The stuffing was pleasantly salty, flecked with celery and onion and rich with the flavor of broth. It was, in short, exactly as I remembered it. I told my grandmother just that, letting her know that I had missed these flavors during our Thanksgivings apart. Never mind that I could have made her stuffing myself; I always suspected that it wouldn’t taste the same, that I would have been tempted to change something, to Katy-fy it in the way that I do most recipes, being convinced in my well-meaning way that I must, on some level, know better. Or, at the very least, convinced that most things could be improved (myself included).
As we moved around my small kitchen, the stuffing set aside, I asked her how long it had been since we had had Thanksgiving together. She said it must have been after her kidney surgery, and then asked me if I remembered when that was. Of course, I remembered; how could I forget? I could see the strangely angular room I shared with one of my best friends in college, the bunk beds whose sheets I hated changing (I was on the top), the clothes strewn all over the floor. I remembered how she walked in late one Friday evening and I was in there with puffy eyes, having just been told about my grandma’s cancer. I don’t know if it was then and there that I decided to return home for Thanksgiving, but I do remember the two of us going out for the comfort that bubble tea and sushi could offer. Soon it was decided that another close friend would come home with me and, as we prepared for our trip, I remember packing the books that I needed to finish reading before taking my finals, The Brothers Karamazov and The Quran. It was 2002, a year still darkened by the events of 9/11, and the look that the TSA agent gave me when I was pulled aside for a random search and he found The Quran in my bag will probably always be imprinted on my mind. He raised his eyebrows at me and, despite my pounding heart, I gave him a sassy look and told him that it was for a class, not to mention an important text in world religion (not that I had engaged with it at all over the break; I had been lost in the splendor of Dostoevsky’s magnificent story of patricide). I don’t think he was too impressed, but after rifling through my personal belongings some more (I’ve always thought it was just to frighten me), I was finally allowed to pass. These details are as vivid as if they had happened yesterday, but, about the food we ate that year, food that my grandfather prepared on his own (and he is an excellent cook in his own right) I cannot remember a thing. If pressed, I would say that the overwhelming flavor in the room was equal parts relief and lingering fear. In the face of that, the actual food was secondary.
It seems somehow miraculous that, after thirteen years apart–years filled with travel, illness, change–I was again able to celebrate with my family, that I could invite them to the Greek’s and my home and that we could prepare the meal together. I know that I am lucky, at age 32, to still have this. I also know that I will one day, whenever that day arrives, be overcome by my loss (it may be morbid to say this, but I am a girl who devoted eleven years of my life to Russian literature; thus, it comes with the territory.). This is perhaps why, in planning the menu, I went a little overboard for six people, but I wanted this holiday to be a fusion of my family’s traditions, the Greek’s and my traditions and a few new favorites with the potential to become traditions. Our menu:
Grated Carrots with Pistachios and Coriander Vinaigrette
Almond Cake with Roasted Quince
My grandma kept asking me if she thought my mother and aunt, supposedly picky eaters, would like some of the side dishes and salads I was planning. She seemed especially doubtful about the carrot salad, but I was determined to have as many vegetables as possible, not to mention a bright and colorful Thanksgiving tableau. Much to her surprise, and to my own too, both my mother and my aunt loved the carrots; I think it was possibly their favorite dish on the table.
I shouldn’t have been that surprised, really. Simple things, as we all know, are often the best things, and this salad is no exception that rule. It comes from Jody Williams’ mouthwateringly beautiful Buvette: the pleasure of good food and, like most of Williams’ dishes, represents slightly tweaked classics; in this case, as Williams herself puts it, “a riff on the French carottes râpées” with coriander (or, as Americans know it, cilantro) snuck in in two ways (for you grammarians out there, I prefer snuck to sneaked; it just rolls off the tongue more smoothly). Though I’m a fan of cilantro and was excited to see it added here, I should confess that it was really the pistachios and the bright, lemony dressing that drew me towards the recipe. It is also incredibly easy to prepare (much more so than my other favorite carrot salad), especially if you have a food processor with a grater attachment (a must!). In fact, the only tricky thing about this salad is that you must toast the coriander seeds (or ground coriander if that’s all you have) before crushing them and adding them to the dressing; it may seem tedious and unnecessary, but trust me: this provides the depth of flavor that can transform a simple dressing from good to extraordinary. Then, the hard work done, you just assemble, stir and let the salad sit in the refrigerator until you are ready for it. I promise the compliments that you get will far outweigh the effort spent, which just goes to show that we should maybe all reconsider the hours and hours of holiday prep in favor of a more tried and true simplicity.
Carottes Râpées with Pistachios and Coriander Vinaigrette
Slightly adapted from Buvette
Serves 6-8 when part of a holiday spread; serves 2-4 otherwise
While I believe in the simplicity of Williams’ recipes, I find that a generous pinch of cumin is not unwarranted here, especially as it complements the flavors (it is also a throwback to my other favorite carrot salad; perhaps if you’ve never had this one you don’t know how nicely cumin and carrots pair together). Also, whereas she has you stir the carrots and pistachios into the dressing, I find that it’s easier to just pour the dressing slowly over the carrots and nuts, stirring all the while.
Finally, the salad will keep in the fridge for a few days. In fact, the flavor only improves the longer it sits.
1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely grated (either by hand or with a food processor with a grater attachment)
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
Pinch coarse salt
Pinch red chili flakes
Pinch cumin (optional)
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
A few small handfuls of fresh cilantro leaves
Place the carrots and nuts in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, chili flakes and cumin (if using). Gently crush the toasted coriander seeds and whisk them into the dressing. Taste for flavor and add more salt if necessary.
Slowly pour the dressing over the carrots and pistachios, stirring all the while. Add the cilantro and stir.
Place the salad in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.