When the Pilgrims sat down for that first Thanksgiving, could they have had Sukkot in mind? We’ll never really know, but no doubt those religious settlers were familiar with the ancient texts and commandments, and perhaps it is no coincidence that a joyful celebratory meal of thanks would take place at the time of the fall harvest.
No matter. As Jews we get to celebrate twice! And what better time than when giving thanks for God’s bounty to remember our duty to engage in Tikkun Olam, or healing the earth, the commandment to protect God’s creation and care for our environment, a notion that has been central to Jewish teaching for thousands of years.
Sure, we recycle and carry our groceries in reusable bags. But are we shopping locally and seasonally? Where has that bounty come from? And what foreign unpronounceables have hitched a ride?
Strolling down the supermarket produce aisle, one would hardly know that seasons exist, with fruits and vegetables traveling to us from all over the world. But at the farmers’ markets, and lately some supermarkets, where organic produce is sold, you will find seasonal fruits and vegetables that haven’t racked up those frequent flyer miles.
“Talking to organic farmers, I am struck that these are some of the brightest people I know and the most passionate about what they’re doing,” said Cathy Thomas, author of Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce (Wiley).
“Organic soil is completely different,” she noted. “I remember how the earth smelled when I was a little kid growing up in Van Nuys. My father enriched the soil, and I remember how good things tasted. The earth is better when the soil is nurtured. Plants grow more rigorous and are healthier.”
Why does organic produce cost more than its conventional counterparts? Harvesting is a time-consuming process, because organic crops have not been manipulated chemically and so mature naturally, yielding smaller harvests. Widely grown organic produce, however, such as Fuji apples, carrots and lemons, may be more competitively priced. But the big difference is in the taste.
“People always ask, do they really taste better?” said Thomas. “There is actually a standard that can be measured. Organic produce has a higher Brix level, a measure of its sugar. Organic plums, plumcots, strawberries or apricots taste sweeter to balance their tartness. Organic strawberries, much smaller than conventionally grown strawberries, are a lot more flavorful and higher in Brix.”
Thomas, food columnist with the Orange County Register and voted Best Food Columnist in the nation by the Association of Food Journalists, has teamed up with Melissa’s World Variety Produce, the nation’s leading distributor of specialty fruits and vegetables, to take the guesswork out of buying, storing, preparing and serving 56 popular fruits and vegetables. Brilliant photos from the Register’s Nick Koon, plus informative glossaries and nutritional information, make Everyday Cooking a valuable resource for the home cook or seasoned professional.
But the icing on the cake (or, I should say, the crown on the pomegranate) is the more than 225 imaginative recipes: Chicken Saté with Peanut Sauce; Linguine with Baby Spinach and Blue Cheese; Cherry, Chocolate and Toasted Almond Ice Cream; Lime and Raspberry Cheesecake with White Chocolate; even a Kiwi Martini. You were expecting maybe just salads?
Here are two unique recipes to try for Thanksgiving: a standout side dish that could take center stage as a hearty vegetarian entrée on other occasions and a lovely autumn cake, as pretty as it is delicious, that can be adjusted for meat or dairy meals. Now, who wouldn’t be thankful for that!
Potato and Turnip Curry
Why does the word “curry” inspire such fear in those who reject it out of hand as too spicy or just plain weird? Have no fear. This curry is positively craveable, and I’ll admit to downing spoonfuls late at night by the glow of the open refrigerator. Rather than using commercial curry powder (which professional Indian chefs eschew as insipid and inauthentic), Thomas has created a signature blend of fragrant spices that combine with coconut milk, an underused pareve ingredient in the kosher kitchen, to lend a creamy, satisfying note. For Thanksgiving feel free to eliminate the rice if your groaning board is on carb overload, or use wild rice for a seasonal variation.
4 tablespoons vegetable oil or canola oil
2 medium yellow onions, halved lengthwise, cut into 1/4-inch wide slices
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 large russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/8-inch cubes
3 medium turnips, peeled, cut into 3/8-inch cubes
1 cup vegetable broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
1 cup coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
For serving: cooked brown rice
Optional garnish: chopped fresh cilantro
1 Heat vegetable oil or canola oil in large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, potatoes and turnips; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add all remaining ingredients except cranberries, rice and cilantro. Stir and bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer until potatoes and turnips are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. If mixture gets too thick, add reserved tomato juice.
2 Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Add dried cranberries and gently toss. Serve in bowls over rice. If desired, garnish with cilantro. Yield: 6 servings.
Pomegranates, which we ate as the new fruit for Rosh Hashanah, team up with apples in this lovely autumn dessert. Before baking, overlapping apple slices top a buttery cake, which is brushed after baking with a pomegranate jelly glaze. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for a colorful, crunchy fillip. (Note: For mess-free removal of pomegranate seeds, cut the fruit into quarters, and remove seeds in a bowl under water.)
Butter or non-dairy margarine for greasing pan
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar plus 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, divided use
1 teaspoon finely minced lemon zest or orange zest (colored portion of peel)
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons milk or nondairy substitute, such as soy milk
3 Granny Smith apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
1/4 cup currant jelly or strawberry jelly
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
Seeds of 1 pomegranate, about 1 cup
Optional garnish: sprigs of fresh mint
For serving: regular or non-dairy vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
1 Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 400°. Generously grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter. Set aside.
2 In food processor fitted with metal blade or in large bowl of electric mixer, combine softened butter, 3/4 cup sugar and zest; process until blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating between additions.
3 In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and beat until blended, stopping to scrape down sides with rubber spatula if needed. Add milk and beat until smooth. Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth out top.
4 Peel, core and thinly slice apples and arrange slices atop batter in pan, overlapping slices in concentric circles, starting at outside edge. Brush top with melted butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar on top. If you prefer a sweeter dessert, you can add 1 additional tablespoon of sugar.
5 Place springform pan on rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375° and bake an additional 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and apples are golden. Place on wire rack to cool 10 minutes.
6 Carefully remove rim from springform pan, running a sharp knife around the edge if necessary.
7 In small saucepan, combine jelly and pomegranate juice. Place on high heat and stir until melted. Remove from heat and brush on top and sides of warm cake. Cool cake.
8 Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top of cake. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature accompanied by ice cream or whipped cream.
Yield 8 servings.
(Recipes adapted from Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce by Cathy Thomas)