No Need To Break With Traditions When You Can Bend Them

by Neal Kielar, Tastemaker in Residence

Not everyone has a strong attachment to traditions from the past. Times change. People change. But it's still possible to give a nod to traditions while bending them to your own purposes. Even during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

No one's sure exactly how it happened or even when, but it came to pass that we host a Christmas Eve dinner every year for a specific group of friends. It's a fluid group, with some people at the table every year and others coming when they can. And the group is diverse, coming from many faiths and no faiths in particular. Some are foodies and others are pretty much meat-and-potatoes kind of eaters.

My solution, and it's worked every year, is to use traditional holiday foods as the core of the menu. That means turkey, potatoes and a vegetable. Sounds pretty boring until you begin to think of these staples in different ways. So, each year I take these ingredients and do a completely different take on them. So far the menu has featured:
- Masamam curry with turkey, potatoes and peas. Masamam is a curry from Thai cuisine with roots in Persian cooking.
- Teriyaki glazed roast turkey with water chestnuts instead of potatoes and sauteed leaks for the vegetable
- Turkey and potato enchiladas with poblano peppers
- Turkey meatloaf with a side of feta cheese mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts sauteed in butter with pine nuts and a dash of maple syrup

We're hosting the group again this year, and the wheels are turning about how I'll bend traditional foods to my own purposes - and to please the palettes of my guests.