If you were looking to lighten your Thanksgiving spread, lessons from a California kosher cooking instructor would be an unlikely yet inspired place to start. A turkey rubbed with ground sumac, garlic and olive oil, raised to reddish-bronze glory on the grill. Brussels sprouts brightened with pomegranate seeds and pistachios. Individual tarts with apple, fresh cranberries and thin wedges of almond paste.
Those dishes and others are part of Linda Capeloto Sendowski’s menu. It is a dairy-free meal that has less fat, and perhaps more flavor, than the standard, earth-toned Thanksgiving affair.
“I make a holiday meal that doesn’t make you feel ‘Thanksgiving full,’ ” she says. “Nobody misses the cream or butter. Or the thousands of extra calories.”
A Seattle native with a Sephardic Jewish background, Sendowski, 58, has found ways to adapt recipes and menus so that meat and milk don’t mix as ingredients or share space on the table. Working Middle Eastern spices, nuts and dried fruits into the foods comes naturally, because of her upbringing and because of the area around her home in southern Beverly Hills, where specialty markets serve a large Iranian population.
“I’m a sucker for fresh produce as well,” she explains, “so I’ve always drawn on the bounty of farmers markets, like my favorite one in Santa Monica.” Sendowski sees a bit of California in the holiday’s traditional side dishes, from citrus that often goes into a cranberry sauce to the Granny Smith apples and garnet yams — technically sweet potatoes — grown in the Golden State.
She honors her Sephardic inclination “to stuff everything,” she says, by using a mash of roasted yams to fill hollowed-out apples. “I used to do the regular sweet-potato-with-marshmallow thing. But I found that if you mix the yams with a little brown sugar, they fluff up when baked.” The result is a side dish that is easy to assemble and almost sweet enough to double as dessert.
With tall palms swaying above the backyard patio of her 1929 Spanish Revival house, Sendowski is prone to preparing a big bird outdoors. “As long as it’s not raining, I’m out there cooking on the grill,” she says. “My husband and I eat turkey year-round.” She starts the bird breast side down to ensure moist white meat. This is where food-safety concerns override her impulse to stuff things: Sendowski’s Thanksgiving turkey is accompanied by a separate, baked stuffing that calls for spicy chicken sausage and dried fruit.
Coconut oil helps create the flaky crust of each crostata. After rounds of recipe testing, Sendowski says the individual rustic tarts will appear for the first time as a Thanksgiving dessert option. “The solid nature of the oil made me think of shortening,” she says. “I like using the cranberries fresh; the almond paste is a nod to my heritage.”
Sendowski will host a group of 12 to 20 relatives and friends this year, rounding out her menu with the sauteed Brussels sprouts, a tangerine-cranberry sauce and a pumpkin cake with brown sugar sauce and candied pecans. Her range of starters is no surprise, given that she writes a blog called the Global Jewish Kitchen: guacamole (“no matter what holiday it is!”), pico de gallo, carrot sticks and triangle-shaped borekas stuffed with meat and rice, called pastelicos. Believe it or not, Sendowski will repeat the cooking marathon a mere one day after the feast, when she re-creates most of the dishes for the family’s weekly Sabbath dinner on Friday night. She’ll add homemade challah to the table.
“I could make the cake ahead, I suppose,” she says. “But I like the way everything tastes fresh. Turkey’s not reheatable — at least not to me.”
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