What should we bring? Thanksgiving foods that travel well

A make-ahead Autumn Chopped Salad adds crunch to the Thanksgiving menu and is easy for guests to bring. (Linda Morel)

A make-ahead Autumn Chopped Salad adds crunch to the Thanksgiving menu and is easy for guests to bring. (Linda Morel)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Picture the typical Thanksgiving table: Family and friends are gathered around a big fat turkey, bowls of stuffing, cranberry relish, yams and marshmallows, garlic roasted potatoes and string beans almondine.

Who prepared all of these delectable dishes?

Sometimes the host family handles it all, but that’s a rarity in today’s busy, two-career couple world. Guests typically volunteer to bring a dish or two to the feast. In fact, more people are transporting food to Thanksgiving dinners than there are hosts cooking at home.

While helping with the cooking is admirable, the gesture poses certain logistical problems. What kinds of foods can be made in advance? Which ones travel well?

These questions apply not only to Thanksgiving but to Jewish holidays as well.

Here are some things that savvy guests must consider:

* Think of dishes that require little time and space at the host’s home.
* Bypass recipes calling for long lists of ingredients that must be assembled at the last minute.
* Don’t start rolling dough and preparing pies from scratch in the middle of a hectic kitchen. Remember, your hosts are roasting a turkey and cooking other dishes that must be coordinated with contributions from yourself and other guests.
* Avoid dishes, such as pumpkin souffle, that are complicated and must be taken straight from the oven to the table. Soup is far too sloppy to transport.
* Think in terms of cold hors d’oeuvres, marinated salads, roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, casseroles that can be quickly reheated or desserts that need minimal on-the-spot attention. For peace of mind, select recipes that can be prepared in advance.
* If the hosting family keeps a kosher home, be careful to bring appropriate foods.
* Inquire if there are any dietary or health restrictions to consider.

It’s best to ask the hostess in advance what she needs and to tell her specifically what you intend to bring. This avoids duplications, such as a Thanksgiving dinner I attended many years ago when all of the guests brought starches. There were no vegetables on the table.

Those volunteering to supply the hors d’oeuvres must be punctual. Our family learned this lesson the hard way one Thanksgiving when the relatives bringing the hors d’oeuvres showed up just as dinner was being served. The rest of us had to share a can of nuts during cocktail hour.

As our branch of the family arrives on time, I was appointed permanently to prepare the pre-meal nibbles.

Although I adore Thanksgiving fare, I look forward all year to the chocolate turkeys covered in colorful tinfoil. Those with no time or talent for cooking will be very popular bringing a nice bottle of wine and a chocolate turkey for every guest.

Sharing a good meal with loved ones is central to Jewish life, so I’ve always felt Thanksgiving celebrations are Jewish in spirit. With all the scrumptious food that family and friends bring to the harvest table, this all-American holiday is familiar in a warm and cozy way.

The following recipes were developed by Linda Morel.

ROASTED EGGPLANT AND PEPPER DIP
(Pareve)

Variations of this hors d’oeuvres hail from Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian Jews.

Vegetables:
No-stick vegetable spray
1 extra large onion, peeled and cut into 3 thick slices
4 small eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in half lengthwise
4 garlic cloves, skins removed

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a roasting pan with no-stick spray. Place onion slices on it. Place eggplants and red pepper halves, flesh side down and skin side up on pan. Roast for 15 minutes. Add garlic to the pan and continue roasting for 10 to 15 minutes, or until skin on eggplants and peppers puckers and browns slightly. Remove and reserve garlic if it starts to dry out before the other vegetables are ready. Cool to room temperature.
2. With fingers, peel off skin of eggplant and peppers. Remove any large seeds. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Cut onion into 12 pieces and mash garlic with a fork. Reserve.

Seasoning:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preparation:
Fit a food processor with the metal blade. Place half of the vegetables and half of the seasoning ingredients into the bowl and pulse until ingredients form a soft, dip-like consistency. Don’t over-process or they will turn watery. Repeat with the second batch of vegetables and seasoning ingredients. Dip can be made up to 3 days in advance. Serve with Pita Triangles (recipe below).
Yield: 2 1/2 cups

PITA TRIANGLES
Ingredients:
No-stick vegetable spray
6 pita rounds, 7 to 8 inches each, cut with scissors into 8 triangles each
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
Garlic powder to taste
Kosher salt to taste

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking sheet lightly with no-stick spray. Place pita triangles in a single layer on baking sheet. Pour olive oil into a small bowl. Lightly brush olive oil onto tops of triangles. Sprinkle with garlic salt. Turn over triangles and repeat. Bake until crisp and light brown, about 8 minutes. Turn over and bake for another 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Triangles can be made up to 3 days in advance. Store in plastic zippered bags.
Yield: 48 triangles

AUTUMN CHOPPED SALAD
(Pareve)

A toss of the season’s last vegetables is refreshing next to the sweet, rich foods on the Thanksgiving table.

Ingredients:
1 seedless cucumber
4 medium-sized tomatoes
2 medium-sized zucchini
5 carrots, scraped clean
1 (14-ounce) can hearts of palm
1/2 small red onion, chopped
3 tablespoons dill, minced
1/4 cup seedless black olives, (preferably not canned), such as Kalamata
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt to taste

Preparation:
Remove fine seeds from cucumber and tomatoes. Dice cucumber, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and hearts of palm. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss until well combined. Recipe tastes best when made a day in advance. Serve at room temperature.
Yield: 10-12 servings

WHIPPED SWEET POTATOES WITH MELTED MARSHMALLOWS
(Pareve or Dairy)

My mother made this crowd-pleasing side dish every Thanksgiving. People fight over the marshmallows, so I always prepare a second casserole of purely melted marshmallows.

Equipment:
2 1/2-quart souffle dish or deep casserole
Food processor

Ingredients:
8 medium-sized sweet potatoes or yams
No-stick vegetable spray
6 tablespoons margarine or sweet butter
2 pinches of salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 to 2 bags of large sized (not mini) marshmallows (second bag is optional)

Preparation:
1. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 8 chunks. Place chunks in a large pot and submerge in water. Boil until potatoes are fork tender, about 10-15 minutes from the time the water boils.
2. Meanwhile, coat a souffle dish with no-stick spray. Assemble food processor with the metal blade. Place 3 tablespoons of margarine or butter in the food processor bowl.
3. When potatoes are soft, drain them well in a colander. Place half of the potato chunks in the food processor bowl, along with 1 pinch of salt, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Process until potatoes are whipped. Move this batch to prepared souffle dish.
4. Repeat with the remaining margarine, potatoes, salt, cinnamon, and maple syrup. Smooth the surface of the whipped potatoes with a spoon until even. Recipe can be made to this point 3 days in advance, if covered and refrigerated.
5. Note: There should be at least 2 inches from the surface of the potatoes to the top of the souffle dish, or else the marshmallows may spill over the top when heated.)
6. Return potatoes to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place whipped potatoes in oven until heated through.
7. With heat-proof mitts, remove souffle dish from oven. Being careful not to burn your fingers, place marshmallows in a circle around the edge of the souffle dish. They should be end to end with no room in between. Then make an inner circle of marshmallows, next to the first circle. Continue creating concentric circles of marshmallows until there is no room for another marshmallow.
8. If making a marshmallows-only casserole, coat another deep casserole with no-stick spray. From the second bag, fill it with tight circles of marshmallows, as you did in Step 7.
9. Return souffle dish (and casserole of marshmallows, if preparing one) to a 350-degree oven. Heat until marshmallows puff and turn golden brown. Serve immediately.
Yield: 8-10 servings

CRUSTLESS PEAR PIE
(Parve or Dairy)

This fool-proof pastry tastes best when consumed the day it’s made. Serve straight from the oven or several hours later.

Getting started:
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans pears, preferably pre-sliced
No-stick vegetable spray

Preparation:
Place a colander over a bowl. Drain pears in colander and reserve liquid. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie pan (not deep dish) with no-stick spray.

Ingredients (in Large Bowl):
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of salt
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons reserved pear liquid
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preparation:
Place Large Bowl ingredients in bowl and beat until well incorporated.

Ingredients (in Small Bowl):
1 egg
4 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons margarine or sweet butter, melted

Preparation:
Beat egg with sugar until frothy. Add margarine or butter and mix well.

Final steps:
Pour contents of Large Bowl into prepared pie pan. Arrange pear slices in concentric circles on top. (If some slices are chunky, cut them in half lengthwise.) Gently pour contents of Small Bowl over pear slices. Bake for 30 minutes, or until pie turns golden brown and cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Yield: 10 slices

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