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Thanksgiving with a twist

November 14, 2018

As Thanksgiving nears, it’s time to pull those creased, smudged recipe cards bearing our family’s most loved, time-tested holiday dishes.

Maybe it’s a typical spread of turkey and trimmings, green bean casserole and candied yams. Maybe you add some New Mexican flare with tamales, posole and plenty of red chile to pass around the table.

Regardless of the menu, sometimes the same Thanksgiving dinner year after year can feel a little … stale. But introducing a new recipe or two to such a high-stakes culinary holiday can be intimidating.

Fortunately, those of us seeking Thanksgiving inspiration this year need look no further than the bevy of Santa Fe restaurants and shops serving the holiday hungry on white tablecloths, from steaming buffet trays and in convenient to-go packages. We scanned menus (most, by the way, are sold out or nearing it) and chatted with a few local chefs for ways to put a spin on our traditional meals at home.

What we discovered is less a recipe collection and more of an invitation to explore: to look to our own heritage and that of our land to make use of what’s seasonal — and what tastes good.

“People should look to what their own families’ stories are,” said Eloisa Restaurant chef John Rivera Sedlar. “Look to what is local, what is sustainable — and look through the lens of really fresh food.”

At Eloisa, Sedlar has created a uniquely New Mexican take on Thanksgiving dinner, inspired by the culinary habits and preference of Georgia O’Keeffe, who returned to her Abiquiú home and studio each autumn.

The prix fixe meal is a celebration not just of one of New Mexico’s icons, but of family heritage as well: Sedlar’s grandmother’s sister, Jerry Newsom, was O’Keeffe’s chef for 15 years, so he has knowledge of the dishes, preserves and fresh meat and produce that O’Keeffe preferred.

The meal is seasonal but also deeply adherent to O’Keeffe’s own tastes, including a Moroccan spicy lemon dressing atop a watercress salad and Bode’s Pecan Delights with anise ice cream, a tribute to the artist’s affection for locally made cookies.

“I do think that food really is based on story and history and family, and that adds more meaning to the dining experience,” Sedlar said.

For the home chef looking to spice up a traditional Thanksgiving feast, he suggests upgrading standard dishes with tweaks from the land around us. For instance, swap out that green bean casserole with goat cheese and creme fraiche mixed into quality green beans, cippolini onions and wild mushrooms.

Or try his personal Thanksgiving favorite: a cranberry jicama salsa with chile peppers.

Coyote Cafe chef Eduardo Rodriguez puts a spin on tradition at home by pairing turkey with comfort dishes like posole and tamales.

Thanksgiving tradition, he says, “should include things you eat and enjoy the rest of the year as well, not just the one day.”

An easy way to add a pop of sophistication to your dinner menu, Rodriguez advises: fresh herbs to impart a bit of brightness to the plate. The cafe, which offers a coveted Thanksgiving dinner service, adds rosemary to its mashed potatoes. Try adding a sprinkle of fresh thyme after the turkey is sliced and plated, or a sprig of mint on the cranberry sauce, Rodriguez said.

For vegetarians or vegans celebrating Thanksgiving — or for those looking to incorporate more plant-based dishes into their diet — Dave Unumb, head chef at Edible Alchemy, says sticking to the classic flavors of autumn is key.

“It’s an easier transition if you can take the flavors and textures people are familiar with — roasted vegetables, sage, apple, things you’d find in a normal Thanksgiving dinner — and turn it into something vegan; it’s not as large of a jump for some people,” he said.

So of course, roasted root veggies in olive oil is a natural Thanksgiving side, but Unumb likes to make an apple, walnut and sage lentil loaf with a caramelized onion and mushroom gravy in place of that traditional turkey. Some classics, such as mac and cheese or green bean casserole, can easily be made vegan with the aid of nondairy milk (just make sure it’s unsweetened, Unumb cautions).

And if you want to make it easy on yourself (or if you’re the only vegan headed to a Thanksgiving affair), Edible Alchemy is taking orders for to-go dishes. Call 505-983-8152.

Some additional at-home inspiration culled from Thanksgiving menus around the city:

Rethink the pumpkin pie. Anasazi Restaurant is putting the spin on the classic with a pumpkin mousse with cinnamon ice cream, pecan brittle, honey espuma and walnut sponge cake.

Upgrade with higher-end ingredients. This means everything from a splash of cream or wine to springing for local ingredients. Terra Restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe is adding crispy pork belly to the braised greens on its buffet. La Casa Sena will add bacon lardons to its roasted butternut squash bisque and a fried duck egg to its pork chop dish.

Add a little mystery. You worked hard to curate your menu; don’t be afraid to hype it. At Red Sage at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, diners will enjoy “grandma’s secret recipe stuffing” and the intriguingly described “best cranberries in the world!”

And lastly, we asked our chefs to sound off on the dishes they’d banish from the Thanksgiving table:

Unumb of Edible Alchemy: An aunt’s annual roasted carrots, turnips and dill. Now he gets his veggie fix with a simple array of beets and squash, a little garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Rodriguez of Coyote Cafe: Avoid anything that comes out of a box. That includes powdered potatoes and stuffing mix. Even the stock for the gravy should come from the turkey bones, he says, not a carton.

Sedlar of Eloisa: “Marshmallows!” he says, or that ubiquitous fruit salad.

Don’t sweat it too much, though: Whatever Thanksgiving menu you create this year, you’re making memories for the family and friends around you. That’s a tradition all its own.

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