The traditional Thanksgiving turkey received the equivalent of a Presidential pardon at our house this year! As we contemplated the menu for this year’s Foodie High Holy Day we chose to do something completely new to both of us as far as preparation and cooking are concerned. One of our guests for the day of feasting is originally from Sri Lanka so the menu became a compilation of regional Indian dishes… and what an absolutely fabulous gastronomic treat it was! I was particularly excited about this new venture as I had had opportunity in the late 90’s to travel to India on business and absolutely fell in love with the numerous regional dishes I had opportunity to enjoy while there. I suspect that most people, when thinking of Indian cuisine, are of the opinion that the dishes are all about curry… period. Nothing could be further from the truth! We made use of fresh curry leaves, available at our local Asian marketplace, as well as whole brown mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, fresh cilantro and mint, turmeric, cumin seeds, fresh ginger and garlic, nigella seeds and whole fennel and coriander seeds… to name a few! As we gathered together the spices and other ingredients used in these dishes our finest spice resource was a local Indian market, Milans, on University Avenue in Berkeley. It was a great adventure shopping there, I might add! When one walks through the door the sense of smell is greeted with the glorious fragrances and perfumes wafting through the store from the dozens of bulk bins located there… I felt as if I were traveling a sensory and ethereal Spice Route of days gone by!
To begin our culinary adventure we served Spicy Stir-Fried Prawns as an appetizer, accompanied with white peach bellinis, a refreshing prosecco cocktail made with white peach puree made famous in Harry’s Bar in Venice. The refreshing sweetness of the drink was the perfect accompaniment to the spiciness of the prawns. The dinner menu included skewered and grilled cubes of pork shoulder rubbed with brown sugar then marinated in soy sauce, seasoned rice vinegar, sesame oil, red chili flakes, garlic, fresh ginger, green onions and cilantro… Dayton’s own recipe that we knew would marry well with the rest of the dishes. Simultaneously grilled was Chicken Tikka, cubed boneless chicken thighs marinated with a host of spices reminiscent of Tandoori Chicken including coriander, cumin, cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, then skewered. Side dishes included Sweet and Sour Butternut Squash, a dish belonging to the category of Bangladeshi foods known as bharats; Goan-Style Dal Curry seasoned with whole brown mustard and cumin seeds, fresh curry leaves, grated fresh ginger, crushed garlic, ground turmeric, cayenne pepper and cilantro; Eggplant in a North-South Sauce, a dish prepared in the Hyderabadi style where North Indian and South Indian spices are combined and Kashmiri Collard Greens. Condiments included Mint and Cilantro Chutney, Plum and Cranberry Chutney as well as Sri Lankan Pickle, a combination of cut tender green beans, carrots and cauliflower florets marinated in a spicy homemade mustard. Our Sri Lankan authority told us that it was indeed genuine and tasted the same as that which he had eaten in his youth… we were pleased! A simple steamed basmati rice completed the main meal. A fruity Gewurztraminer was the wine of choice served as we dined. For dessert I created a refreshing Ruby Red Grapefruit Semifreddo drizzled with a sweet and spicy sauce made from the Plum and Cranberry Chutney and garnished with chopped homemade Candied Grapefruit Peel. It was a magnificent and delicious meal to satisfy and delight the senses!
The plate was a feast for the eyes… and included all of the colors we associate with the Thanksgiving dinner. And… we didn’t completely stray from a traditional menu as cranberries and butternut squash played a significant role in the glorious array of flavors we enjoyed together. The Sweet and Sour Butternut Squash is a dish we will enjoy again and again on an everyday basis. It is extremely easy to prepare… and tasty, tasty, tasty!
Sweet and Sour Butternut Squash
Peel, halve, seed and cut into 3/4 – 1-inch cubes:
1 medium butternut squash (approximately 4 cups)
In a heavy 12-inch sauteuse over medium heat add:
3 T extra virgin olive oil
When the oil begins to shimmer add:
1/2 tsp whole brown or yellow mustard seeds
When the seeds are fragrant and begin to pop, a matter of seconds, add in a single layer:
the cubed butternut squash
Turn the pieces with a pair of tongs as they begin to brown, approximately 3 – 4 minutes:
Sprinkle over the squash:
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Gently toss to distribute the seasonings. Add:
1/4 C water
Cover, turn heat to low and cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until the squash is tender to the tip of a knife or a skewer:
4 T creme fraiche
1 T cider vinegar
Gently stir and cook uncovered over medium heat until the creme fraiche is absorbed. Sprinkle in:
2 – 3 T chopped cilantro
Gently stir a couple of times and immediately serve this palate pleasing dish anytime butternut squash is a side dish of choice… Bon Appetit!
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