrette. This vinaigrette can be made several days ahead, and I always marinate my artichoke hearts in it two days ahead. This is also a good dressing for a salad with fresh pears, toasted pecans, and dried cranberries if you prefer something different.
Here are my recipes for baked tomatoes stuffed with Natchez spinach, preserved lemons, and hearts of romaine with artichokes in preserved lemon vinaigrette. Next week I will give you my recipe for baked yams with cranberry-mango chutney when I cover chutney and sauce recipes.