The Thanksgiving holiday is a time to gather and celebrate with family and friends. More than any other day of the year, Thanksgiving centers around sharing a meal, a feast that comes with a long list of traditional favorites from cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie to the main event: a turkey.
Thanksgiving trends come and go, but over the past decade, regional cuisines are putting their unique touch on what constitutes a Thanksgiving meal. From deep frying the turkey to fermented green beans, cooks across the country put their signature spin on unforgettable dishes.
Here in the Southwest, one thing is for sure: we know how to cook. Southwestern cuisine draws on foods and flavors from native plants, outdoor cooking, and a range of cultural histories. If you are looking for a way to make your Thanksgiving stand out this year, why not try bringing in Southwestern influences to what you prepare?
Spice It Up
To put it mildly, Southwestern food is anything but mild. We love using hot spices to amp up the flavor of food. Food without chilis may seem empty in comparison! The number one way to up the “Southwest” quotient on your holiday meal plans is to introduce some spice to your dishes. A little bit of spicy kick can really coax flavor and nuance out of both the savory and the sweet items on your table.
If you are new to cooking with hot peppers, don’t worry, you don’t have to jump from zero to ghost pepper. In fact, you’ll want to use hot peppers carefully – a little goes a long way. Add spice only in small increments, and taste test along the way to make sure you get the flavor you want. Remember, you can always add a little more spiciness at the table, but it’s much harder to neutralize spice in foods that have gotten too hot.
Don’t know where to start? The delicious, but largely bland, palate of Thanksgiving fare is rife with opportunities to add a little chili power. Begin by adding a pinch of cayenne to your mashed potatoes or yams this year. Work a little dried pepper into the blend of your turkey marinade. Some chefs even vouch for adding a little spice to the filling of your pumpkin pie.
Cast Iron Cooking
Southwestern food also can feel a little cooped up inside a kitchen. With dishes that were prepared around campfires, barbecues and open flames, Southwestern cuisine carries a signature smoky flavor.
Southwestern staples like black beans, pozole soup and cornbread can be made entirely in one cast iron pot or pan, making them practical as side dishes as well as delicious. Cooking vegetables on a grill or over a campfire can make them a mouthwatering addition to the Thanksgiving table. Cooking outdoors also opens up valuable kitchen space, so it can be a practical idea as well a tasty one.
If you are just getting started with grilling and cast-iron cooking, don’t hang your whole meal on mastering a cooking technique that takes time and experience. Instead, cooking specific ingredients over an open fire like onions, garlic, squash and peppers to get some of the smoky Southwestern flavor onto your table.
Expand the Menu
The Thanksgiving menu doesn’t have to be set in stone. Southwestern crowd-pleasing foods like tamales can be prepared well ahead of time and fit in with the harvest flavors of Thanksgiving. Speaking of harvesting, even city dwellers can get local with their Thanksgiving meal. Prickly pears and other cactus fruits can be turned into a delicious sweet syrup for topping pies and ice cream. Unsweetened prickly pears can be used as a tangy addition to cranberry sauce. Other plants and foods from the Sonoran Desert can make your holiday gathering an unforgettable meal.
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