Begin a new family tradition with an international flavor.
Traditionally known in the United States as Turkey Day, Thanksgiving in Benicia is a holiday during which “tradition” has come to mean many different things to different families. For those looking for new, exciting dishes to add to this year’s Thanksgiving Day menu, we have some delicious, exotic dishes in mind that are sure to spice up your celebration this year.
Speaking of spice, saffron is one of my favorites, and a staple of traditional Iranian cuisine. Instead of mashed potatoes and turkey, Iranians opt for colorful and delicious Zereshk Polo, aka barberry rice with saffron and chicken. I grew up on this dish and will always have a place for it in my heart and palette. Basmati rice is your best bet when it comes to getting the right texture and flavor out of the dish, and both the saffron and dried barberries can be found at most Middle Eastern markets. For those who have not tried saffron, it is a derivative of a flower originally found in Greece. When mixed with water and salt, it forms a yellowish paste that has been described as sweet and floral. Barberries have a tangy flavor that knits together the flavors of this delicious traditional Iranian recipe.
More widely known in the U.S. is the tamale, which you’ll often find on the table when celebrating with families of Mexican heritage. In a recent culinary excursion, I found myself perusing the aisles of a local Mexican mart, inspired to ditch frozen Trader Joe’s tamales (also delicious) and replace them with the real deal. If you’ve ever had a homemade tamale you know there’s nothing like it in the world and, to my surprise, it was actually alarmingly easy to whip up. In one hour, masa harina flour, lard (don’t skip this ingredient), baking powder and pork broth transform into soft and flavorful tamales ready to be filled with the meat of your choice.
What’s for dessert? Many Japanese families spend the day making homemade mochi which are essentially balls of sticky, sweet rice dough. Years ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving with the family of a Japanese friend and was delighted to find myself aproned up and making mochi in a room hazy with clouds of flour and resonating with love and laughter. You will need to find mochigome, a special kind of short-grain Japanese rice, as it is the only kind that will pound into a paste of the proper consistency, but mochi dough can be made in as little as ten minutes and it makes an impressive crowd pleaser if you’re planning on a house full of people. Make it daifuku by filling it with some sweet red bean paste.
Historians have many theories on how and when the turkey became the staple of this national American holiday but, in what has become such a beautifully diverse community, it’s safe to say that one thing we all truly have in common when it comes to celebrating this holiday is with delicious food shared by friends and family.