Friday, November 24, 2006
Happy Turkey Gruel Day
Many years ago, I recall reading an article about a man whose parlor trick was this: tell me your Thanksgiving menu, and I will tell you where you are from. It's true, in our melting pot of a nation, there are as many variations on the most traditional American meal as there are families to share them. From sticky rice and Korean barbecue to tamales and tequila (a tradition I'm particularly enamored with), plenty of families have some serious multicultural flavor sitting alongside their turkeys.
For my family, it's been a gradual process. We've always rounded up the relatives for a meal, but at first it had very little resemblance to what most Americans are used to. Of course we had turkey, but not the gloriously bronzed bird sitting proudly in the center of the table. For our earliest Thanksgiving holidays in this country, our turkey came in the form of halim, a gruely porridge of turkey meat and barley. It's traditionally served for breakfast on a cold day, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, but hey, it's Thanksgiving, so we're supposed to have turkey. And so we had turkey. Out of a bowl, with a spoon.
We eventually got hip to actually roasting the turkey, but our Thanksgiving table held many other things too: huge mounds of herbed rice, perhaps a smoked fish, sometimes even a khoresht, an elaborately spiced stew of vegetables and meat. But one year, some cousin discovered mashed potatoes. Then another integrated a bizarre, sweet, egg-based beverage: egg nog. Not tied to any traditions, we went by taste alone, and spiked our nog with Kahlua -- a tradition that persists to this day.
Adopting a new heritage didn't come without missteps. We had heard about these yam things, and finally got a recipe from the mom of one of my classmates (the same mom who had earlier introduced me to another tropical delicacy: bagel and lox). This bizarre concoction looked like something out of outer space: some deep orange, pre-cut vegetable out of can, mixed with apples, butter, and spices, and covered with a layer of marshmallows, which, upon baking, turned into a charred dimply cloud covering the whole thing. It was weird, but we ate it, and marveled at how normal and American we were.
Eventually some of our family's cousins fell in love, and brought a couple American men into the mix. They charmed every woman in the family by helping out with the dishes -- a task our own uncles would never touch. But they also brought with them American appetites. And so, we got cranberry sauce, cylindrical and gelatinous. The advent of my brother-in-law also brought in the most crucial addition of all, stuffing (this particular dish having pretty much changed the landscape of Thanksgiving, and my life, forever).
In recent years, we'd all go to a cousin's house where, with the help of her in-laws, she'd provide the rice and other Persian dishes, while putting my sister in charge of all those "exotic American" dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes. We've come a long way since the gruel days, and outer-space yams have made way for my sister's delicious sweet potatoes with streusel topping. Fresh cranberry orange relish has replaced the jelly canned cranberry sauce. We've even gotten experimental -- instead of a plain old pumpkin pie, I make a two-layer pumpkin pecan pie with maple syrup instead of corn syrup.
This year, we've stuck with some of the old traditions: there was a big mound of barberry rice on the table, as well as kuku sabzi, a frittata of herbs and greens. But we also had a first: gravy. Turns out it's really good with mashed potatoes. Who knew?
Pumpkin Pecan Pie with Cinnamon Whipped Cream
Adapted from this recipe
The original recipe includes instructions for home-made pie crust, which I tried one year, then decided it's not worth the mess. Maybe I'll revisit it one day when I have a bigger kitchen and a KitchenAid. This year, I made it with canned pumpkin puree, but 2 cups of homemade puree can be substituted, and any sweet winter squash would work great. These portions are for a 10-inch springform.
1 prepared store-bought pie crust for a 9-inch pie
1 - 15 ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, beaten until frothy
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 pinch ground nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 generous teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 pinch cinnamon
1 cup pecan halves
Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pumpkin Filling: In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients.
Pecan Syrup: In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a 10-inch springform cake pan. Take pie crust out of packaging; allow to come to room temperature, then unfold.
Carefully place the dough in the greased cake pan. (If this isn't happening: Cut away pieces of the dough a bit at a time, and press them together against the bottom and sides of the pan to assemble the crust. Make sure there are no openings). Press firmly in place and trim the edges. Chill for 15 minutes.
Pour pumpkin filling into crust; spread evenly. Gently pour pecan filling over pumpkin filling. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare cinnamon whipped cream. Using electric mixer, beat in a medium bowl until soft peaks form.
Remove pie from oven, allow to cool. Run a knife around the edges of the pie, between crust and pan, to separate it from the pan before releasing the clasp. Slice and serve with cinnamon whipped cream.