There are various stories of the origin of Thanksgiving in America. One tale tells that the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans showed the settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts how to hunt, fish and grow life-sustaining crops like corn and squash. This subsequent- ly resulted in a bountiful harvest and a food-sharing celebration: the first Thanksgiving!
Today Thanksgiving is a non-religious holiday that unites people with food and festivities. It is also a sad reminder of the devastating persecution suffered by Na- tive Americans at the hands of European settlers.
Turkey is the customary main dish. Although the President pardons one lucky turkey every year, some 50 million tur- keys are sacrificed each year for American Thanksgiving dinners. However, a Thanksgiving menu does not have to center around turkey, or contain any meat at all. California’s diverse population in- cludes people of many backgrounds, pal- ates and lifestyles, gathering for a Thanksgiving meal.
Americans are increasingly eating lighter meals, creating menus with from a variety of seasonal ingredients cooked with ethnic flavors and techniques. The following two recipes, Kabocha Squash Curry with Sweet Potatoes, and Wild Rice with Fresh Pomegranate Seeds and Pine Nuts, go together well, and exemplify this fusion of ethnicities, featuring flavors from around the world, and using seasonal ingredients.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Fla- vors Of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is a co-owner of Other Avenues Food Coopera- tive in San Francisco. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, an illustrator and an art student.
Kabocha Squash Curry with Sweet Potatoes
Makes eight to ten servings
1 medium size Kabocha squash (2 to 2
½ lbs.), enough to yield approximately
8 cups of chunks
2 large Garnet sweet potatoes (1/2 lb.),
to yield approximately 3 cups of chunks
2 cups of water for steaming the vegetables
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
¼ tsp cayenne powder
1½ cups light coconut milk whisked together with 2 cups water
3 tbsp cooking oil
⦁ onion, finely chopped
½ red bell pepper cut into small pieces
after removing seeds and veins
⦁ tsp minced or finely shredded fresh
1 tsp salt
Juice of a freshly squeezed lime or lemon
2–3 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
A Creative Commons image by TLexano
Using a sharp knife, cut off the stem of the squash and then cut the squash into halves. Cutting hard squash can be intimidating at first, but it gets easier with practice. Remove the seeds and fibers from the halves, and cut each half into wedges or large pieces. Cut the sweet potatoes into 2 or 3 pieces each. Arrange the squash and sweet potatoes pieces in a steamer basket. Place two cups of water in a large pot or a kadhai (wok) with a tight fitting lid. Set the filled steamer basket in the pot and cover. Steam the vegetables for 15 minutes, just long enough to soften them slightly and loosen their skin. Transfer to a large planter to cool. When cool, peel them with a small sharp knife and discard the skin. Cut into smaller, bite-size pieces and set aside.
Next, prepare a garlic-cayenne paste as follows: Using a mortar and pestle, or a rolling pin, mash the garlic pieces with the cayenne powder to make a coarse paste. Whisk the garlic-cayenne paste into the coconut milk and water, mixing until well blended. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Saute the onion for a few minutes until it is wilt- ed, and then add the red pepper and ginger. Stir-fry for two minutes. Add the squash and potato pieces and stir fry the vegetables for a five minutes. Then add the coconut- milk mixture and salt. Stir again, cover, and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir the vegetables gently so that all of the pieces are cooked evenly, but not crushed, and nothing sticks to the bot- tom of the pan. The curry is done when the sauce has thickened and the squash and potato pieces are soft.
Add the freshly squeezed lime or lem- on juice, stir gently, and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with rice, or the wild rice entrée below.
Wild Rice with Fresh Pomegranate Seeds and Pine Nuts
Wild rice is not actually rice, but the seed of an aquatic grass native to the Great Lakes region of the United States. Native Americans have harvested it by hand for centuries. Wild rice has a unique, nutty flavor and is very nutritious, containing more protein and fiber than brown rice. The addition of pine nuts and pomegran- ate seeds makes this dish festive.
Ingredients: Makes eight to ten servings
2¾ cups of water
½ tsp salt (optional)
1 tsp oil (optional)
1 cup wild rice, rinsed in warm water
and thoroughly drained
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a
dry frying pan for a few minutes
(do not burn)
¼ cup fresh pomegranate seeds
Boil the water with the optional salt and oil. Add the rinsed and drained wild rice, stir, and allow the mixture to come to a boil again. Turn the heat down to simmer. Cover and cook for 45 minutes.
The rice is done when half the rice kernels appear to have been opened (the inside looks white) and most of the wa- ter is gone. Cover again, and turn off the heat, and leave the lid on for 10 to 15 minutes. Then uncover and check to see that the water is evaporated.
Freshly harvested wild rice cooks more quickly than older rice, but it’s diffi- cult to know the age of the rice when you purchase it. If, after 45 minutes, the rice appears done but there is still too much water, cook for a few minutes uncovered over a medium-high flame to evaporate the water, or simply drain off any excess water. (Save this nutritious water for a soup base).
Fluff the rice gently and transfer it to a serving bowl. Top with the roasted pine nuts and fresh pomegranate seeds, and serve. Wild rice is flavorful, chewy and substantial, so a serving of 1/3 to 1/2 cupper person is sufficient.