In 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!
Serves 4 – 6
2 pounds cauliflower (about 1 large head), white or golden
2 tablespoons organic unsalted butter or Earth Balance
1 cup finely chopped onion or ½ cup finely chopped shallot
1 large whole sprig fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup homemade vegetable or chicken stock
¼ cup light coconut milk
1 cup best-quality grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Green Harissa Sauce (makes about 1 cup)
1 large clove garlic
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, stems torn off, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, stems torn off, roughly chopped
1 jalepeño pepper, roasted, stemmed and seeded (start with half; you can always add more if you want more heat)
Juice of one lemon
½ teaspoon each ground cumin, ground fennel seed, kosher salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Trim the tough core away from the cauliflower and cut into florets. In a food processor, blitz the florets in two batches until broken into tiny bits. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Sauté the onion or shallot, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme sprig and cauliflower, cooking until the cauliflower is beginning to soften, about 3 more minutes.
3. Add the wine and cook down until the liquid has almost evaporated. Add the stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes. At this point, the risotto may be cooled and stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
4. While the risotto is cooking, prepare the Green Harissa: In a blender, purée all the ingredients on high speed until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
5. Just before serving the risotto, stir in the coconut milk and cheese; stir until the cheese is melted. Remove the thyme sprig. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the risotto into individual bowls or a large family-style bowl. Top with the Green Harissa.
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!