As far as Americans are concerned, Thanksgiving is the King of culinary holidays. Yes there are other celebrations where families gather around for a feast but Thanksgiving simply takes the cake (or pie!) when it comes to planning and obsessing over the menu and then planning and obsessing over how best to use the leftovers. Oven roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, candied sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie - you get the picture. The best part of the meal is being with friends and family of course (and drinking spiced mulled wine) but at the end of the day, it's the food that inspires and excites.
Here, we spice up some very traditional Thanksgiving staples in ways that are laughably simple yet utterly tasty. The ultimate test?! Your kids will love them too.
Here's to love, laughter and spice on the family table. Happy Thanksgiving!
Nutmeg sweet potatoes
6 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult
Nutmeg’s touted health benefits include its antibacterial activity particularly for teeth, its ability to aid sleep and alleviate digestive distress. Nutmeg’s sweet, warm and lightly spicy qualities pair well with sweet potatoes and most winter squashes. Less is more when it comes to this spice – if ingested in very large quantities, it can cause unpleasant side effects like palpitations and sweating! – so use it with a light hand.
Serves 2 kids or 1 adult as a side dish
1 medium sweet potato peeled and chopped in large pieces if boiling, smaller pieces if steaming or pressure-cooking
2 teaspoons olive oil
A pinch, about 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Water for steaming or boiling the potatoes
Salt to taste (optional)
Dollop of butter (optional)
Cook the potatoes until soft using your method of choice – steaming, pressure cooking or boiling. Drain, saving some water if you need a more liquid puree for younger babies.
Warm the oil in a pot over medium heat, add the cooked potatoes and nutmeg and sauté for 1 minute until the spice is cooked through. You can add salt for older kids and adults.
Puree, lightly mash or leave in pieces. You can amp up the mash with a dollop of butter. Serve as a side for Thanksgiving or year round with fish or chicken. Stir in soft tofu or fish poached in milk for a complete baby meal.
Caraway Green Beans
12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult
Caraway may seem less familiar to us in the West but you have probably had it in Rye bread and the German delicacy Sauerkraut (or pickled cabbage). In Eastern Europe, caraway's medicinal powers are thought to be able to "cure every disease but death"! It's used as a digestive aid, to treat skin and respiratory infections, headaches and toothaches. There is emerging clinical evidence for it's ability to regulate the thyroid gland and endocrine systems. Here, it enlivens simple green beans in a unique and delicious flavor profile that complements any meat or fish main dish nicely. We chopped up the beans for the kiddos but you can leave them long with ends trimmed for a prettier effect and interesting finger food for more adventurous tots.
Generously serves 4 as a side dish
1 lb French green beans (haricots verts) both ends trimmed
Water for blanching the beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Salt and Pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water to boil and add a generous spoonful of sea salt. Add the green beans and blanche by boiling for just over a minute for crisp beans or longer for softer ones (if your kids, like mine, prefer them less crunchy). Transfer the beans to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking and retain freshness. Once cool, drain and dry the beans with a dish towel.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium flame until warm but not smoking. Add the caraway seeds and sauté until they start popping a bit but not burning, about 1-2 minutes. Add the green beans and sauté for another 1-2 minutes until the beans are coated with the caraway seeds and oil. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Note: If your kids don't love the texture of the seeds in their mouth, you can add the seeds to the oil on a very low flame and let the flavor infuse the oil for about 5 minutes. Drain the oil into a fresh pan through a sieve that can filter out the seeds. Use the flavored oil to cook the beans. You can also puree the beans with a little water or cooked carrots for a tasty baby veggie meal.
Grandpa Ish's Spiced Baked Apples
12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult
Grandpa Ish or "Bacca" is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who owned highly regarded and reviewed restaurants in California in the 80s and 90s (and naturally that's why I married into the family ;) ). Dad is retired now but his imagination and culinary creativity are very much alive. On a recent visit to Hong Kong, he made these gorgeous spiced baked apples for an easy weeknight dessert and both son and grandson were floored. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, these beauties will give any ol' Apple Pie a run for its money.
Cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar so I literally throw it in everything, especially sugary treats. It lends a comforting and warming spiced aroma and flavor to anything from porridge to baked apples to chicken stews and even soups like our Moroccan Lentil Soup here. Cardamom is a luxurious, floral and peppery spice with umpteen health benefits previously discussed here. And of course, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!
1 apple good for baking like Golden Delicious
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
3-5 large golden raisins
3-5 dried cranberries (optional except on Thanksgiving day!)
2 cloves cardamom
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 small square slice butter
Preheat the oven to 375F / 190C. Core and de-seed the apple with a sharp paring knife, a peeler with a pointed edge or an apple corer if you have one, creating a hollow about an inch in diameter. Be sure to leave a good amount of flesh at the bottom to hold the filling. Sprinkle the bottom of the apple with the sugar and fill the hollow with the raisins, cranberries and smashed cardamom cloves. Drizzle the maple syrup on top and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the square of butter on the apple.
Place the stuffed apple in an oven proof dish containing 2 inches of boiling water. Bake for 45 - 60 minutes until the bottom of the apple is fork tender. Serve with vanilla ice-cream or as is for a nutritious, delicious treat on Thanksgiving or any other day.