There’s no doubt that this will be another unusual holiday season. Gatherings may still be smaller as we social distance and some celebrate togethervia ZOOM. However, there are some upsides. For example, if you’re a little adventurous and yearn to deviate a bit from the old family standby recipes, you’ll have fewer people to challenge the new menu.
Turkey is the typically American centerpiece of holiday meals, but there are variations that are just as delicious and have some international flair.
Spicy Sriracha Turkey
This spicy Asian version has the heat of sriracha and the juiciness that comes from the mayonnaise. The typically Asian flavors of ginger and garlic provide anti-inflammatory properties as well as a flavorful bird.
12-14 lb. whole turkey, thawed and brined
2 cups mayonnaise
1/3 cup Sriracha
2 Tbs. ground ginger
2 Tbs. garlic powder
Salt and pepper
1 bunch Thai basil
3-4 stalks lemongrass
1 bunch scallions
3 or 4 fresh ginger slices
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and lower the rack to the lowest position.
2. Dry the turkey thoroughly with paper towels. Stuff the basil, lemongrass, scallions and ginger slices in the main cavity and smaller neck cavity. Close the neck cavity with a toothpick. Most turkeys come with the drumsticks tucked under a flap of skin to keep them secure. If yours didn’t, tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
3. Mix the mayonnaise, Sriracha, ginger powder and garlic powder in a bowl. Massage over the entire bird, leaving 2 tbs. of mayo mix for later. Then salt and pepper liberally.
4. Place the turkey, breast side down, in a roasting pan on a rack. Pour two cups of water in the pan and place in the oven.
5. Roast for 1 hour. Using paper towels or turkey lifting forks, carefully flip the bird breast side up. Rub the remaining mayo mixture over the top. Add additional water to the pan if needed and roast another 45-60 minutes. You want the interior temperature of the bird to reach 165 degrees F in the thigh area. If the turkey starts getting too dark on top, cover it loosely with foil. Allow the turkey to rest at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Buy your turkey at least a week before Thanksgiving. Place it in a roasting pan and let it thaw in the fridge several days.
Prepare 1 gallon of water with 1 cup salt. Add any herbs and spices you desire. Then place the turkey in a clean bucket and pour the brine water over it. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain and dry.
If you run out of time to brine, carefully loosen the skin of the turkey and rub all the meat (under the skin) with salt and herbs.
Use clean paper towels to give your bird a rubdown. Let it sit overnight, uncovered in the refrigerator. This promotes a crispy skin.
Make your stuffing in a baking dish, instead of in the cavity of the turkey. That way, your turkey can come out of the oven when the meat is moist and just cooked through, instead of drying out while you wait for the stuffing to reach the right temperature.
Once your turkey is thawed, brined, and dried, rub the turkey with oil, butter or mayo mixture to flavor the skin and make it crispy.
Start Upside Down
Cooking your turkey upside down allows the fat and juices to run into the breast meat for extra flavor and tenderness. Cook the turkey breast-down for the first hour. Then flip it over, re-oil the top and roast it the rest of the way, right-side up. The top will brown nicely for crispy skin and a nice presentation.
Use High Heat
You’ll get a juicier bird with crispy skin, if you roast it at a higher temperature for less time: 400 degrees F for about 2 hours. If the wings or breast start to get too brown, cover loosely with foil. Talk to your butcher to confirm the cook time for your size bird.
Allow the turkey to sit for 30 minutes before slicing. The juices redistribute and the slices tend to come out much neater.
For a Latin flavor profile, rich, dark mole sauce goes brilliantly with turkey. My recipe for Turkey Molé is made in a slow cooker and served with tortillas. And why not for Thanksgiving? Turkey contains the FoodTrient selenium, which detoxifies organs and helps skin stay elastic. The tryptophan content in turkey builds healthy neurotransmitters in the brain. Tryptophan is also found in dark chocolate, along with the FoodTrients catechins and flavonoids, which reduce the risk of heart disease. Chile peppers are rich in the FoodTrients zinc and vitamin C, another boost to the immune system.
Italian Lemon Cream Shrimp Scampi
Traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner is a feast-style meal featuring seven or more seafood dishes served up as courses. These come in the form of soups, pasta dishes, appetizers and entrées. This shrimp dish could be served anytime, but the green of the fresh basil and the red of the diced red peppers are particularly festive for the holiday season. Additionally, new crop lemons are ready to add tart flavor and vitamin C along with the high-quality protein of the shrimp.
4 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil for finishing
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small sweet red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 1/2- 2 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
1 Tbs. lemon zest
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1/3 cup crème fraiche or mascarpone
2 Tbs. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup basil (a small handful), roughly torn
1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1. In a large skillet, heat the olive over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to simmer, add the onion and red pepper and stir for 3-4 minutes until they soften. Then add the garlic and stir for another 30 seconds (be careful not to burn the garlic!).
2. Add the shrimp and lemon zest, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss until the shrimp is pink and opaque in the center, 2-to-3 minutes.
3. Add the vermouth, toss 1 minute. Add the creme fraiche and stir until the sauce is smooth.
4. Remove from heat, stir in the parsley and basil.
5. Divide the shrimp among shallow bowls and drizzle with a few drops of lemon juice and the extra virgin olive oil. Serve with the crusty bread.
French Spinach Souffles
Do not fear the souffle! By following a few easy rules (like using PERFECTLY CLEAN mixing bowls), you’ll discover that this traditional French specialty is, in fact, pretty easy to prepare. It’s a rich, luxurious side dish or festive entrée. The fresh spinach is a super-food and an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), manganese, folate along with vitamins B2, B6, E, calcium and vitamin C. The eggs and milk provide protein, fat, along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. Eggs are powerhouses of disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin.
6 Tbs. butter, softened and divided
4 Tbs. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. fresh spinach, stems removed and leaves chopped
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
3 eggs (separated)
1. Brush the inside of a large soufflé, deep casserole dish, or 6 individual ramekins with 1 ½ Tbs. of softened butter. Sprinkle the buttered surface generously with grated Parmesan cheese and put to one side while you prepare the filling.
2. Gently heat a large saucepan, add 2 Tbs. butter, the chopped spinach and sauté until it wilts and the juices have evaporated.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
4. In a separate medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat and stir in the flour and salt with a wooden spoon. Cook 30 seconds, whisking constantly, to cook out the flour.
5. Add the milk to the flour while whisking vigorously and cook for about 4 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
6. Add the chopped spinach and the remaining Parmesan cheese to the flour mixture and continue cooking over medium heat for 1 minute. Season the mixture with black pepper and nutmeg.
7. In a medium bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of the hot spinach into the egg yolks.
8. Then add the egg yolk mixture back into the hot spinach, stirring to completely incorporate. Do not overheat this mixture or the mixture may split. If this happens, you’ll have to start over.
9. In a scrupulously clean bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. (A bowl with any grease will prevent the egg whites from becoming stiff.)
10. Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the spinach. Fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture.
11. Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish(es) and bake for 30 minutes, until the soufflé is puffed up and cooked through.
12. Serve immediately.
Polish Cabbage with Wild Mushrooms
The Poles really know how to celebrate! For them, Christmas lasts for three days, enough cheer to carry them for the next 12 months. The main meal on Christmas Eve, and then there is first and second Day of Christmas. And so forth. Many Poles strictly stick to the tradition of a meatless Christmas Eve meal. This vegetarian side dish gets better the second or third day after it’s prepared. It will tempt even those who claim to not like cabbage and sauerkraut. Cabbage is a recognized super-food, while the mushrooms are low in calories and contain over a dozen minerals and vitamins, including copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and a number of B vitamins such as folate.
1/2 head of red cabbage
1 can (14 oz) of sauerkraut
1 1/2 cups of water
3 bay leaves
6 whole peppercorns
½ tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. salt
3/4 lb. fresh cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup of dried wild mushrooms
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1. Place dried mushrooms in a small pot, add enough boiling water to cover, set aside until mushrooms rehydrate (about 10-15 min).
2. Meanwhile, shred cabbage and cut into smaller pieces. Place in a large pot with 1 1/5 cups of water, bay leaves, peppercorns, caraway seeds, allspice and salt. Boil on medium heat until cabbage softens (about 5 minutes). Add sauerkraut (don’t drain or rinse). Continue cooking on medium-low.
3. Clean and slice the fresh mushrooms. Sauté in butter until golden brown. Transfer to cabbage mixture.
4. Sauté chopped onion (add a bit more butter if needed) and add to the cabbage mixture.
5. After dried mushrooms rehydrate, boil for about 10 minutes on low until soft. Add more water and boil longer, if needed. Once the mushrooms are soft, drain and add the mushroom water into the cabbage mixture. Chop the rehydrated wild mushrooms and add to the cabbage mixture.
6. Add the tomato paste and continue cooking on low for about 1 hour. Turn off and set aside to cool. Refrigerate overnight. Next day, cook again for another hour and a half or so.
Note: This dish is best served after 2-3 days. For best results, reheat on very low for an hour before serving.
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