I really enjoy cooking.

If I’m a foodie, I’m a lowercase “f” foodie as I don’t do anything too elaborate. I’ll often look at the number of steps in a recipe before deciding to tackle it. Nonetheless, I always look forward to cooking most of the Thanksgiving meal.

When living abroad I knew expats who tried to replicate a traditional Thanksgiving overseas, but to me it seemed like far too much work. In many countries it’s difficult to get turkey, and most kitchens in Asia don’t come stocked with an oven. It’s far simpler to go to a nicer hotel and order the turkey dinner there.

In most countries there are enough Americans running around to make it worth the while of an international hotel to serve up a Thanksgiving dinner on the fourth Thursday of November. Granted, you don’t get the full-day experience, but I’ve never had Thanksgiving off when working abroad, either.

A better time for a home-cooked meal overseas is the local big holidays. I was fortunate to have a student invite me to his home to share a Ramadan meal with his family when I was teaching in Saudi Arabia. We started with some tea and dates as the sun was going down, then we sat down to a big spread of a meal. I found all the side dishes enticing, but what I remember most was soup that was made with black lemon. Memory tells me that they are popular in India, but Google tells me that they are Persian, and are actually sun-dried limes.

In the West we tend to think of Ramadan as a time of fasting and doing without. It’s true, that a Muslim (depending on health) should fast during daylight hours, but the nights are often dedicated to festivities and time to get together with friends and family. Many students told me that this was their favorite time of the year.

Chuseok is the biggest traditional holiday in Korea. It is a time to honor ancestors at their gravesites and is also an autumnal feast. Scheduled for the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, most schools and businesses are closed for three days as people fight the traffic to their hometowns. A big, homemade meal is standard, but individual families vary as to what they serve. The only “must have” dish is the dessert, songpyon – cakes in a half-moon shape, made from kneaded rice dough with a variety of fillings.

We have plenty of cookbooks to choose from aside from holiday cooking. You can look at an individual style or an entire region – think Turkish vs. Mediterranean. I find that I often only cook one or two recipes from any given cookbook, so checking them out is a much better deal than buying. I discovered Mark Bittman’s cookbooks through the library this way and they’ve become my go-to cookbooks.

One recipe that is now a family tradition, and is neither Mediterranean nor Korea, is a jalapeño-cranberry relish given to me by my good friend Victor years ago. I make it every year.

JALAPENO-CRANBERRY RELISH

  • 24 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice and all the zest
  • 3 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 bunches of cilantro (some stems are OK)
  • 3 jalapeños (keep seeds for hot, remove seeds for mild)
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh garlic
  • 2½ cups of light brown sugar
  • ½ cup cracked black pepper (yes, that much)

Combine all in a food processor and pulse until it is the consistency of chunky salsa. Refrigerate overnight – it’s better the second day. Serve chilled with turkey, on turkey sandwich or on top of oysters on the half-shell.

Tim Madigan is the supervising librarian at the Fairfield Cordelia Library.



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