A Russian Thanksgiving
By Michele A. Berdy
For Americans, no November can go by without a traditional Thanksgiving feast. If you forgot to do your holiday shopping on your last trip to the States, don’t despair. Moscow’s shops and markets have everything you need for a traditional turkey dinner. Although it might take a bit longer to prepare, the good news is it may be far tastier than what passes for holiday fare in the US. There are just a few tricks, and a few substitutions, you need to know.
Most major supermarkets sell frozen turkeys (èíäåéêè), but please consider one of the fresh market turkeys. They are much richer in taste than the processed, pumped-up frozen birds (and much closer to what the Pilgrims must have eaten). Once you get the turkey home, check to see that the cavity is empty (and pull out anything that’s left inside), trim off the sac at the end of the tail (it looks like a second little tail, and must be removed before cooking; otherwise the taste of the bird will be ruined), rinse with salted water and pat dry.
To keep the turkey moist as it cooks, try roasting the (loosely) stuffed turkey in a pre-heated 325° oven for about 30 minutes per kilo. After the skin is slightly brown, cover loosely with foil. Check for doneness with a meat thermometer: the breast should be 170°, the thigh — 180°, and the stuffing — 160°.
A large (7-10 kilo) turkey will require about 7 cups of stuffing. Each family has their favorite recipe, and opinions about “dry” or “moist” are defended at knife-point.
Instead of packaged seasoned bread cubes, substitute any kind of wheat bread, cut into cubes. Depending on the size of the loaf, 1 1/2 — 2 loaves will produce about 6 cups. Place the cubes loosely on baking sheets and either let dry for several hours in a very low (200°) oven, or on a windowsill over a radiator for 2-3 days.
Instead of Bell’s Seasoning, substitute:
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp marjoram
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
Fresh sauce is easy to make, and after trying it once, you will never go back to the gelatinous red stuff again. You can use cultivated “American-style” cranberries sold in upscale food stores (firmer than Russian cranberries), Russian cranberries (êëþêâà) or cowberries (áðóñíèêà) (smaller and softer). For about 5 cups of sauce:
- 4 cups berries (about a half kilo), washed and picked over carefully to remove stems and stones
- 1 1/2 — 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- one medium unpeeled orange, washed well and diced into small pieces (removing the seeds)
- 1/2 tsp powdered or ground cardamom seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
Put 1 1/2 cups water and the sugar into a heavy, large saucepan and dissolve over medium heat. When it is totally dissolved (about 5 minutes), add the berries. Cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for about 10 minutes (the berries will pop open). Uncover, stir and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the berries are all popped open and the sauce thickens, stirring and skimming frequently. Add more water if necessary to keep the sauce from getting too thick (it should be the consistency of thick paint). Add the diced orange and spices; simmer the sauce for another 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the orange pieces are soft and the sauce thick (but not gelatinous). Cool thoroughly and then refrigerate.
Instead of canned pumpkin pie filling, substitute:
- freshly cooked and mashed pumpkin (about 1 1/2 kilos yields 1 — 1 1/2 cup pumpkin)
Pumpkin (òûêâà) is sold at upscale food stores and markets. Trim off the seeds and stringy bits, wrap the pumpkin loosely in heavy-duty foil (or two layers of regular foil), and pop it into a 350° oven for an hour or more until tender.
Once you have very tender pumpkin pulp, let it cool, drain it (or use a spoon to scoop it away from the rind), and mash it well. Place the mashed pulp in a strainer over a bowl. Put a plate on top and a heavy can on top of the plate. Let drain for at least 4 hours. Press out any remaining water with a spoon.
Instead of pumpkin pie seasoning, substitute:
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 — 1/2 tsp ground ginger (optional)