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East meets West

I like to pick and choose when to draw attention to my American heritage. Recently I've been keeping quite QUIET about it.

But then there's Thanksgiving. It's just TOO good an excuse to get creative with pumpkin and host a dinner party in the late November festive dirth.

This year DS and I had just got back from an indulgent holiday in Portugal, where our dedicated testing of every possible sweet treat on offer had taken its toll. Whilst enjoying a celebratory glass of Vouvray to herald our homecoming, we vowed to get back on the wagon. At least for a couple of weeks.

So. A light Thanksgiving. Fine.

To help us keep our wagon seat-belts firmly fastened, I kept the numbers down. We would be a small, select group of 5. One of these was an old friend who lives an even more itinerant lifestyle than me, but is nominally based in Paris, solo. The others were an Anglo-French couple - she has moved here for Amour but is struggling to find chums in the big city. She even confessed to going to 'meet up groups' with strangers, which she said so far had only yielded awkward conversations with slightly odd people, or screenings of amateur short films about the stock market. A little amicable Thanksgiving matchmaking was in order.

On to the brief. A casual supper for five, where I could make everything in advance to be free to chat when people arrived. Mr French is lactose intolerant, although Mrs Meet Up did say that if he doesn't know something contains lactose, he is usually fine. Better err on the side of caution, for the added challenge. Turkey seemed essential, even though I clearly wasn't going to roast a whole bird for five people. I had thought about a pie, but without a creamy béchamel filling it would probably be disappointing. I was all settled on spiced turkey thigh when I was blindsided by my lovely Parisian butcher suggesting turkey OYSTERS. Yep. You know the twin little morsels of lusciousness on the underside of a roast chicken? Usually the chef's perk? Well, that, but turkey sized. In French they are called 'le sot l'y laisse' or 'the idiot leaves them'. Exactly.

Pumpkin was also a given. Pumpkin pie was out because of the dairy constraint, but why not a spiced pumpkin mousse? So nutritious. I also had a hankering for cornbread, which I never have anymore, and reminds me (in a good way) of my southern grandmother. Pumpkin cornbread sounded like a splendid idea. Sprouts? Always. Cranberries? Check. And some popcorn for a good ol' American starter.

And then I thought, Woah there! Wait a second. Do I really want to be blindly celebrating American traditionalism in these dark times? Especially with Mr Left Wing Union-supporting (basically stars 'n' stripes burning) Frenchy coming. Well, no.

The traditional spices in a pumpkin pie must originally have descended from early Scandinavian and German New World settlers, I imagine. Indeed, 'American' cuisine today is nothing but a melting pot of different cultures and culinary traditions. Much like the cuisine in the Middle East, I mused whilst checking my cinnamon supplies. It occurred to me that this ubiquitous spice is one of the common and important links between these two cuisines. The blurred boundary between savoury and sweet in a traditional Thanksgiving meal, and the corresponding use of dried fruits and nuts, is another.

To help make a stand in my own way against isolationism and cultural exclusion I decided to put a Middle Eastern slant on my menu (in my head this was a perfectly logical step). I'm generally trigger happy when it comes to zataar and sumac, so their addition to cornbread and popcorn felt like an appealing experiment. Applying my favourite Ottolenghi inspired recipe for chicken to my turkey oysters also seemed like an obvious choice. I made a move even further East for my dairy free dessert by incorporating coconut cream. Or further West to Hawaii. However you want to look at it.

My cross cultural pollination in the kitchen led to a surprising, harmonious and highly successful meal.

I'm thinking of going into politics.


This menu takes a bit of planning. If you can, I'd try and marinate the turkey and at least make the pumpkin purée a day in advance. On the day, start with the dessert. Next make the cornbread. Then prep the carrots, cook the turkey and make the salad. Once people arrive you then just need to roast the carrots, reheat the turkey and make the popcorn.

Sumac spiced popcorn

Plenty for five, takes 10 minutes

starter / gluten free / dairy free / vegetarian / vegan / ready in a jiffy / quietly smug / party / date night / perennial / on a budget

If I were to pick one thing to thank Thanksgiving for, it would be for reminding me about home made popcorn. Sizzle, pop, crunch. Here I used sumac, but you could of course stick to classic salt and butter, or truffle oil for a delectable treat.

* Corn kernels - 1/3 cup

* Coconut oil - 1 tbsp (or vegetable oil)

* Salt

* Sumac - 1 tbsp

Heat the oil over a medium high heat in a heavy based saucepan large enough to fit the corn kernels in a single layer. Throw in a couple of kernels and wait for them to pop. This means the oil is at the right temperature.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the rest of the corn into the pan, shaking to get an even layer. Cover the pan and leave for 30 seconds. This will get all the corn up to the same temperature and should prevent any burning afterwards.

Return the pan to the heat, still covered, and leave for several minutes. The corn will start popping, and you may need to hold the lid down to keep it from blowing off if you're using a small pan.

Remove from the heat when the popping calms down again, when each single pop comes every few seconds. This means nearly all the corn has popped.

Pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Season with salt and sumac, and a little olive oil if you like.

Spiced turkey oysters

Serves five. 10 minutes active time, plus 2 hours in the oven.

main / dairy free / gluten free / party / date night / easy peasy / ready in a jiffy / quietly smug / / perennial

If you can get hold of turkey oysters, I can't recommend them highly enough: they're easily manageable, tender and juicy. Here, they are slow cooked, so really melt in the mouth. If you can't find any oysters, turkey or chicken breast cut into chunks would work fine.

* Turkey oysters - 1 kg

* Olive oil - a generous glug

* Garlic - 2 cloves, peeled and finely sliced

* Vegetable or chicken stock - 500ml

* Cinamon - 1 tbsp

* Ground coriander - 1 tbsp

* Ground paprika - 1/2 tsp

Place the turkey in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Season well with salt and pepper, then cover with cling film. Place in the fridge and leave to marinade for at least a few hours, ideally overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (170 fan oven).

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the turkey (preserving the marinade) until just golden on each side.

Place the turkey and the marinade in an oven dish. Pop in the oven, with a lid or covered with foil, and cook for two hours. You can make this in advance and reheat whenever you need it.

Roasted carraway and cumin carrots

For five, 5 minutes prep, 40 minutes cooking time

side / vegetarian / vegan / party / date night / ready in a jiffy / on a budget / nothing fancy / dairy free / gluten free / hands free / perennial

Roasted carrots are something I come back to again and again throughout the year. So easy to prepare, full of goodness and a pleasingly squidgy texture. Try experimenting with spices - ground coriander works extremely well. As does zataar.

* Carrots - 5 large, peeled and halved lengthways

* Cumin seeds (or ground) - 1 tbsp

* Carraway seeds (or ground) - 1 tbsp

* Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C.

If the spices aren't already ground, use a pestle and mortar to crush them to a rough powder. Place the carrots in a large roasting dish and season with salt and pepper. Add the spices and a generous glug of olive oil and toss well to combine.

Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until starting to caramelise.

Sprouts, apple, cranberry and pistachio salad

For five, takes 15 minutes (a little longer if grating by hand)

salad / side / party / ready in a jiffy / easy peasy / quietly smug / vegetarian / vegan / dairy free / gluten free / autumn / winter

A friend asked me today what would be my recipe of choice to convert a non-believer to Brussels sprouts. It might be this. When they're finely grated, they provide a lovely nutty basis to a salad. This is much easier to do with a grater attachment on a blender. Otherwise mind your fingers.

* Brussels sprouts - about 400g, tops removed and finely grated

* Apple - 2, sweet, cored and thinly sliced

* Celery - a few stalks, thinly sliced

* Dried cranberries - a generous handful

* Shelled pistacchio - a generous handful, chopped

* Olive oil - a good glug

* Pomegranate molasses - a drizzle (can replace with balsamic vinegar or glaze)

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Zataar spiced pumpkin cornbread

Makes one loaf, takes 15 minutes once the pumpkin puree is made, plus 40 minutes oven time.

side / vegetarian / dairy free / easy peasy / show off / party / date night / autumn / winter / baking

A little twist on the traditional recipe. This also works well as individual muffins, delicious for breakfast or as a snack.

* Pumpkin puree - 1 cup (see below for recipe*)

* Almond milk - 1 1/2 cup

* Eggs - 2

* Olive oil - 4 tbsp

* Cornmeal - 1 1/2 cup

* Plain flour - 1/2 cup (if you'd like a gluten free version substitute for a suitable flour)

* Baking powder - 1 heaped tbsp

* Cinnamon - 1 tsp

Set the oven to 180 degrees C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Start by whisking all the wet ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Then mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Finally stir the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing well with a wooden spoon but not over mixing.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Check if the bread is done by seeing if a knife comes out clean from the centre of the loaf. If not, bake a little longer.

Leave the bread to cool for about half an hour in the tin, then turn out. To serve, drizzle olive oil over the top of the loaf and sprinkle generously with zataar and a pinch of sea salt. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

*Recipe for pumpkin purée

You can use most types of squash or pumpkin, although I'd avoid the 'spaghetti' squash because of its texture. If I buy a big squash or pumpkin I'll often keep aside a few pieces to make some puree and keep it in the fridge till I feel inspired to add it to something.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Deseed your chosen squash and cut into halves or large chunks. Roast in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt until tender. The timing will depend on the size of your squash, or how big you've chopped it. If a sharp knife goes into the flesh easily, it's done. As a rule of thumb, a quartered butternut squash takes about 30 minutes.

Leave the squash to cool a little. If you've used butternut or acorn squash you can leave the skin on, but with larger pumpkins it's a good idea to peel the skin off and discard at this point. Blitz in the blender until you have a smooth paste.

Spiced pumpkin mousse with coconut ice and caramelised pistachios

Makes 8 servings, takes 30 minutes (if the pumpkin purée is already made), plus chilling time

dessert / vegan / vegetarian / dairy free / gluten free / party / date night / not too tricky / show off

I have to admit that DS wasn't entirely convinced by this, and said he would have preferred chocolate mousse. Yes, but it's THANKSGIVING. I think any lover of pumpkin pie (like me) will be a fan. The coconut ice was a bit of a revelation (so easy!), and something I'll be coming back to as an accompaniment to other things.

* Pistachio - a handful, shelled and roughly chopped

* Date syrup - 1 tbsp (or maple)

* Pumpkin puree - 1 cup

* Coconut milk - 1 cup

* Cinnamon - 1 tbsp

* Allspice - 1 tbsp

* Date syrup - 6 tbsp

* Coconut cream - 1 can, refrigerated for a few hours

* Icing sugar - 1/4 cup

* Cardamom - 1 tbsp

Start by preparing the pistachios. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Spread the pistachios over the tray and mix them with 1 tbsp date syrup. Place in the oven for about 5 minutes. Watch that they don't start to burn.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool. When cooled, separate the nuts and chop into small chunks.

While the nuts are cooling, make the mousse. Place the pumpkin, coconut milk, cinnamon, allspice and 6 tbsp date syrup in a blender and mix until you have a smooth paste. Test and add more spice or syrup according to taste. Divide the mousse between clear serving glasses, for maximum visual impact. Place in the fridge to set for at least an hour, or for a maximum of 24 hours if you'd like to get this done in advance.

Meanwhile make the coconut ice. Place the coconut cream, icing sugar and cardamom in a medium sized heat-proof bowl. Whisk until thick and fluffy. Place in the freezer. Every half hour, whisk the coconut with a fork, working to remove the frozen crystals from around the edges. After a couple of hours, it should be the perfect consistency to serve. If you're making this part in advance, just place the bowl in the fridge about 15 minutes before you want to serve, to get the ice to the right consistency.

To serve, place a scoop of ice over the mousse in each glass and sprinkle with some caramelised nuts.


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