Dana Slatkin

Cauliflower “Risotto” with Green Harissa

cauliflower risotto with green harissaIn the days before Thanksgiving, everyone’s talking turkey. Cooking blogs are buzzing about how to brine, stuff, and cook the bird for the epic feast. Stores want to sell us brand new roasters, thermometers and deep fryers. And despite all the hours we’ll put into preparing the rest of the meal, the turkey — in all its stuffed and golden glory — is the trophy, the emblem of our culinary prowess, the centerpiece of abundance and togetherness.

Or not. Personally, I don’t do turkey. Ever since I made my first homemade pinecone/glitter gobbler in kindergarten, I remember deciding never to eat the bird again. In cooking school, I dreaded this time of year, when we had to prepare hundreds of turkeys for faculty and fellow students. Once I started cooking professionally, I gravitated to vegetable and dessert duty. Turkey’s just never been my thing.

I guess I’m not alone. Every year, I teach a class called “Everything But The Turkey,” which sells out in two days. With so much riding on one meal, the Thanksgiving feast can’t be all about the bird. But how can we make sure it’s delicious, bountiful, fun, meaningful…and stress-free?

I’ll be the first to admit Thanksgiving is a monster of a meal to prepare. But if you plan ahead, cook in advance, and enlist your family and friends to help, you can pull it off painlessly…and even enjoy it yourself.

Whether you decide to take on the turkey or bravely plan a feast without it is your decision. My feeling is, if you give ‘em a little tradition, you can sneak in some new recipes without a riot. For example, there would be a lot of kvetching from my crew if I didn’t make my Popovers, Cranberry Raspberry Relish and Dark Chocolate Walnut Bourbon Pie. But this year, I’m throwing in something totally unexpected.

When I taught this easy, elegant risotto last week, there wasn’t a bite left. Rich and cheesy, with layers of flavor and texture to keep it interesting, it’s a dish I’ve been making for weekend lunches and light weeknight dinners. Unlike a risotto made from traditional Arborio rice, this one doesn’t require you stand over it stirring.

On a chilly night, you could add roasted butternut squash or top it with toasted pumpkin seeds. You could also keep this recipe for the summer months and toss in some roasted corn kernels, cherry tomatoes and chopped basil. In any case, it can be prepared up to two days ahead. Just wait until right before serving it to add the coconut milk and cheese.

Topped with a gutsy, herb-based Harissa Sauce, this dish can certainly hold its own next to the turkey. Your holiday spread will get some fresh, modern flair. And your vegetarian friends will be quite pleased. In the spirit of co-existence, it tastes just right for the moment.

Wishing you all a very happy and meaningful Thanksgiving!

There are still a few days left to enter my November Giveaway! Enter as many times as you wish for to win a rice steamer from RiceSelect!

Stick around…my Holiday Gift Guide is coming soon. My 2015 classes will be announced next month!

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