Let’s shake up the Thanksgiving dinner lineup this year with exotic flavors from the other side. The other side of the world. There are a few things we need to cover before taking the road less traveled over the meadows and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.
First rule: Don’t be intimidated by the unusual spices. Some of them are not really that unusual, they’re just known by other names in India. Herbs and spices are incorporated into many cuisines not just because they add flavor, but they also aid digestion, and promote better health.
The most unusual Indian spice, powdered asafoetida (hing in Hindi), is very potent, and has an offputting fragrance in the container, but the flavor it adds is very difficult to replicate. If you can’t find asafoetida, a mix of two parts onion powder to one part garlic powder – no salt – is a barely acceptable substitute. Another herb not used in American cuisine is fenugreek (methi in Hindi). Fenugreek leaves are used fresh or dried, and the seeds are also used to impart the very unique flavor of this herb.
Second rule: If you are not already a fan of the cornucopia of Indian cuisines available in the metro Atlanta area, start small. Try serving a condiment, or a side, made with the spices of India first. Many respected Indian cookbook writers are adapting recipes for inexperienced or timid palates. Madhur Jaffrey is the most well-known of all Indian cooks, but Bal Arneson and Aarti Sequeira, via their cooking shows, have enticed many home cooks to venture into the mystical world of Indian cuisines (and there are very, very many).
Third rule: Muster up the courage to venture into a local Indian grocery store with your spice list, and ask for help. The massive quantity of whole and ground spices in these stores imparts a heavy fragrance to the air, usually dominated by cumin. In our locale, Shahi Bazaar has all the spices listed in the recipes mentioned here. If you live toward Cumming or Decatur, try Cherian’s. International mega-marts stock very limited Indian grocery items. Weekend shopping in Indian markets can be very hectic, so try to go on a weekday.
So, how about a few suggestions? In her NY Times article below, Madhur Jaffrey recommends several fall menu additions. One is Bengali tomato chutney. We eat this every day here in Kolkata, and the recipe could be amended to replace half or all the tomatoes with fresh cranberries. Or you can make it just as she intended. Madhur’s recipes for eggplant, corn, and squash would all be great new additions to the Thanksgiving table. In India, squash and pumpkin are available year round, and we eat either or both nearly every day at home.
Bal Arneson specializes in making Indian food more accessible to everyone who didn’t grow up Indian. Her recipe for crispy sweet potato cakes with mango chutney is a great alternative to usual marshmallow smothered casseroles. She also has a recipe for brussels sprouts that will please your sprout lovers. If mac and cheese makes regular appearances on your festive table, try Bal’s recipe for macaroni and cheese Indian style.
Don’t forget about our previous blogs on non-traditional pumpkin dishes, and how to cope after your failure to launch yourself away from the Thanksgiving table.
Be brave. Explore these new flavors. Even if you feel the need to reduce the quantities of certain spices, you can always adjust the flavors before taking the dishes to the table. Recipes are more like guidelines. All that really matters is that you love the taste. Enjoy!
Indian Grocery Stores:
Shahi Bazaar is located at 851 Oak Road, in Lawrenceville. Shahi seems to focus on north Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
Cherian’s is located in Decatur at 751 DeKalb Industrial Way, and in Cumming at 2255 Peachtree Parkway. Cherian’s carries both north and south Indian food items.
(Image: Thanksgiving turkey © Alexander Raths – Fotolia.com) Turkey