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Give an ethnic seasoning to your Thanksgiving side dishes

November 14, 2016

Thanksgiving side diesh from top left: Pumpkin with Uighur Seven Spice, Melting Potatoes with Dill, Sweet and Sour Braised Carrots, Beans with Hazelnut Tarator.

Turkey might be the star of the Thanksgiving meal, but side dishes are essential to the success of the overall food experience.

Every year, it’s the same usual suspects of mashed potatoes, green beans, squash, corn and carrots that make up the spread. So instead of recycling the same recipes, give your side dishes an ethnic flavor.

Novices might feel intimidated by an unfamiliar cuisine, but they don’t have to reinvent the wheel or radically change their Thanksgiving sides. They just need to give "little twists to ingredients that are familiar to an American Thanksgiving table," said Eleanor Ford, co-author of "Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus."

Also, ethnic accompaniments will bring something "a little unexpected to an otherwise traditional meal," Ford said.

For instance, swap the boring mashed potatoes with an Uzbek classic — sliced potatoes with dill and garlic. Or tweak the pumpkin dish with seven spices (cumin seeds, black peppercorns, Sichuan pepper, ground cinnamon, cardamom pods, cloves and anise), which is a traditional dish prepared by the Uighurs (Muslims who live in the western corner of China). Or upgrade the predictable carrots with a sweet and sour version that has ground cumin and cinnamon and tomato paste. Or dress up those green beans with a Turkish garlicky sauce and shower them with blanched hazelnuts.

There’s an oversight and culinary black hole in the West’s knowledge about Central Asia, Ford said. "Central Asia is a mirror of many different cultures that have passed through the region: Chinese, Middle Eastern, Russian, Eastern European," she added. "It is a real fusion of cooking."

Loaded with spices (such as cumin and cinnamon), fresh herbs (including dill and tarragon), fruits (pomegranates, apricots and raisins) and nuts (pistachios and hazelnuts), and punctuated with heat (from red and black pepper), the Central Asian cuisine emphasizes elements that elevate and enhance basic flavors of the main ingredients.

Although unfamiliar at first glance, these Central Asian recipes use simple methods and accessible ingredients. "They are dishes that you can easily make at home and also test your taste buds," Ford said.

She added that these trimmings have different flavors, which bring an exotic magic to the dining experience as well as a historical element of the culture and cuisine they come from.

"It’s fun to experiment with flavors and cooking," Ford said. And there is no better time than Thanksgiving to taste something that’s a tad unfamiliar and play with unusual flavor combinations for friends and family to try.

Besides, Ford says, "if you share food together, you form mutual bonds of love."

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SWEET AND SOUR BRAISED CARROTS

PG tested

This Uzbek recipe embodies the perfect balance of sweet and sour flavors, and is a delicious alternative to the traditional sweet potatoes.

5 tablespoons butter

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt

14 ounces carrots (about 5 large), cut into batons

1 tablespoon raisins

Dill or parsley, chopped (optional)

Melt butter in a pan. Add garlic, cumin, cinnamon and chili and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste, sugar, lemon juice and a large pinch of salt.

Add carrots and raisins to the pan along with 1/3 cup of cold water. Stir, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until carrots are tender. Sprinkle with dill or parsley before serving.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from "Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia & the Caucasus" by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford, (Kyle Books; June 2016; $34.95)

GREEN BEANS WITH HAZELNUT TARATOR

PG tested

Green beans are served with a creamy garlicky sauce in this Turkish specialty. The roasted hazelnuts bring a subtle nuttiness to the sauce and toasty crunch to the dish.

1 ounce (about 1 slice) country bread, crust removed

1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts, plus extra to serve

1 garlic clove, crushed

Juice of half a lemon

3 tablespoons plain yogurt

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound 2 ounces green beans

Soak bread in a bowl of water for a few minutes, then squeeze out as much of the water as possible.

Blend bread along with hazelnuts and garlic to a paste.

Add lemon juice, yogurt and oil, and blend again. If needed, add cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin the sauce to a smooth consistency. Season with salt and pepper and give it another pulse to blend.

Steam or boil the green beans until just tender. Drain and drizzle with the tarator and a little extra oil. Finish with a scattering of chopped hazelnuts.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from "Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia & the Caucasus" by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford, (Kyle Books; June 2016; $34.95)

PUMPKIN WITH UIGHUR SEVEN SPICE

PG tested

I couldn’t find Sichuan pepper so I used Gochugaru chili flakes instead, and the results were fantastic. A mix of warmth and heat, the seven spice works beautifully with the tender and slightly sweet squash.

For the seven spice

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns

1 1/2 teaspoons Gochugaru chili flakes

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Seeds of 3 green cardamom pods

2 cloves

2 star anise

For the pumpkin

2 1/4 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, seeds and fibers discarded

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes

Sea salt

For Seven Spice: Roast spices separately in a dry pan until fragrant. Grind together in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar.

For pumpkin: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut pumpkin into 2-inch chunks, leaving the skin on if you like. Toss with oil, chili flakes and a good pinch of Seven Spice mixture.

Season with salt and spread out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, turning half way through the cooking time, until golden brown and caramelized.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from "Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia & the Caucasus" by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford, (Kyle Books; June 2016; $34.95)

 

 


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