The Taste section's column is always authored by food editor Michelle Stark, except ... when she's on her honeymoon! So I'm happily filling in for my colleague and friend until she returns.
When planning this section, we wanted to focus on flexibility. It's something we deal with daily in our kitchens, but being flexible can be even more challenging for special occasions when people have beloved expectations. I have certainly felt that pressure. One Thanksgiving taught me the folly of that.
About six years ago, when my son was in law school and couldn't come here for the holiday, I decided to visit him. He said "great," but only if I didn't cook; we would dine out.
Ann Arbor's charming downtown was an easy walk from his apartment even with freezing winds, and we strolled around looking for a restaurant. Not a single one was open. Even the bodegas were closed. We hit the back streets and found one lone restaurant open for business. It was the $7.95 Indian Buffet. The spread wasn't huge, perhaps six steam-tray items including curried chicken, vegetables, the spinach and cheese dish called saag paneer, rice and naan.
Colin was almost paralyzed with embarrassment, and wouldn't stop apologizing. Finally I said, "We have had many Thanksgivings together, all wonderful, but they have all been so similar. This is the one I will always cherish as unique."
I looked around at the other diners in the small room, 20 or so. They were a mix of ages and ethnicities. I began softly singing We Gather Together, the hymn our family always sings on Thanksgiving. Colin started laughing and then others started joining in on the song. It became a merry meal after that, trading stories about ourselves, much lifting of water glasses in toasts.
Was it my best Thanksgiving meal? No. Was it a great Thanksgiving? Yes. I shared it with dear people and, most important, one of those I love most in the world.
This week's recipe
In tribute to that Thanksgiving memory, here's a curry recipe, though it's Thai not Indian. The most important components are the green curry paste and unsweetened coconut milk. I have made the sauce using just those ingredients with a splash of soy or fish sauce. The Asian ingredients are available in most supermarkets but the curry paste flavor varies by brand; some are blander than others so you may need to adjust amounts accordingly. If you can't find fish sauce or can't abide its funkiness, substitute soy sauce (though it won't give you as much depth of flavor). If I have the time, I like to jazz up the basic soup with more ingredients, and here's that version. Lemon and lime peel are substituted for harder-to-find kaffir lime leaves and fresh lemongrass.
Optional: Use leftover Thanksgiving turkey or poach chicken, seafood, vegetables or tofu in the soup, and serve with rice or noodles.
Contact Lennie Bennett at [email protected]