As I was making preparations for the dinner in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, I was thinking of how much I love it here, especially around this time of the year. Living in the US for the past decade or so, I have added new holidays to the list of Indian festivals I celebrate with friends and family here, like Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Halloween is one holiday that I never really celebrated as such, but it sure is a lot of fun now as I get to dress up my little girl in cute costumes every year. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is something I have been enjoying every year since I moved to this country. As a student at the Rutgers Univ in NJ, I was a part of the International Friendship Program that introduced me to this traditional American holiday. My friend through the program, the principal of Rutgers Prep School, invited me to join his entire family for the holiday weekend at their beautiful house on lake Mohawk in Sparta NJ.
As you can see from the pictures, I had a blast during my first Thanksgiving holiday. As a new student from another country, it was a perfect way for me to learn about the American culture. From that wonderful experience, I came back happy memories and a new tradition. Every year since then, I get together with friends and family and celebrate this traditional holiday.
This year, my friends Meghana, Kanika and I got together with our families, and enjoyed an day long Thanksgiving dinner. It was a joint effort; we had a casual dinner, chit-chatting, playing games and making appetizers and cocktails together while waiting for the oven to finish roasting the chicken and the biryani.
Here’s a recap of our Thanksgiving dinner …
Crostini with Chèvre, Roasted Red Peppers and Caramelized Onions
Crostini or little toasts, are a great base for a number of toppings and compliment very well with drinks, which makes them perfect for appetizers. For the Thanksgiving day, I decided to make crostini with my favorite combination of ingredients by simply spreading a generous amount of chèvre (goat cheese) over toasted baguette slices and topped them with of caramelized onions and diced roasted red peppers. I had prepared the topping in the morning and let my friends assemble them as they wanted. It turned out to please everyone at the party!
Lamb Seekh Kebabs
(Ground Lamb Skewers)
Appetizer-on-a-stick is sure to please a party crowd, especially when it appears in the form of a succulent, spicy meat kebab. Kebabs are very versatile and easy to make; you can use any combinations of meat, seafood, vegetables or fruits, slide them on skewers and grill or roast them just before serving.
For the Thanksgiving dinner, me and my husband impressed everyone with the seekh kebabs, made with ground lamb and a variety of spices. I spiced up the minced meat a couple hours before, letting it absorb all the flavors in the refrigerator and then he grilled them to perfection on our outdoor grill.
You can certainly make your kebabs with cubed or ground up chicken or beef, but I like minced lamb best; it gets a wonderful soft and buttery flavor that just melts in your mouth! They are a wonderful appetizer along with a cilantro-mint chutney or mint-yogurt dip and also make a nice entrée when served with a rice pilaf and vegetables on the side.
1½ lb ground lamb (or any other ground meat of your choice)
1 medium onion, minced or finely diced
1 large egg
2 slices of white (or any other kind) bread, crumbled in the food processor
1 -2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp garam masala (If you don’t have garam masala, you can use 1 tsp each of ground cumin and ground coriander)
freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls of mint sprigs (use leaves and a part of the stem)
a handful of cilantro sprigs (use leaves and a part of the stem)
4-5 green chillies (Thai/bird-eye or 2 Serrano peppers)
4-5 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 inch piece of ginger, skin peeled
1 lime, zested and juiced
Wide bamboo or metal kebab skewers (You can find them in my Amazon store)
For Grilling and Prepping Skewers
canola or vegetable oil
In a food processor/grinder/blender combine all the ingredients for “ground masala” and grind it to a coarse-fine consistency paste.
Transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl with the ground lamb and the rest of the ingredients. Using your hand or a wooden spatula, mix the ingredients thoroughly till they are well blended. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Soak bamboo skewers in water to prep for the kebabs.
Soak bamboo skewers in water for about half hour.
When ready to make the kebabs, remove the spiced lamb mixture from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 equal portions.
Rub cooking oil on your hands to prevent meat from sticking. Take each portion and press it firmly along the length of the skewer to form a sausage-like kebab. Make sure the mix has firmly adhered to the skewer.
Grill the kebabs on an outdoor or indoor grill for about 6-7 mins on each side, basting with cooking oil as required, till the meat is done.
You can also line them on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at about 400 deg F for about 20 – 25 mins till they are done. Turn as often as required.
Roast Chicken with Tandoori Spices
Juicy, tender turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving spread but who says you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving?! We aren’t into turkey as such; I like the cold cuts or dishes made with ground turkey but when it comes to eating roast turkey and gravy, I still haven’t grown on to it after having it for many holiday dinners in the past few years. Also, I feel that chickens are much easier to work with and to roast as compared to the big turkeys. So this year, I decided to roast a whole chicken with lots of fresh cilantro, lemon juice and the classic Indian tandoori spice mix. It surely had everyone lick their fingers and there were no leftovers!
For 1 whole chicken
10-12 sprigs of cilantro, stems removed and leaves minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
3-4 large garlic cloves, grated
1 tbsp Tandoori Masala (Shan brand recommended) + some more for seasoning the outside skin
1 tsp cayenne pepper or red chilli powder
¾ stick or 6 tbsp of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature+ remaining stick (i.e. 2 tbsp) of butter, melted
freshly ground black pepper
1 whole chicken (about 2½ to 3 lbs), thawed if frozen
1 lemon, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced at an angle
1 cup chicken stock
kitchen twine, for trussing
roasting pan with a rack (optional)
Browning the chicken
Preheat the oven to 450 deg F.
In a small bowl, combine cilantro, ginger, garlic, tandoori masala, cayenne pepper and salt along with softened butter and mix well.
Wash the chicken thoroughly under cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Loosen the chicken skin by inserting your fingers in between the skin and the flesh wherever possible. Insert the spiced butter and lemon slices under the skin on each side of the breast and also spread the butter into other parts where skin has been loosened. Tie the chicken legs with the twine and tuck the wings.
Rub the outside skin of the chicken with melted butter and generously season with salt, pepper and tandoori masala. Also season the inside cavity of the chicken by sprinkling generous amounts of salt, pepper and the masala. Stuff the cavity with the remaining lemon slices and a few sprigs of cilantro.
Set the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, breast side up and brown it for about 30 mins, turning on to the right and left side every 10 mins and basting with the secreted juices underneath.
Roasting the chicken
After browning, remove the roasting pan from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350 deg F.
Remove the chicken along with the rack and set aside.
Distribute the onion and carrots on the bottom of the pan and transfer the chicken on top of it. Pour the chicken stock over the onions and carrots, baste the chicken and return the pan to the oven.
Roast the chicken for about an hour, basting every 10 mins till it turns golden brown and the juices run clear when the thickest part of the drumstick is pricked with a fork. If not, roast for another 10-15 mins.
Resting the chicken
Let the chicken rest in the turned-off oven or under aluminium foil for 20-30 mins.
Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cut the strings off. Transfer the vegetables along with the juices around the chicken and let it rest for 10 more mins before carving.
Carving the chicken
To carve, place the chicken on a cutting board, breast side up and tail facing you. Starting on the left side, cut between thigh and breast until you reach the ball and socket joint. Cut through its cartilage, separating the leg and the thigh from the back bone. Then cut the wing and the breast structure on the same side. Carefully pull the breast meat away from the bones until you reach the wing joint. Separate the wing by cutting into the cartilage connecting it to the breast.
Similarly carve the other side and return the pieces to the serving platter.