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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Thanksgiving always fills me with mixed feelings. Coming from India, I am generally eager to celebrate every holiday in the United States. Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, so there is no deity to focus on and no obligation to buy gifts. All around the world, people mark the harvest season with a ritual of thanking a god, nature, or their ancestors and gather with their loved ones to appreciate the season’s bounty. But it troubles me that the Native Americans, with whom the pilgrims started this holiday as a symbol of friendship, have little left to celebrate. And what about the turkeys? Well, they have even less reason to be thankful. Here are some vegetarian recipes to honor endangered populations and respect animals this Thanksgiving.

Gujarati-Style Stuffed Vegetables

My friends always expect me to bring a vegetarian main dish for Thanksgiving dinner. This entree is certainly impressive as an attractive centerpiece. I have modified a traditional stuffed eggplant dish (akha bharela ringana) from Gujarat, the northwestern state of India, to include other vegetables. This dish is as colorful as it is nutritious, with a variety of vegetables and a protein-rich sauce.

3 Japanese-style small and long eggplants, rinsed, trimmed, and cut in half crosswise
2 small (six-inch-long) zucchinis, washed and cut in half crosswise
2 small crookneck or gold bar summer squash, washed and cut in half crosswise
2 small and long sweet peppers (i.e. Anaheim or gypsy pepper), trimmed, or 1 red bell pepper, trimmed

For stuffing:
¾ cup garbanzo flour
3 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced after removing seeds, or ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
½ teaspoon each turmeric, cumin, and coriander powders
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons peanut, corn, safflower, or canola oil

For the sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt or soy yogurt, blended with ½ cup water
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt

For frying:
2 tablespoons peanut, corn, safflower, or canola oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds

Combine all the stuffing ingredients in a mixing bowl, stir, and set aside. Prepare the vegetables as described. Then take each eggplant and squash piece and cut it halfway through lengthwise so that it has a “slash” where the stuffing will go. Make a lengthwise slash into the peppers on one side and remove the seeds without breaking the peppers.

To fill the slashed vegetables with the stuffing, hold each piece with one hand, using your thumb to keep it open, while filling it with stuffing, one teaspoonful at a time, with the other hand. (See illustration below.) Do not over-stuff them or they will fall apart later. Set the stuffed vegetables aside. Save the remaining stuffing to be mixed into the sauce.

Using a whisk or fork, combine the ingredients listed for the sauce with the remaining stuffing in a mixing bowl.

In a dutch oven or any heavy-bottomed pot or frying pan with a good lid, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds finish popping, place the stuffed vegetables into the pan and sauté them gently for about 5 minutes, so that they are well coated with oil. Pour the sauce over them and stir-fry for few more minutes. Cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook over moderate heat for 35 to 45 minutes, checking and stirring gently every 10-15 minutes to make sure the stuffing does not stick to the bottom of the pot. After half an hour, if the mixture is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water as needed to form a thick gravy. The vegetables should be soft, but not falling apart, and the gravy should be thick. Serve hot with rice, any type of Indian bread or pita.

Alternate method: After the sauce has been added to the vegetables, place the covered pan into an oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. As above, check and stir every 10-15 minutes to make sure the stuffing does not stick to the bottom of the pot.

Brown Rice Cooked with Wild Rice

Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice and is an inexpensive staple for many Indian country folks, but it is difficult to find in urban restaurants in India or abroad. The wild rice used in this recipe is available seasonally in supermarkets and year-round in most health-food stores. 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. It takes longer to cook than brown rice does, but you can cook them together; some health-food markets even sell them pre-mixed. However, the brown rice gets a bit sticky cooked in this manner. Follow this recipe for better results:

3 cups of water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oil
¹/3 cup wild rice, rinsed thoroughly and drained
²/3 cup brown rice, rinsed and drained

Boil the water with salt and oil, and add the wild rice. Bring the mixture to boil again and cook covered for 15 minutes over medium heat. Then add the rinsed brown rice to the pot and stir gently. Cover and cook for another 35 minutes until both grains feel soft when pinched between your fingertips.

Cranberry Chutney

This is a great chutney for autumn. It can be served fresh for the Thanksgiving meal, or refrigerated and kept for months. It also makes a wonderful holiday gift. I had never cooked with cranberries before coming to the United States, and I created this recipe as an alternative to the traditional cranberry sauce.

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup water
2 cups honey, sugar, fructose, or maple syrup
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon each of ground cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder (optional for spicier chutney)

Chop the cranberries coarsely using a food processor, a blender, or a knife. Transfer them to a pot with the water and cook for a few minutes until the berries are soft. Add the sweetener and spices and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the chutney looks jam-like and shiny. It will solidify further as it cools.

Quick Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

Here is a recipe for a quick bread that uses festive pumpkin with cornmeal and a touch of saffron to give the dish an Indian flavor and embellish the autumn color. It can be served as a side dish, for breakfast, or as a dessert.

½ cup unbleached white flour or rice flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup coarse cornmeal (not degermed)
½ cup oat bran, rice bran, or wheat bran
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup pumpkin puree (freshly made or canned)
½ cup maple syrup
¹/3 cup corn, safflower, or canola oil
¹/8 teaspoon saffron strands, crumbled and soaked in ¼ cup warm milk or water for 15 minutes

Set the saffron strands to soak. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a 9-inch cast iron skillet or a muffin tin with 10 to 12 wells.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Using a fork, mix in the other dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, oil, and the saffron with its soaking milk (or water), whisking all together until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; mix briefly but thoroughly. Spread the batter in the skillet or divide equally into the muffin wells. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and crusty on top. (The muffins may cook faster; the batter in the heavy skillet may take longer.) Allow the bread to cool a bit before cutting the bread or removing the muffins. Serve hot with chutney.

First published in November of 2007.

Related Articles:

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student. Visit Shanta’s Vegetarian Ethnic Kitchen