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Tonight, Americans around the world will be celebrating Thanksgiving, a harvest holiday commemorating a meal the British-born pilgrims shared with the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. A symbol of cooperation and interaction between colonists and Native Americans, Thanksgiving became an annual event, sans the Native Americans, who were thenceforth treated as the enemy and decimated almost to the brink of extinction.
Growing up in America, my memories of Thanksgiving were happy ones; unlike Christmas or Easter, it was the only non-religious major holiday that could be celebrated by Americans of any faith, making us "real Americans" and joining us with our non-Jewish friends and neighbors. It was one of the few times a year that out-of-town college students would come home, giving parents something to be thankful for. And everyone gave thanks to mom for the food.
But when I moved to Israel in my 20s, Thanksgiving no longer held any relevance for me. On the contrary: I wanted to feel a part of my adopted homeland; not to celebrate my relationship with the country in which I was born. I moved in largely Hebrew-speaking circles, which in those years had virtually no awareness of the Thanksgiving holiday. And I became a vegetarian, so the millions of innocent turkeys that were slaughtered for the sake of the holiday meal and the enormous quantities of fat, sugar and calories consumed on the holiday held little attraction for me. Except for an invitation here and there, I was Thanksgiving-less.
Just a few years ago, however, I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by my friend Aviva, together with a few other couples and their children. Fortunately (even though I am no longer a vegetarian), the turkey was entrusted to Rachel's capable hands, Aviva made the desserts, and I was responsible for the halla (we celebrated it on Friday night instead of Thursday) and a side dish. Since then, we've made it an annual tradition, and when I look around the table and see everyone healthy and well, I know I have more than a meal to be thankful for.
Whether or not you'll be celebrating Thanksgiving, here are a couple of yummy but lightened-up side dishes you might like to add to your repertoire.
RED RICE, PECANS AND CRANBERRIES
Here's an easy side dish I've stolen from my own book Pashut Bari (Simply Healthy). Pecans and cranberries are traditional American ingredients, and the dish is easy to make. It also goes great with gravy.
Note: Red rice is a whole rice product, and you can find it in most supermarkets.
Makes 4 servings
4 11â„2 cups of red rice
4 Slightly less than 3 cups water
4 1 Tbsp. peanut, sesame or walnut oil
4 1â„3 cup (about 2-3 ribs) finely chopped
4 1â„3 cup (about 35 gr.) pecan halves,
toasted if desired
4 1â„2 cup (about 50 gr.) dried cranberries
4 Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the rice and place in a pot. Turn on the heat to low and toast the rice for a minute or two till dry.
Add the water, bring to a boil and cook 25-30 minutes until the water is absorbed (if the rice is too al dente at the end of cooking time, let it stand covered, off heat, for 8 minutes, or add 2-3 tablespoons of boiling water and cook an additional 5 minutes).
Remove the cover and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir gently with a fork, cover and let stand another 4-5 minutes before serving.
SWEET POTATOES AND GINGER WITH NO ADDED FAT
Makes 8 servings
4 4 large sweet potatoes
4 1 tsp. or more grated orange rind
4 2â„3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 3-4 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
4 Salt to taste
Rinse and scrub the sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks. Steam over boiling water or in a small amount of lightly salted boiling water until soft, about 15-18 minutes. Let cool slightly and peel.
Put the sweet potatoes, orange peel, juice and ginger in a food processor and process till smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Transfer to a pot and heat briefly over medium heat.
WILD AND BASMATI RICE WITH THREE MUSHROOMS
Wild rice is a traditional American (but also Canadian) food, grown in the state of Minnesota and in parts of Canada.
Makes 6-8 servings
4 11â„2 cups wild rice
4 2 cups basmati rice
4 3 Tbsp. butter, coconut oil or canola oil
4 3 Tbsp. walnut or other flavorful oil
4 6 green onions, finely chopped
4 500 gr. fresh mushrooms, like oyster, shiitake and regular, sliced
4 Soy sauce to taste
4 Coarsely ground black pepper
4 Leaves from 2-3 sprigs fresh tarragon
Cook the two kinds of rice separately. Rinse the wild rice and place in a pot with four and a half cups boiling water. Cook in a covered pot over low heat for 30-45 minutes until the grains are tender (some grains will open). Do not overcook. Drain, rinse in cold water and fluff with a fork. Set aside.
For the basmati rice, soak for 20-30 minutes with water to cover, then cook in the same water for 10-15 minutes till done. Rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat the butter and oil combination together and stir-fry the scallions till they just soften. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry 5 minutes. Add the two kinds of rice, mix with the mushrooms and season with soy sauce and/or salt to taste. Remove from heat and stir in the tarragon. If the mixture is too dry, add a little broth or butter/flavored oil before serving, or serve with gravy.n