Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who Needs Turkey?

"F Turkey" (overheard by a guest remarking on his colorful Thanksgiving plate)

This post is a homage to one of my food blogging inspirations, the talented and creative Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks. I've been a long time follower of Heidi's innovative recipes, clever photography, and insightful musings. These are just a few of the qualities that have garnered her a devoted following of avid food blog readers. I am in awe of her ability to post regularly, and of the diversity of her posts, and above all of the recipes themselves. Her recipes are vegetarian and often vegan, generally nutritious, and they actually work - they taste amazing. Personally I'm impressed with her photography skills as well - who wants to try a recipe if it doesn't gaze tantalizingly at you from the screen?

So for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, I wanted to give my Aussie friends a little taste of Americana. But no way was I going to deal with a turkey, which I would have no interest in eating anyway. On the other hand, I was a bit daunted by the idea of coming up with a raw Thanksgiving menu that I could handle without my dehydrator and that I could convince normal eaters to try. So I compromised. I made a cooked vegan feast, all inspired by Heidi's plethora of gorgeous, nutritious, Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes.

Roasted pumpkin before being mashed for the pie filling - much more appetizing than the stuff in the can, no?

So what was on the menu? A beautiful Roasted Pumpkin Salad, which teased the eye with it's colorful contrast of bright orange, deep purple, and pale green, and then the palate, playing delicate, sweet pumpkin flesh against the slight bite of roasted red onion. The creamy sunflower-coriander dressing tied up the dish, with nutty red quinoa providing a hearty background. I used quinoa because I happened to have some on hand, but it ended up serving the purpose of introducing my guests to a fantastic grain that none of them had tried before.

Nature rocks the palette - and the palate.

I thought Kale and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes were a brilliant idea. Way to sneak some greens into the buttery classic! In fact, this recipe is a total revamp of the fat-laden version we piled on our plates as kids, and much improved in my opinion. Olive oil and potatoes are a lovely partnership, and a bit of garlic adds flavor, as does a generous seasoning of sea salt. I used silverbeet instead of kale, as I personally prefer it. I also substituted soymilk for regular milk to make this a totally vegan recipe.

Mashed potatoes join the eco-revolution and go green.

Vibrant Tasty Green Beans added a nice splash of my favorite color to the table. A simple pairing of caramelized leek and dill offered a Mediterranean-inspired take on the ubiquitous green bean. Firecracker Cornbread was a big hit, as none of the Aussies had ever tried cornbread. It wasn't vegan, but it was moist and sweet with a delicious hit of chilli at the bottom. It was actually more like what would be called "spoonbread" - think of a pillowy, savory pudding. I think using fresh corn cut off the cob made a difference to the overall integrity of the dish.

A big spoon, you, and me, baby. I'm here to spice up your life.

Green beans never looked this good.

I balanced off the table with a big green salad tossed with all the Thanksgiving essentials: juicy dried cranberries, pecans, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds and drizzled with fruity olive oil and a little balsamic. To Aus-i-fy the whole meal, people brought their own items to barbeque - everything from lamb chops to kangaroo sausages to haloumi to tofu.

Thankgiving-a-licious Green Salad

Dessert was a multi-faceted affair as well. Heidi's Spice-kissed Pumpkin Pie was quite possibly the best pumpkin pie I've ever tasted. The spices were vibrant, the filling creamy, the crust crumbly. I did make a few adaptations here. Instead of coconut milk, I actually cut open a young coconut and blended the flesh with about half of the water (and drank the rest - a perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up while I was cooking away). For the crust, I used Arnott's gingernut biscuits, since graham crackers aren't available here. I did use a little butter (3 Tbsp) in the crust, and 3 eggs in the pie filling, so this one wasn't vegan. But it was still a much lighter and less sugary take on traditional pumpkin pie, though it tasted rich and satisfying nonetheless. Pumpkin is an incredibly popular vegetable here in Australia, but it always used in savory preparations. My guests really enjoyed the sweet American take on this versatile veggie.

A trio of pies

My amazing housemate Jackie made a beautiful spring fruit platter with honeydew melon, nectarines, cherries and mango. I snuck in a bit more raw goodness myself with two little raw pies - one apple, one banana-carob. I used my old American Apple Pie recipe, but used Iranian dates instead of Californian. The flavor was more caramel, a deeper, muskier flavor, compared to the honey-sweetness of Californian dates.

Banana-carob Pie was a bit of a surprise, because I made it up when I ran out of apples. A simple almond-date crust was filled with a mixture of coconut oil, carob powder, and a little agave, and then topped with sliced bananas. So simple! Bananas and carob are a lovely partnership. This easy little pie will definitely be added to my regular repertoire. All the better because it requires no dehydrating, though it would be beneficial to take the extra step of soaking the almonds overnight to activate the enzymes and release their nutrition.

When you have so much raw and vegan goodness to feast on, who needs turkey? Thanks Heidi for your inspiration!

Improvization leads to the yummiest creations!

Banana-carob Pie

2 cups raw almonds (soaked if you like)
8 large Cali dates, or 12 smaller Iranian dates
1 cup carob powder
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 Tbsp agave nectar
1 large or 2 small bananas

Rub a pie plate with a little coconut oil.

Combine almonds and dates in food processor and whir until the mixture begins to come together much like crumbly pie dough. Press the dough into the pie plate.

If your coconut oil is not liquid at room temperature, gently melt it using a double boiler. In a small bowl, mix the coconut oil with carob powder (setting aside 2 Tbsp for garnish) and agave nectar to achieve a smooth texture. Smooth the carob mixture over the pie crust.

Slice the banana(s) into discs on a slight diagonal. Arrange the banana discs over the carob layer. Sprinkle with remaining carob powder. Refrigerate until ready to eat.
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