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Thanksgiving Diaspora - Food without Borders

(post, Daniel Hernandez)

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Thanksgiving Diaspora – food without borders
Recipe Article by Daniel Hernandez
(Daniel is the owner of Chiles without Borders, an upcoming purveyor of salsas and totopos)

Growing up in a Mexican-American family that cooked everything from scratch meant that, as an adult, I am never satisfied with a Thanksgiving meal that isn’t made with fresh ingredients, or when it includes a lot of sweet or processed additions to basic dishes.

So, now that I’m married, a same-sex couple in New York State, we put a lot of soul and love into making the Thanksgiving meal every year for friends and family.  It just so happens that I married a guy who shares my passion for food and has become a national expert in food systems and urban agriculture.

Anyway, I strive to make the best ever simple, fresh, savory dressing.  Some years, I put too much of some herb and it throws the balance of flavors in one direction.  This year, the balance was perfect. My mom and dad would have been proud – they both wished they were here.

My mom always made a very traditional corn bread dressing.  Like the turkey, the centerpiece of every Thanksgiving meal, corn also originated in Mexico and spread north throughout North America.  It should be noted that pumpkins, also a mainstay ingredient of our favorite Thanksgiving dessert – pumpkin pie, is believed to have originated from Mexico with seeds dating back to 7000 BC. (Reminder, present day southwestern United States was Mexico until 1848).

So, let’s go back to my savory cornbread dressing.  I begin with a basic recipe for cast iron skillet corn bread. I make sure to add a bit more high-quality butter to the recipe.  Also, I strongly recommend reducing the proportion of sugar to half that the recipe calls for – foods in our daily life have become overly imbalanced toward sweet.  I focus on developing the savory qualities that add complexity and deep tastes to food – the comfort food approach, rather than the quick, frenetic sweet-tooth satiating strategy.  

Cornbread (double this recipe)

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl:
•	1 ½ cups cornmeal
•	½ cup all-purpose flour
•	1 tablespoon baking powder
•	1 teaspoon sugar (double if you want it sweeter)
•	1 teaspoon salt

Pour the liquid ingredients into a separate container:
•	1 ¼ cup whole milk
Whisk in:
•	1 egg
Stir in:
•	3 tablespoons melted butter

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour liquid ingredients into center.  Mix ingredients to make the batter.

•	Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
•	Butter medium sized cast iron skillet (or, 8” square baking dish)
•	Pour batter into cast iron skillet
•	Bake about 30 minutes.  Check at 25 minutes to see if the crust is brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

While your cornbread is cooking, prepare a turkey broth using the turkey giblets – the neck, liver, heart, and gizzards.  Make about 6 cups, as you will want to use about 2-3 cups for the dressing.  (The other 3 cups you can use for the gravy made with a simple roux, turkey fat, and butter).  Put the following ingredients into the pot with the turkey giblets and let simmer for no less than an hour.

Turkey Giblet Broth
•	Turkey giblets – neck, liver, heart, gizzards
•	6 cups water
•	1 onion (cut in quarters)
•	1 stalk celery (cut in quarters)
•	Herbs (1 stem with leaves of each herb)
o	Parsley
o	Sage
o	Rosemary
o	Thyme
o	Bay Leaf
•	Salt and pepper

When the broth has simmered for at least an hour, remove turkey liver, heart and gizzard. Cut a small piece from each (about one-quarter or more of each giblet) and finely chop. Sauté these chopped giblets in 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.

Maybe I’m a purist, but I find that adding meat, sausage, oysters, or other animal proteins to the recipe detracts from the simple and rich qualities of a savory dressing that is meant to complement the main course, the turkey.

I planted an herb garden this year and picked fresh herbs straight from my garden – sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano.  I purchased fresh parsley. I also bought organic leeks, celery, sweet bell pepper, and carrots.  The secret ingredient was some wonderful chile powder I purchased in New Mexico. But, I think it may have added hot spiciness – a sensation I wasn’t going for.  So, next year, I’m planning on using a dried poblano chile pepper, known as the ancho chile, removing the seeds, roasting it over a stove flame, and grinding into powder.  The dark roasted chile will add complexity and deep flavor, and removing the seeds also removes the hot spiciness.

Vegetables (finely chop)
•	6 leeks
•	6 celery stalks
•	1 sweet bell pepper
•	1 carrot
Sauté vegetables together in 3-4 tablespoon of butter and set aside.

Herbs and Chile Pepper (very finely chop)
(Remember, I’m using hand picked herbs from my garden, so the measurements are approximate):
•	Parsley (leaves from 7 plentiful stems)
•	Sage (7 medium sized leaves)
•	Rosemary (14 leaves from the stem)
•	Thyme (all the tiny leaves from seven 5” stems)
•	Oregano (7 leaves from Mexican oregano)
Grind into coarse powder in food processor or spice grinder:
•	Ancho chile pepper (roasted)
Mixed the chopped herbs and chile powder in a bowl and set aside.

Cornbread Dressing Mixture
•	Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
•	Coarsely crumble corn bread in a large bowl.
•	Mix sautéd giblets, vegetables, and the chopped herbs into the bowl with the crumbled corn bread.
•	Pour in 2 – 3 cups of turkey broth and mix so that all the cornbread is moist.
•	Put mixture into an ovenproof baking dish and cover.
•	Bake for 1 hour.

We bought the most delicious beautiful turkey I have ever seen or eaten from our favorite butcher in Kingston, NY, Fleischer’s Grassfed and Organic Meats. It was more expensive than the factory raised turkeys you find in regular grocery stores.  But, it was so worth it.  I learned more about why it was so much more expensive and why it tasted so good from an article published in the Atlantic, “Heritage Turkeys: Worth the Cost?”, by Bill and Nicolette-Hahn Niman, on November 18 2010.  The natural and thoughtful conditions in which these turkeys are raised, slaughtered, and prepared for retail make a real difference in the taste and quality of the food that we put on our family table.  They are also a shared commitment to treat animals and the land with respect and morality, as they provide the food that sustains our lives, the basis of our gratitude and thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving meal was incredible.  We had an intimate dinner this year with a good friend joining us for the weekend. My parents spent the holiday with my sisters and brother, and the extended family, in California. But, we made dinner as though we were serving six people – the size of my family growing up. But, we made dinner as though we were serving a family of six – the size of my family growing up.  So, we have lots of leftovers if you are passing by our weekend house on the Hudson River near the Catskills in New York.  We are thankful.