Celebrate fall’s bounty this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favourite of all celebrations! Why? It’s the ultimate foodie celebration – markets are overflowing with fruits and vegetables of all descriptions, a veritable kaleidoscope of flavours, colours and textures, a vegetarian heaven. This, coupled with the fact we live in a cosmopolitan city, means we have food from every part of the globe, ready to be transformed into mouth-watering dishes. It is a wonderful reason to celebrate our bounty with friends and family.

 Ontario Yellow Perch

Just a few weeks ago I had the chance to try yellow perch from Seaport Merchants, 1101 Victoria Park Ave. (just south of St. Clair, 416-766-9950). These delicate little fillets, tender morsels of sweetness, come from Wheatley, Ontario. They are still available during Thanksgiving season. If they are simply baked and served with a sauce, yellow perch make a light but delectable start to an abundant feast.

Baked Yellow Perch:

Allow 3 fillets per person

Olive oil

Fresh lemon juice

Sea salt

Fresh ground pepper

Seafood Aioli Sauce:

½ cup (125 mL) light mayonnaise

2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 tsp (10 mL) capers, drained and chopped

2 tsp (10 mL) grated lemon rind

Preheat oven to 450°F (220°C).

Arrange fillets in a single layer on a piece of parchment paper large enough to encase fillets.  Drizzle lightly with a little olive oil, sprinkle with lemon juice and lightly sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Bring the sides of the parchment paper together and fold over to make a neat package. Tuck opposite ends under. Place package on baking sheet and bake in the oven three to five minutes. Serve immediately on small plates with a spoonful of aioli sauce.

Sauce: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, capers and lemon rind. Spoon a heaped spoonful onto serving plates; accompany with a fork.

Pumpkin Tarts with Cardamom Ginger Whipped Cream

Canned pumpkin, NOT canned pie filling (check label carefully that it is only canned pumpkin), and prepared tart shells make short work of this traditional Thanksgiving dessert with a new twist. This recipe will make about 12 tarts. Although one is a serving, people enjoy two!

12 frozen tart shells, preferably sweetened

Pumpkin Filling:

2 eggs

1 cup (250 mL) 2 % evaporated milk or coffee cream

1 can (14 oz/398 mL) or 1 2/3 cups pumpkin

1 cup (250 mL) lightly packed brown sugar

2 tbsp (25 mL) molasses

1 tsp (5 mL) each, cinnamon and ground ginger

½ tsp (2 mL) ground cardamom

¼ tsp (1 mL) each, freshly grated nutmeg and salt

Cardamom Whipped Cream with Ginger:

1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream whipped to firm peaks

2 tbsp (25 mL) sifted icing sugar

2 tbsp (25 mL) finely chopped crystallized ginger

½ tsp (2 mL) ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Arrange tart shells on baking sheet; set aside.

In large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, pumpkin, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and salt until well combined. Spoon filling into tart shells almost to the rim. Bake 10 minutes at 425°F (220°C); reduce heat and continue cooking about 15 minutes or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool on cooling rack.

Meanwhile in mixing bowl, using electric mixer beat whipped cream until firm peaks form; beat in sifted icing sugar and fold in ginger and cardamom. Spoon cream into serving bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Tarts have the best texture if they are made the same day as they are served. Serve tarts on dessert plate with a spoonful of cream at the side.

Vegetarian Sweet and Savoury Quinoa Pilaf

Bursting with fall flavours, this protein-rich pilaf makes a wonderful dish for a Thanksgiving buffet and the vegetarian in the family. The pilaf can be prepared a day ahead.

1 cup (250 mL) red quinoa, rinsed and drained

2 cups (500 mL) vegetable broth

2 tbsp (25 mL) vegetable oil

1 leek, cleaned and white part sliced

1 onion, chopped

4 oz (125 g) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

2/3 lb (350 g) extra-firm tofu, cut into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes

2 tsp (10 mL) dried thyme

1 tsp (5 mL) ground sage

½ cup (125 mL) toasted pecans

½ cup (125 mL) dried cranberries

½ tsp (2 mL) salt

¼ tsp (1 L) fresh black pepper

¼ cup (50 mL) fresh chopped parsley

Place the quinoa in a large saucepan, add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for 15 to 18 minutes. The quinoa is done when the grains are translucent and all the water absorbed. Fluff with a fork, remove from heat and let stand covered for five to 10 minutes. Remove lid and let quinoa cool while the vegetables are cooking.

Meanwhile, heat a separate medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil, leeks, onion, mushrooms, garlic, tofu, thyme and sage. Stir well. Cook covered for five to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are wilted.

Stir the hot vegetable mixture into the cooled quinoa, together with the pecans, dried cranberries and pepper.

To serve: sprinkle the quinoa mixture with the parsley and gently fold in. Serve immediately. Alternatively, cover and refrigerate overnight. To reheat, sprinkle with ½ cup (125 ml) warm water and heat in a 350°F (180°C) oven about 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through. Makes eight cups (2 L). Two cups (500 mL) is a serving.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer

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