11 Thanksgiving Contenders

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Maybe you need some ideas for what to serve this Thanksgiving, or maybe you don’t. This time of year, I always indulge myself with Thanksgiving fantasies—all the new and sometimes healthy twists on old favorites, or bygone classics I’ve never gotten around to trying, they tempt me like a really great department store catalog with the promise of abundant, unique, exacting perfection. Oh, I think, if I only had my way it’d be SO PERFECT.

But when it comes down to it—and I’ve written about this before, more than once—I always end up having the same epiphany. There are lots of opportunities to host a delicious feast, one in which I, the cook, can have ham-fisted control over every detail. But Thanksgiving isn’t one of them. In my case Thanksgiving is more about tradition and surrender, letting everyone who has a stake do her or his thing, and then, most importantly, about sitting down at the table and sharing it with people you like and love.

That said, maybe you’re still struggling for some vegetarian ideas. Here, in no particular order, are eleven suggestions from the archives.

(And there’s this free little recipe e-pamphlet I made a few years ago, as well as this round-up from before that. Whew.)

1. Main: Lentil & Squash Lasagna with Caramelized Onions (vegetarian)

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2. Appetizer: Feta & Radish Dip (vegetaian, gluten-free)

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Mirin Roasted Kabocha

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Do you have a bottle of mirin in the back of your fridge or cupboard? Do you remember what you bought it for? I used to forget about my mirin until a recipe like Heidi’s Black Sesame Otsu came along, and then afterward I’d let it get pushed back into the shadows all over again. Thank goodness it takes a very long time to go bad. But over the past year I’ve been reaching for it a bit more frequently and experimenting with it in some less obvious ways.

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Cauliflower Cakes with Cilantro Sauce

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I’ve been spending a lot of time at the grocery store. Not shopping, but standing there behind a little sample table, proselytizing my Made by Lukas veggie burgers. I walk into the store and press play on the soundbite that’s tattooed into my brain—”Care to try a fresh vegetable veggie burger? Here, have a taste! These are Made-by-Lukas fresh-vegetable-veggie-burgers! The orange one is Carrot-Parsnip, the red one is beet. Yes, absolutely please do try both! Eighty percent fresh, locally sourced vegetables—our kitchen is up in the Hudson Valley—and quinoa, seeds, millet, and spices make up the rest! No soy! No wheat! Right over there in the cold case next to the tofu!” Repeat a thousand times.

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And when I walk out, it takes about an hour before I can turn it off. Don’t get me wrong. I like—I love—these veggie burgers, and I’m proud of the product and even the spiel. It’s incredibly exciting to introduce them to the eaters who are going to get them and love them as I do, and gratifying when that happens. And while it’s occasionally exhausting, it’s mostly amusing when I step back to assess: So this is where my life has taken me. How interesting.

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Delicata Quesadillas with Pepita-Cilantro Spread

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Last week at R&D Foods in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, I got a quesadilla that was just perfection. These types of assembled lunch meals can seem so simple—R&D has a creative, flavor-forward menu and is very mindful about ingredient sourcing, but the set-up is loosely based on the same model as a sandwich shop or deli, where all the sauces and fillings are prepped and pre-made, so that sandwiches only need to be assembled and heated up to order—but it’s so easy for things to go wrong.

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When the ingredients are fresh, flavorful, and used in balance; when the sandwich (or in this case, quesadilla) is heated properly to create all the right crisp and gooey textures and isn’t flecked with the burnt bits of fifteen other meals that were cooked on the same sandwich press; and when it hasn’t been sitting in a paper bag for very long, so that when it’s unwrapped from the parchment and eaten out of hand on a park bench, in a patch of some of the last of the hot, early-afternoon sun for the year . . . In other words, when every little detail is exactly right, it can make a person pretty happy to be alive. Such was my Friday afternoon.

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My Zucchini Bread + More Salads

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That’s right: More! Salad! I eat at least one salad a day. I love an elaborate, unusual one like Crack Salad or a Salad Treat, but most often it’s something simple, just some greens topped with whatever vegetables, nuts, and crumbles or shavings of cheese I’ve got lying around. Thus it was a pretty obvious subject when I started organizing the next issue of my digital magazine, Feast by Lukas. “Season’s Salads” has a melon salad spiked with ginger and fresh chilies, a smashed cucumber salad with a nubby sesame dressing, a pear and greens salad topped with savory granola, a torn tortilla salad with tomatoes, avocados, and a chili-lime vinaigrette, and several more.

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This is the 4th issue of Feast by Lukas, which completes the first volume! It’s been so much fun and I feel like it’s starting to click. I hope you’ll check out Season’s Salads issue—the app is free to download in the iTunes store, and within it subscriptions and individual issues are available for purchase ($3.99/issue, or $13.99 for a yearly subscription). And if you’ve read it and like it (or don’t like it, that’s fine and fair), would you…. I hate asking for this, but…. give it a rating and/or review in the iTunes store?

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“That Crack Salad”

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One chance, I thought. I only get one chance to call something a “Crack Fill-In-the-Blank,” so don’t waste the opportunity. The fact is, I didn’t know what else to name this salad. It’s just a really good tumble of leftovers and odds-and-ends that I served to friends earlier this summer. “That Crack Salad” is what my friend Lesley called it when she emailed me about it a few days later about it.

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But “Crack Salad” really isn’t my style. Would “Just Really Good Salad” work? Or “Delicious Chopped-ish Salad of Leftovers and Odds and Ends”? Neither of those seem to get at the scrumptious, addictive quality of this unassuming list of ingredients. Maybe I should just be very literal about it, with “Chopped Cabbage, Lentil, and Arugula Salad with Fried Shallots, Radishes, Almonds, Feta and Shallot-Oil–Dijon Vinaigrette?” No? Too long? A little unwieldy? Fine. Crack Salad it is. Continue reading

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Salad Treat: Wilted Spinach with Kimchi, Sharp Cheddar, and Fried Egg

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Today I spent too many hours running around. I bought supplies for the Fancy Food Show (Made by Lukas will be at booth# 3954! Come say hello if you’ll be there) and took care of long neglected tedious matters, such as those that require visits to the bank and to the DMV. And over the course of the day, as my backpack got heavier and my limbs more loaded with shopping bags, and as the mugginess revealed itself via back sweat, pit stains, and periodic whiffs of B.O., and my scowl threatened to become permanent (just as my mom always warned me it would if I wasn’t careful), I realized that come dinnertime, if I was still going to finish the stack of work left to be done before tomorrow instead of keeling over in front of the air conditioner, I would need to lift my spirits with some kind of treat.

Treats are how I bargain with my procrastinating half. Finish drafting this recipe and test that other one, write these five emails, make those four dreaded phone calls, and—and then I get a treat. Usually I’ll go get a cookie. They have a terrific grasshopper cookie (and really wonderful bread) at a newish bakery in my neighborhood called Nine Chains, and before that, in my old neighborhood, I went to the Greene Grape Annex for a chocolate chip cookie because I believed (and still do believe) that they make the best one in Brooklyn.

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