Since I was acquainted with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, it seemed a rather quaint fit in the November months. With the first signs of chill rolling in, a pull-all-stops feast with family and friends around the table sounds like something I would definitely rally behind even if it weren’t my national festival. Obviously, I’ve never been the sorts who needs an excuse to pamper those around me, and nothing brings people together, or gets a conversation going like food. So the kind of things I put down for a feast has to be stuff that’s new and exciting, but also tinged with familiarity— that’s really the secret to making good food taste even better.
I am aware of how important a role tradition has to play in a Thanksgiving feast, but while the idea of a glorious golden turkey, cranberry and bread sauce, and pumpkin pie all sound exciting, if I’m going to be feeding my Indian family, a new native American bird is certainly not how I’d approach this. It took weeks to bring together just the right dishes for this meal, and try as I might, when it ended up taking shape, I realised that there was nothing remotely American about it left. Instead, here were dishes that were so evidently my signature style, that it needed to be out there.
I remember being a bag of nerves about tampering with the blueprint for this meal. Writing off the turkey from what is supposed to be a Thanksgiving meal will leave you with a glaring two and a half to three-odd kilos of empty space on the table and some amount of self doubt. I thought to myself then, screw it, it doesn’t make a difference as long as the food is vibrant and delicious and makes you happy. If you’re happy cooking it, it’s going to show in the food you put down.
Have you experienced this? You put out a cheeseboard for a party and naturally everyone cuts into their favourites leaving like a ton of cheese behind for you to clingwrap individually every single time? Yeah, I hate that. I wanted to put out a cool cheeseboard. Give people exactly what they want in a way that makes them appreciate every kind of cheese on the board. I grated smelly Stilton into buttery sweet shortbread biscuits to make these crumbly, delicious confections. Bocconcini balls were crumb fried quickly and blue cheese was served hot with a choice of strawberries, and figs were cooked with balsamic vinegar and beurre noir, which is brown butter taken to the extreme where it turns almost black. The deep toffee notes of beurre noir and balsamic’s complex acidity are a perfect match for figs that turn soft and jammy, holding their shape only so, but falling apart like a velvety mess when you bite into it.
Fried Bocconcini Balls
Drain 200g of bocconcini balls from their whey and leave it aside in a colander. Season 1 cup of breadcrumbs with salt and pepper and tip them onto a plate and spread them. Make a slurry with 4-5 tbsp of all-purpose flour or maida and an equal amount of water or more to form a medium-thick, not too runny slurry. Heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat in a kadai for deep-frying. Dip each bocconcini ball into the maida slurry and roll in the breadcrumbs, dip again in the slurry and roll again in breadcrumbs till it has been double-crumbed. Drop into the hot oil and let it fry. Drain onto paper towels as soon as it’s golden. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan.
Balsamic and Beurre Noir Figs
Halve six figs lengthwise and set aside. In a saucepan, heat 2-3 tbsp of butter over a medium-high flame and let it turn golden at the edges and start to foam. Once the foam seems to subside and the butter starts to smell nutty, watch the edges of the pan for the colour of the milk solids. They will quickly go from a brown to a blackish dust. If you can’t see this, swirl the pan till you do, or spoon some out to check the colour. That’s when you take the pan off the heat and add 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Careful as the pan will sizzle. Add in 1/2 tsp of salt and the figs and cook this over medium flame till the figs are soft but still hold their shape. Do not stir the figs as they might break, but rather gently swirl the pan so that the vinegar and butter cover the figs. Let the mixture cool before you taste it for salt again and adjust.
Blue Cheese Biscuits
Yield 12 cookies
These are trusty shortbread biscuits with a good amount of blue cheese added in to really kick up the flavour. If you can’t cut perfect circles for the biscuits, don’t fret. They’re going to taste delicious all the same.
Butter 130g at room temperature
Caster Sugar 1/4 cup
Blue cheese 100g, at room temperature
Salt 2 pinches
Egg yolk 1, at room temperature
All-purpose flour 1 cup, plus 2 tbsp
Blend together the butter and cheese together for a minute with a hand mixer till combined. Sprinkle over the sugar and salt and blend again for a minute taking care not to over mix since this is a cookie. Add in the yolk and blend till completely mixed in and stop. Stir in the flour by hand using a spatula until there are no traces of dry flour left and everything is coming together to form a ball. Tip the ball onto a piece of cling film and make a tight sausage roll of it shaping it into as much of a circle as you can. Leave it in the refrigerator overnight or for 4 hours minimum.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Slice the log out of the refrigerator into 1/2 inch thick pieces and place them at an inch distance between each other giving them place to spread. Bake until the edges are starting to brown, for about 15-20 minutes and let them cool on the sheet itself to firm their bases up.
Simple stuff really. I never want to complicate side dishes, and neither should you. If you do these right, you’ll find kids on the table reaching for greens, and adults forgetting about the main dish in favour of the sides. A mezze-style aubergine dish fried in an exuberant amount of olive oil till easy to mash gets a smack of flavour from cumin, chilli, herbs, and lots of lime juice. In fact it’s so good, you’ll find yourself sneaking back into the kitchen after everyone’s left to spoon it over toast and eat. My second side is broccoli, briefly blanched and tossed with anchovies, garlic, lime zest, chilli and breadcrumbs over medium-high heat. You won’t believe how good it tastes until you try it. Take this dish even further by working spaghetti into it for a quick dinner.
Broccoli With Anchovies, Capers and Chilli
Yield 4-6 as a side
This works great as a side with the garlicky breadcrumbs, hit of chilli and the funk from the anchovies. You could also upgrade this side to a main by adding in spaghetti to the flavoured oil, and tossing through with some of the pasta water before finishing with the garlicky breadcrumbs and some herbs.
Broccoli 2 heads, cut into florets
Olive oil 3 tbsp
Anchovies 4, roughly chopped
Garlic 3 cloves
Capers 1 tbsp
Bird’s eye chilli 1, finely chopped
Breadcrumbs from the same loaf of sourdough you may have used for the bocconcini 1/3 cup
Salt and pepper
Lemon zest 1/4 tsp
Start by steaming the broccoli for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Alternately you could blanch the broccoli for 2 minutes and shock it in ice cold water.
Heat 2 out of 3 tbsp of olive oil in a pan and when hot, add in the anchovies, 2 grated garlic cloves, capers and chilli. At the same time in another pan, add in the remaining tablespoon of oil and when hot, tip in the garlic and the breadcrumbs and fry them till they are crisp. Add the broccoli to the anchovy and garlic oil, sprinkle in the lemon zest and toss briefly, for a minute and proceed to plate. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and serve.
Recipe for Sour and Spicy Aubergine:
Sour and Spicy Aubergine
The amount of olive oil in this recipe might seem like a bit much but if you skimp on the oil, it doesn’t yield quite the same lush final result. It’s one of my new favourite things to eat on toast- a nod to a Middle East caponata.
Olive oil for frying
Garlic 4 cloves
Kashmiri Red chilli powder 1 tsp, or more
Ground cumin 1 tsp
Lemon juice 3-4 tbsp or the juice of 1 1/2 lime
Flat leaf parsley 2 tbsp chopped finely
Coriander leaves 2 tbsp chopped finely (don’t be tempted to add the stems here)
Salt and pepper to finish
Cut the aubergine into thick dices. Fry the aubergine in a frying pan in batches with a little more olive oil than you would regularly add. Keep tossing the aubergine dices till they are nicely browned and become soft enough to mash, for about ten to twelve minutes. You can add a bit more olive oil if they are looking dry. Drain them on a paper towel and repeat with the rest of the aubergines. In a bowl, add the soft aubergine dices, the dry spice powders, herbs, salt, pepper and lemon/lime juice and mash with a fork. Taste to adjust the salt and the acidity. It should taste bitter, sour and spicy all at the same time.
THE MAIN EVENT
When you take the big bird out, my first thought was how very cute it would be if each person could get their hands on a little bird instead. Since I hadn’t had much experience cooking quail before, I asked for recipes and cooking methods. A quail must be cooked hot and fast before it is ready to fly to the table. Fifteen minutes was all it took to get them ready. Brining them in a tandoori yoghurt mixture overnight made the flesh taste delicious and did not dry the bird out during the fast cooking process. I rested these baby birds on a bed of dry fruit and vegetable pulao that is made with whole garam masalas and tons of gloriously sticky caramelised onions as the base.
Yield 4 whole quails
The marinade for the quail is a tandoori yoghurt mix, and my note on the quick cooking time has I’m sure given you an idea that you could easily make this in a tandoor if you have one at home. You will have to be quite vigilant it since it cooks very quickly, within 5-8 minutes.
Quails 4, washed
Garlic 2 tsp
Ginger 2 tbsp
Salt 2 tsp, plus more to adjust
Cumin powder 1 tbsp
Black pepper 3/4 tbsp
Coriander powder 2 tsp
Lime 1, juiced
Garam masala 1/2 tbsp
Massage the quails with the ginger, garlic and salt mixture. Let this stand for 30 minutes.
Add the dry spice powders to the curd together with the lime juice and combine. Dunk the quail in the yoghurt keeping it overnight or for 4 hours at least.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Put the quails on a wire rack leaving space between them for heat to pass through. Cook for fifteen minutes checking the flesh to see if firm and juices run clear. Let the quails rest wrapped in foil for five to seven minutes before serving them on top of the pulao.
Recipe for Dry Fruit and Veg Pulao:
Dry Fruit and Vegetable Pulao
Incredibly fragrant and rich with dried fruits, this pulao is fit for a king. The carrots and beans only add to the beautiful spectacle and health of this dish. They are steamed above the rice towards the end of the cooking process. Adding red chilli powder to the brown onions adds a lovely colour to the pulao.
Basmati Rice 350g, washed and set aside
Onions 2 large or 3 medium, halved and cut into thin slices
Kashmiri Red chilli powder 3/4 tbsp
Dried apricots 100g, soaked overnight
Potatoes 100g, peeled and cubed
Carrots 100g, cut into juliennes
French beans 100g, cut into juliennes
Peas 100g, frozen works well
Saffron 2 pinches, lightly roasted
Sugar 1 tsp
Cinnamon 1 small piece
Cardamom 2 pieces
Black peppercorns 10
Mace 1 flower
Caraway seeds or shahi jeera 1 tsp
Ghee for frying the onions
Vegetable oil for frying the potatoes and dried fruit
Barberries for sprinkling over (optional)
In a deep saucepan, add in a few tablespoons of ghee and heat over a medium-high flame. Add in the onions. Keep stirring the onions every few minutes to ensure even browning till the onions are a deep golden. At this stage, add in the cinnamon, cardamom, black peppercorns, mace, caraway seeds and let these fry in the oil. Add the red chilli powder and immediately add in the washed rice and water to cover the rice, about 4 cups along with the saffron and salt. Add in the salt and bring it up to a boil.
Cook the rice on full flame for 15 minutes, or until cooked. Check with a fork around the edges to check for any water.
Fry the potatoes in vegetable oil, and in the same oil, fry the cashews and raisins as well. Cook the apricots in a few teaspoons of its soaking water and tsp of sugar till its soft and the mixture has reduced.
Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and add to it the frozen peas, a tsp of salt. Drain when the peas are cooked.
Open the lid of the rice and add to it the julienned carrots, beans, fried dried fruit, apricots, peas. Cover the deep saucepan with foil and put the lid on. Heat over very low flame for 15 minutes to let all the flavours combine before serving it.
Adapted from a Jamva Chaloji recipe by Katy Dalal
For those of you who are vegetarian, I’ve also tested a really great main that can replace the Tandoori quails and pulao— a Saag en croute made with seasonal winter greens like sarson ka saag, bathua and vegetables cooked long and slow till they’re meltingly tender and creamy before it’s all stuffed into a puff pastry and baked till golden. You can find the recipe for that here.
Everyone loves mash, and trust me, if your spud game is strong, you have already conquered your feast. This year, I wanted to take my mash to the next level and decided on an Aligot, which is perfectly good potato mash, butter, cream and cheese combined slowly over low heat till the cheese stretches up as you pull your spatula away between turns. A nice hit of garlic here and some herbs is all it takes to finish this incredibly indulgent pot of gloopy goodness.
Yield 8 servings
What makes this mash so special is its creamy yet stringy consistency that comes from combining the potatoes with cheese and cream over low heat. Garlic and thyme go superbly here but feel free to play around- they are just potatoes at the end of the day.
New potatoes/ Tikki wale aloo or Mahabaleshwar Red Potatoes 700g, washed
Garlic 3 cloves, grated
Thyme 1/2 tsp dry or 1 tsp fresh leaves
Butter 110g, cut into cubes
Cream 200ml, plus more as needed (I used Amul’s whipping cream here, but you could also use Mother Dairy cream or D’lecta dairy cream)
Mozzarella 150g (not pizza cheese, but rather good quality mozzarella)
Begin by boiling the potatoes in salted water till a fork can easily pass through it with no resistance.
While still hot, peel the potatoes and blend them with the garlic in a food processor briefly adding in the butter as you do this. Use up all the butter and transfer the mashed potatoes to a saucepan. Over a very low heat, combine the cream and cheese alternately in batches stirring with a wooden spatula as you go till the potatoes thicken and start feeling stretchy from the cheese. The aligot’s final texture should not be too thin, but rather a slow steady pour. Overworking the potatoes in this mash activates its starches and that’s what we want. You might have to add more cream to loosen the aligot if you want to reheat it to serve the next day. Season and serve.
I think your choice of dessert really depends on whether you’re going for a showstopper kind of pud or something more delicate to end a meal with. Either way, I’ve got you covered with tons of recipes. This particular spread had a Persimmon cake with a very special ingredient in it-5 Spice! I think I’ve been obsessed with this pairing since I stumbled across a Kitchn recipe that used it, and have since been itching to try and replace my favourite Persimmon and ginger loaf from 2015. Besides, the former uses diced Fuyu persimmons as opposed to the loaf that uses pulp from Hachiya.
This persimmon layer cake has coconut, a bit of Malibu, lots and lots of spices and a smooth butter and cream cheese frosting. I did promise you alternate recipes that are lighter than a layer cake, so you can also find a light Tahini Panna cotta made with half and half, that’s half milk and half cream, as well as a Riz au lait or Arborio rice kheer with whipped cream folded through to lighten the dessert, finished with a choice of toppings.
Persimmon and 5-Spice Cake
Yield two 8-inch sponges
Cutting the Fuyu persimmon into fine dices works better as opposed to using pulpy Hachiya. The former still retains some of its bite after the cake is done which adds some personality to this spiced cake.
Butter 75g, softened
Caster sugar 250g sugar
Vegetable Oil 75ml
Eggs 3, at room temperature
Egg yolk 1, at room temperature
Lime 1, zested and juiced
Malibu 1 tbsp
All-purpose flour 270g
Chinese 5 spice powder 1 tsp
Baking powder 1 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Ground cinnamon 1 tsp
Ground Ginger 1 tsp
Salt 3/4 tsp
Yoghurt 1/2 cup, whipped
Fuyu Persimmons 350g, cut into fine dices
Grated fresh coconut 100g, plus more for garnishing (optional)
Cream cheese 150g, softened
Butter 90g, softened
Icing sugar 400g
Lime 1, juiced and zested
Chinese 5 spice powder 1/2 tsp
Ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease and line two 8-inch cake pans.
Begin by creaming together the softened butter and sugar using an electric hand-mixer till combined, for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vegetable oil and blend this into the creamed mixture incorporating air into as you go. Another two minutes.
Add in the eggs one at a time blending it well between each addition. Add in the lime zest, juice and Malibu and briefly blend.
Whisk together the flour, 5 spice, cinnamon, ginger salt, baking powder and soda.
Now alternating between the dry flour mix and the yoghurt, add the two and beat in batches being careful not to over mix. Blend just until there are no dry streaks of flour left.
Using a spatula, fold in 3/4th of the persimmon and the grated coconut and divide between the cake pans.
Tap gently on the counter once or twice and transfer to the oven. Let it bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for ten minutes in their pans and turn them out and let them cool completely on a cake rack.
Once the cakes have cooled completely, you can proceed to frost them.
To make the frosting, blend together the butter and cream cheese by hand, careful not to overmix. Blend till just smooth. Add in the icing sugar, lime juice and zest along with the spice powders and using a whisk combine everything together till it is the consistency you’re looking for. Refrigerate till needed.
Sandwich the two cakes with a thick layer of icing in between, as well as a thick layer on top.
Here are some great ideas for leftovers with the above dishes:
Combine the mash with some egg and fresh herbs and bake in a muffin pan till golden brown and crisp. Serve with a poached egg.
Spoon any leftover aubergine over slices of toast and eat. Mum chimes in to say have them with the blue cheese biscuits but that can’t be right.
Top the riz au lait with the cooked figs. The balsamic of the figs goes superbly with the sweet rice pudding.
Should you have any Brie cheese leftover (highly doubtful), make a midnight snack of crisp bacon, melty brie cheese and a bit of the figs. I did that last night.
Make a dark stock by grilling the quail carcasses with leeks, carrots, onions and herbs. Deglaze with red wine and tomato purée and pressure cook the contents for a few whistles. Strain and store this dark stock in the freezer for later use.