As our nation's ultimate day of eating approaches, I am feeling especially grateful to all of the people who grow, catch, harvest, process and transport our food in Alaska.
Our farmers, farm workers, fishermen and seafood processors help provide food security for our communities and make it possible for us to get locally grown products. Without these people, who often work long hours in harsh conditions, the Alaska Grown sentiment would be little more than a slogan. This week, take some time to think about and give thanks to the people who literally feed us.
In honor of our local farmers and foragers, here are a few side dish recipes featuring Alaska-grown potatoes and carrots and wild-harvested cranberries and mushrooms to make next week.
Roasted garlic smashed potatoes
Growing up, mashed potatoes were always my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. I was always curious about how they were made: by hand or with a mixer? With butter or milk? How much butter was really in there? And what's this obsession with lumps? Did you know that potatoes boiled whole in their skins absorb less water and produce lighter, fluffier mashed potatoes? I'm a fan of keeping the skins on, which adds nutrients and texture, and hand-smashing them instead of using a hand mixer. Remember, mixing is the perfect task to assign to an excited helper in the kitchen or the pesky kid who needs something to do before dinner.
4 lb. small Yukon Gold Alaska-grown potatoes, skins on? and left whole
Salt, to taste, plus 1 tablespoon
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups half-and-half, warmed
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 head of roasted garlic
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the top 1/2-inch of the garlic off. Lay garlic on piece of tin foil, drizzle olive oil over garlic cloves and close tin foil. Roast for 30 minutes or until garlic is tender and soft. Let cool and squeeze out the roasted garlic cloves. Coarsely chop.
2. Put the potatoes in a large pot and add water to cover the potatoes by 2 inches. Generously salt the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain well in a colander.
3. Return the potatoes to the pot over low heat and add butter, half-and-half, sour cream, salt and roasted garlic. Mash with a fork or potato masher until the desired consistency is reached, but don't over-mix or the mashed potatoes will turn gummy. Taste and season more if needed. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately.
Moroccan-style harissa roasted carrots
It's cold and dark out, so why not look for inspiration from North Africa's favorite hot sauce? Harissa is a blend of hot peppers, garlic, salt, olive oil and various spices. There are hundreds of versions of this popular condiment, and ingredients vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, as well as by country and ethnicity. A staple of the kitchen table in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, it's easy to make beforehand and packs a flavorful punch. I made a bottle full with some friends and have used it to top everything from salmon and rockfish to vegetables and in soups.
1 red pepper
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, roughly chopped (90 grams in total)
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 hot red chilies, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 tablespoon lemon juice (from about 2/3 of a whole lemon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Puree everything together in a food processor. Optional: Roasting the pepper, onion and chilies beforehand adds depth to the flavor. Store in a jar or bottle in the fridge.
Carrots, washed and unpeeled, cut into 4- or 5-inch pieces, or halves if you prefer
Lemon juice and sliced lemons (optional to roast)
1 head garlic cloves, peeled
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Boil carrots for 5-8 minutes before tossing them with lemon juice and harissa and placing in a roasting pan with garlic cloves. Season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until carrots are tender and caramelized, 30-35 minutes.
Wild cranberry and mushroom slow cooker stuffing
This recipe comes from Natasha Price in Anchorage. She says, "I grew up harvesting low-bush cranberries and boletus mushrooms in the late summer and early fall. My best family memories center around the kitchen and Thanksgiving is no exception. We love including hand-gathered foods in our holiday feasts. It helps me reflect on the meaning of family and togetherness."
Making this in the slow cooker keeps the stuffing moist, acting like a giant turkey.
Wild cranberry and mushroom slow cooker stuffing
1 cup chopped onion
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms (aka boletus mushrooms)
1.5 packets breakfast sausage links
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup wild lingonberries (aka low-bush cranberries) or ½ cup dried cranberries
3/4 can medium black olives, chopped
14-ounce bag seasoned bread cubes
3/4 cup finely chopped parsley
3/4 stick of butter
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup mushroom broth
Salt and pepper
1. Start making this when you're ready to eat breakfast. This way you can eat a couple of sausage links with some eggs while the other ones are cooling. Brown all the sausage links in a big sauté pan. Once they are cooled, chop them into little rounds.
2. Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms, cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Reserve the broth and roughly chop the mushrooms.
3. Add one tablespoon butter in the sauté pan and heat on medium-high. Add celery, onion and mushrooms and cook till everything is softened, about 7 minutes.
4. Spray the inside of the slow cooker with Pam and dump in the bread cubes. Add the breakfast sausage, mushrooms, onion and celery.
5. Add the cranberries, raisins, olives, parsley, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
6. Cut the butter into little cubes and mix into the stuffing. Periodically pour in the chicken and mushroom stock between mixing so everything is well incorporated.
7. Put the lid on the crock-pot and turn it to low. Let it cook for 4-5 hours.
8. Fluff up just before serving.
Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture.