Our Asian Thanksgiving Experiment: The Results Are In!
The Challenge: A non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Photos by Christina Uticone & Joshua Payne It's beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving!
The Reasoning: After my husband eats one leftover turkey sandwich and two bowls of turkey soup, I am solely responsible for consuming the remaining eight-to-12 pounds of turkey. And I just couldn't do it again this year.
The Strategy: Choose a recipe from our latest culinary obsession -- the cookbook Plenty -- and build a meal around it.
The Results: I hatched this plan several weeks before Thanksgiving, but held off on pitching it to my husband, Josh, because brining and roasting a turkey is one of his favorite things to do in the world. (Other things include "look at rocks," "talk about rocks" and "think about rocks" -- he's a geologist.)
I'm still not sure how I convinced him to forgo a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but he took up the challenge of cooking an Asian-themed meal with enthusiasm. It's definitely the cookbook more than my powers of persuasion. Have you bought Plenty yet? GO GET IT.
A previous, semi-successful experiment in cooking dumplings put us in mind of an Asian theme, but finding the recipe in Plenty for soba noodle salad with eggplant and mango solidified the plan. After a lot of time spent on The Googles, we decided on the following dishes:
I never dreamed Thanksgiving would include so much cilantro.
• Starters: Miso soup with tofu and pork potstickers
• Second Course: Soba noodle salad with eggplant and mango
• Main Course: "Chinese New Year" chicken wings and Asian slaw
• Dessert: Rice pudding
Josh and I make no claim to "authenticity" in any of these recipes, techniques or final flavors. Our goal was to work with some ingredients (mostly herbs and spices) we don't normally employ and to have some fun together in the kitchen. I do want to thank our great friend Yiming Wang for the "Chinese New Year" chicken inspiration. Yiming's Chinese New Year's parties were the stuff of legends in Fairbanks, and our version of her incredible chicken could never do justice to her recipe.
Miso Soup & Pork Potstickers
The miso soup was Josh's territory, and he kept it simple, which resulted in a lovely, light starter. He used this recipe from the 101 Cookbooks Web site as a guide, but omitted the noodles and most of the greens, sticking with cilantro and green onion along with tofu. For our first try, I think this soup turned out very well. We were happy to eat it over the next few days, and in fact it came in quite handy when I came down with a bit of a stomach bug.
Verdict Miso Soup: An unqualified success. I'm ready to add this recipe to our regular rotation, adding vegetables, greens and noodles to make it hearty enough for a main course.
We split duties on the potstickers: Josh made the filling the night before, while I took on the manufacturing and cooking of the dumplings on Thanksgiving Day. As you can see, my potsticker-making abilities far surpass Josh's.
The filling consisted of pork, sesame oil, soy sauce, green onion, salt and pepper; we used this recipe from UseRealButter.com as a guide. Even more important than the recipe are the instructions for folding dumplings. I cheated and used pre-made wrappers, but I am planning on a Day of Dumpling-Making -- including the from-scratch dough -- around New Year's Eve.
Perfection on the right!
The cooking technique described at UseRealButter.com is also perfect: Heat oil in a large pan or wok until sizzling hot, fill the pan with dumplings and cover, cooking until the bottoms brown. [Here I used a splatter shield rather than a pan cover, and it worked quite well; it also makes checking the progress of the dumplings easier.] After the bottoms have browned, pour in about a half-cup of water -- quickly! -- and cover again, until the dumplings are steamed to a finish. I must say, these dumplings were the highlight of the meal for me. I can only take partial credit (the filling didn't taste good because of me, after all), but I do think they photograph beautifully, and that's all me, baby.
Verdict Dumplings: Time-consuming, but well worth the effort; the UseRealButter.com blog recipe and techniques are essential. I'll add mushrooms next time to add some earthiness.
Probably my favorite course of the meal. Possibly because I was the most sober for it.