Thanksgiving traditions

Most traditional Thanksgiving dinners don’t include many chile peppers or curry spices, but the foods we love to eat at this holiday meal –cranberries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and turkey–are just begging for a blast of spicy flavor. Make these little dishes to scoop up with appetizers, serve as condiments for simple roasted meats or vegetables, eat with rice or couscous, and turn holiday leftovers into zippy wraps or sandwiches. So, in the spirit of “El Kimchi” (the food truck offering tacos of pulled pork and kimchi), have at it!

Cranberry Chutney

Cranberry chutney

This spicy-tart sauce is equally good with roast turkey or combined with goat cheese on a cracker.

Ingredients: 2 cups fresh cranberries, 1 1/2 cups chopped red onion, 1/2 cup golden raisins, 1 Tbs minced garlic, 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1/2 cup dry red wine, 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, 1/4 cup balsamic or cider vinegar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 Tbs maple syrup or honey, 2 tsp minced red chile (or 1/2 tsp dried red chile flakes), 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground allspice, 1/2 tsp salt

Toast and grind the spices to a powder. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is as thick as you like.

Variations and additions: Add a cup of frozen or dried cherries, raspberries, or blueberries…chunks of orange segments, pear, or apple…tomatillo salsa or a dash of habanero hot sauce…it’s all good.

Pumpkin Chershi

Chershi are described as “piquant condiments” made by the Jewish community of Tripoli, Libya. They are mentioned in Jerusalem, the Cookbook in connection with a North African carrot salad made with Libyan pilpelchuma. Roasted winter squash can replace the carrots, and if the salad is crushed it becomes a kind of salsa or dip for pita bread. This piqued my interest, and a new Thanksgiving tradition was in the making. Pilpelchuma is meant to be spicy hot, but may be made with various combinations of chiles to suit your taste. Pilpechuma was deemed the perfect condiment for roast turkey.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs winter squash, 2 medium red onions, 3 Tbs olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, 1cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp caraway seed, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 (or more) Tbs pilpechuma, fresh lemon juice

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Peel, seed, and cut the squash into 3/4-inch slices or cubes. Peel and cut the onions into 1-inch wedges. Put the vegetables into separate bowls; toss each with 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Spread on baking sheets and roast 30 to 40 minutes, flipping the pieces after 15 to 20 minutes to brown both sides.

Toast the cumin and caraway and grind them to a coarse powder. Chop the roasted vegetables and mix them with the spices, herbs, sugar, pilpelchuma, and lemon juice to taste. Toss well and season with salt and black pepper. Serve as a salad, or crush the squash with a fork or potato masher to make a spreadable dip.

Pilpelchuma

Hot Peppers

Ingredients: 1 oz ancho chiles (2) or an equal weight mildly hot chiles, such as Anaheim or New Mexico, guajillo (spicy-bright), or pasilla (woodsy-tangy), 1 to 4 Tbs cayenne, 3 Tbs paprika, 2 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1 1/2 tsp caraway seed, 3 or 4 whole heads garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 4 Tbs olive oil, 2 Tbs preserved lemon

Heat a heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. Tear the chile open and remove the seeds. Open flat and toast a few seconds per side, pressing down with a metal spatula. Transfer to a bowl of hot water and soak 30 minutes, covered with a small plate to keep the chile submerged. Dry-roast the cumin and caraway 30 to 60 seconds on the hot skillet, stirring to prevent burning. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder and grind to a powder.

Put the soaked chile, spices, peeled garlic cloves, salt, olive oil, and preserved lemon in a food processor and process to a smooth paste.

*Mellow the flavor of pilpelchuma by using toasty-sweet pan-roasted or oven-roasted garlic. For pan-roasting, set a heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. Place the unpeeled garlic cloves on the hot surface and roast, turning occasionally until soft and slightly charred, about 15 minutes. Remove the skins before adding to the chile paste.

Sweet Potato Chutney

Here, raw sweet potato is a stand-in for firm, slightly tart green mango used in salads and chutneys in tropical countries.

Ingredients: 2 small sweet potatoes, 1 small red onion, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 tsp sea salt2 tsp minced garlic, 1 1/2 Tbs minced ginger, 2 finely chopped jalapenos, 3 Tbs fresh lime juice, 2 Tbs fresh orange juice, 1 Tbs coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp curry powder, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or mint leaves

Peel and cut the sweet potato into thin matchsticks to make about 2 cups. Cut the onion into thin slivers and the red pepper into small dice or thin slices. Toss them together in a bowl with the salt, garlic, ginger, jalapenos, and citrus juices. Dry-roast the coriander seed 1 or 2 minutes and crush roughly in a mortar or spice grinder. Add the crushed seeds, curry powder, and fresh herbs to the chutney. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding a pinch of sugar or a dash of vinegar as needed.

Harissa

Ingredients: 1 large ancho chile (or substitute 1 large roasted red pepper for more sweetness…or use them both), 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tsp coriander seed, 1 tsp cumin seed, 1 tsp caraway seed, 2 Tbs olive oil, 1/2 cup chopped onion or shallot, 2 Tbs chopped garlic cloves, 3 or 4 fresh red chiles (jalapeno, serrano, or other small hot chiles), 1/2 tsp salt, 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil or water as needed

Split the ancho chile open and remove the seeds and stem. Toast both sides of the chile lightly on a hot skillet. Soak the chile in warm water to cover 30 to 40 minutes, until soft. Dry-roast the black pepper and coriander until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder. Dry-roast the cumin and caraway seeds 30 to 60 seconds, stirring or shaking the pan to prevent burning. Add them to the other spices and grind to a powder. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic and chiles until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Use a food processor or blender to process all of the ingredients to a smooth paste. Add a little chile-soaking water or more olive oil if needed.

Roasted Roots with Harissa, Toasted Pecans, and Mint

Ingredients: 2 red onions, 3 or 4 small turnips, 2 medium parsnips, 1 sweet potato, 1 small fennel bulb, 3 medium carrots, 2 Tbs harissa thinned with 1 Tbs water and 2 tsp lemon juice, 1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Peel and cut the onions into 3/4-inch wedges, cut the turnips into quarters, cut the parsnips and sweet potato into 3/4-inch cubes, cut the fennel lengthwise into 3/4-inch wedges, quarter the carrots and cut them in 2-inch long wedges. Put the onions and turnips in a bowl, drizzle with 1 Tbs olive oil and 1/4 tsp salt, and toss well. Spread on a baking sheet. Prepare the parsnips and sweet potato the same way and spread on a second baking sheet. Repeat with the fennel and carrots. Roast the vegetables 25 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans and stirring every 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a large platter. Drizzle with harissa and sprinkle the toasted pecans and chopped mint on top.

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