AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and one thing is for sure - it is going to feel a whole lot different from last year. It's hard to remember that this time last year, for most of us, there was barely even a vaccine in sight. And if the last year and a half has taught us anything, it's that being able to just gather in one spot is not something to take for granted. So we have decided to ask a few chefs for recipes that allow you to focus on the meaning of this holiday and all the people around you, recipes that are, in a word, easy. And just to note that you will be able to find all of these recipes at npr.org.
All right. Now, to start us off with the star of this whole show, the turkey, is chef Sean Sherman, who is a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe and the founder of The Sioux Chef, an organization committed to revitalizing Native American cuisine. Sherman wanted his recipe to pay tribute to the Indigenous peoples in Minnesota, where he is based, so he took inspiration from what he calls their pantry.
SEAN SHERMAN: We cook so seasonally and so locally. And, of course, our focus is on Indigenous food, so we like to utilize a little mix of some of the wild foods around us and seeing this wealth of health and nutrition and flavor that's literally right outside our door.
CHANG: And that led him to a wild rice and maple-crusted turkey.
OK. So walk us through the prep of this dish real quick.
SHERMAN: Well, it's really simple because we're just making a simple kind of sauce out of toasted wild rice. And we're using true hand-harvested wild rice from these lakes in Minnesota, which is where the wild rice comes from. And we are crushing it up with a little bit of sunflower oil, a little bit of garlic, a little bit of onion and a little bit of salt and some maple. And then we just make the sauce. And we rub the turkey down. And then we just let the oven do its trick.
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My mouth is watering. Wait. You say, let the oven do its thing. Does that oven always do its thing? Like, how do you make sure that the white meat on the turkey doesn't come out bone dry?
SHERMAN: You know, I like to chill the turkey a little ahead of time to really dry it out because it helps it create a crisper skin. And I like to start out hot. So I like to get the oven to like 450 to crisp everything up and go for about 25-ish minutes and then turn the oven down to 300 and just let it slowly cook. And you can continuously baste it a little bit so you can keep a lot of that sauce underneath the turkey and just every now and again use a long spoon and pour some of that sauce over the turkey every like maybe 45 minutes or something like that. So there's lots of tricks.
CHANG: For Sean Sherman, this Thanksgiving is a time to think about what the holiday is really about.
SHERMAN: And it should be about gathering. It should be about friends. And if we're going to be centering around food, which we should be, why not pay homage to the land that you're on? Why not pay homage to the Indigenous peoples and the struggles that they actually had to go through and not some mythological dinner party that they had a few hundred years ago? But, you know, just looking at how valuable Indigenous knowledge is, especially when it comes to the outdoors and how much it can provide us.
CHANG: Frances Lam is the host of "The Splendid Table," and he's bringing us our side dish.
FRANCES LAM: You know, I'm on these people for whom Thanksgiving is never really about the turkey, but, like, really, it's about the sides.
CHANG: Totally. The side dishes are everything.
Now, Lam is not a turkey fan, but he does have something in common with our first chef, Sean Sherman. His side dish also honors a culture, its people and their stories.
LAM: I want to encourage people to make something this year. It's a dish from Haiti called Mayi Moulen. And it's a cornmeal porridge not unlike grits or polenta, actually very similar to those two. But what's really beautiful about the dish that I'm going to talk about is what they call sos pwa nwa, which is Creole for black bean sauce with coconut milk and garlic and a little bit of butter. It's just spectacular.
CHANG: OK. wait. So how did you find this recipe in the first place? I'm so curious.
LAM: Yeah, totally. The simple answer is it was taught to me by a Haitian American woman named Cindy Similien-Johnson. You know, I just loved hearing this woman, Cindy, talk about her love of Haiti and just about how she loves it, how she loves her grandmother and the food that her grandmother cooked for her, including this cornmeal dish. And I think that is one of the keys of Thanksgiving.
CHANG: Lam says that was especially meaningful for him because one of his best friends is Haitian, and that friend had grown up with a complicated relationship to his home country.
LAM: And it's funny because when I made this dish for my best friend, he was so happy to eat it. And he started to tell me his wonderful memories of Haiti. And, you know, it was something that could evoke the sort of different story for him. And it just made him feel good to feel his Haitian-ness
CHANG: That's lovely. Well, can you walk us through the prep of this particular dish? Just real basically here.
LAM: Yeah, sure. It's as simple as anything, really. To make the porridge, you saute some onions and garlic and oil just to get it nice and aromatic. Then you add the cornmeal. You add water, you bring it to a boil. And that's pretty much it.
LAM: So this you can reheat easily on the stove. It sits there. You can even make it the night before...
CHANG: That's perfect.
LAM: ...And just sort of reheat it.
CHANG: It's the dish that you can set aside while you're talking to your guests.
LAM: Exactly. And for the black bean sauce, the gravy, also super simple. Saute garlic and onions. Add your black beans. Add water. Cook them until they're tender. You scoop them out, throw them in a blender with some of the broth. Blend it all up. Add more broth until it's a nice sauce consistency. And you're also adding coconut milk to that, a little speck of butter if you want, salt, pepper, and you're good.
CHANG: All right. We got the turkey. We got the side dish. And now, dessert.
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CHANG: Like the dishes we just heard about, baker and cookbook author Samantha Seneviratne's maple cream pie has a connection to place.
SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE: I grew up in New England, so I'm very partial to anything maple. I love maple, and it's perfect for the season.
CHANG: And maple cream pie, says Seneviratne. Is totally easy to make.
Can you walk us real simply through the preparation?
SENEVIRATNE: Sure. So you just make a quick pastry in your food processor. It's got walnuts in addition to the normal flour and butter and sugar and salt. Walnuts do have a tendency to burn a little bit faster, so you have to keep a little bit of an eye on the pastry. But it's simple to make just like any pastry. And then the custard is just you reduce some maple syrup on the stovetop to sort of intensify the flavor, and then you just cook it with your, you know, your normal pudding ingredients - milk, cream, egg yolks, et cetera. And that's pretty much it. Put it in the crust. Let it chill. Forget about it.
CHANG: Easy peasy.
SENEVIRATNE: Easy peasy. And then whip some cream right before serving it. I love unsweetened whipped cream on top because I find that the custard itself is pretty sweet from all the maple syrup, so you don't even need to add sugar to your whipped cream.
CHANG: I can't wait to taste this.
But Thanksgiving is not just about eating, and especially this year, when for the first time in a long time, people are finally able to gather, to be together more safely, something that Seneviratne has been talking to her son about.
SENEVIRATNE: We talk about hugs a lot because this year is all about hugging again. I think that's - that was - I think that was the hardest thing about the last couple of years. We saw my parents, but we would sort of gather outside and keep our distance and things like that. And I think this year we're just going to snuggle as much as possible.
CHANG: I love that. I'm a big hugger, too. that is one of the things I missed most during the pandemic.
CHANG: That was cookbook author Samantha Seneviratne with her recipe for maple cream pie, "Splendid Table" host Frances Lam with a recipe for Haitian cornmeal porridge with black bean sauce, and Sean Sherman, founder of The Sioux Chef, with his recipe for wild rice and maple-crusted turkey. And remember, you can find all of these recipes at npr.org. Most importantly, though, Happy Thanksgiving.
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