Monday, November 28, 2011

Squash Trumps Turkey

Thanksgiving presents a challenge for those of us who have a wee problem with everything that leads up to the moment when a roasted turkey is being served. The primary obstacle is clear: tradition. Anyone who even considers opting out of gorging on Big Bird must be prepared to take on a convention entrenched for well over a hundred years--and to be singled out in much the same way as a person who may not be entirely keen on Christmas would. There is some irony in the fact that the holiday has its roots in a deeply religious tradition that would have involved fasting rather than feasting on a day set aside for giving thanks. But it's an irony lost on the majority of celebrants, who look forward to packing away their favorite holiday dishes--especially the turkey. Many people today have even dropped all pretense of thankfulness and gone straight to the point, wishing everyone a happy "turkey day."

Forget that the turkey on offer may have been deformed, fed a staple diet of antibiotics, shot up with hormones, and processed in the most unsavory manner imaginable. If you're read "Eating Animals," or seen any of the real-life horror films exposing the grim realities of life on a turkey farm, then forgetting will not really be a viable option. On this day above all, those who enjoy eating meat will have their ignoring mechanisms up and running to protect their dining pleasure from these realities.

For those of us who have trouble ignoring what we already know, but still want to participate, a little creativity can go a long way in keeping pace--if not peace--with tradition (and I'm not talking Tofurkey).

This year, I had a plan. A friend gave me a most unusual vegetable from her garden, which she called a "Pikes Peak" squash. It's the only squash I've ever seen that appeared to have two stems, a feature which made it look a little bit like a bird with a beak, a tail, and its wings tightly folded. I'd been thinking about how I might use this squash for several weeks, and as Thanksgiving approached, it came to me: use it as a stand-in for the turkey!

The concept and the execution were simple. All I did was carve out an oval section in the "top," using the "Jack-o'-lantern" technique of cutting at a sharp angle so the piece can be replaced to form a lid. I scraped out the seeds, poured in a little vegetable broth, added a sprinkling of salt, and set the "lid" in place. Then I rubbed a light coating of  olive oil on the skin and baked the squash in a moderate oven until just barely tender. I fortunately had enough foresight to attach a handle, made out of kitchen twine, to facilitate lifting the lid.

While the squash was baking, I made my "Three Sisters Soup," which is a fairly quintessential harvest-celebratory dish in its own right. I used butternut squash for this, since the one I was baking would later act as a tureen, and needed to be kept in one piece. You can see an earlier version of this soup here, and read a little about the origins of the three sisters here, but basically this is a combination of corn, beans, and squash. I happen to love all three components, and I've been experimenting with various ways they can be presented. Look for them all in my next book (title yet-to-be-determined; stand by).

I had been spared the task of making the Thanksgiving meal, which has been my job for many years, because my sister-in-law asked to have everyone over at her house this time. Fine with me, seriously. So when it came time to go, I took along my bird-squash--fresh out of the oven and wrapped in foil to keep it hot--and the soup. Just before serving, I reheated the soup and poured it into the hollowed-out squash. I served it up with my usual accompaniments of lime wedges, diced avocado and chopped cilantro.

I doubt there was even the smallest bit of envy on anyone's part that I was eating a far healthier dish, with a much smaller carbon footprint--not to mention one that was cruelty-free--since everyone was happily chowing down and having a jolly good time. Nor did anyone appear to notice that when the meal was over, my "bird" looked just as good as had before, whereas the turkey looked, well, butchered.

Me? I was just thankful that I brought my own food, and didn't need to rely on the odd bits on the menu that didn't include any animal products (I'm pretty sure they all did, in one form or another--I've made this much-anticipated traditional feast many times).


1 comment:

  1. Your soup rocks! The presentation is creative. A real treat to the Thanksgiving table.

    Thanks for sharing.