Only when I’m away from home do I realize how much I like Thanksgiving. Maybe it just tastes so much like home that when I’m away, I need it just a little more. This year I decided I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner, hesitated for a moment when I remembered we don’t have an oven… but decided to consult the internet for oven-less recipes and carry on anyway! As it turns out, and as usual, the internet was a pretty great resource. So I came up with the menu – I’m big on traditions, so this was going to be as classically Thanksgiving as possible – and a guest list of 6 – because what’s Thanksgiving without people to share it with? I had never cooked Thanksgiving dinner before, nor had I cooked for 6 people before, and besides being sans oven, my access to ingredients was going to limited as well. But I was excited for the challenge. And here’s what we had:
Chicken – I think there is turkey available here in Pondy, but not at my local shops. Actually, I was told by a 6th grader that it’s illegal to kill turkey here, but I was later assured that that’s not the case. Anyway, we had chicken. A whole chicken, which we smothered in rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and sage (all dried and jarred McCormick style) and “roasted” in a pressure cooker. 2 kilos, or about 4.5 pounds, cooked for just under 30 minutes with a cup or so of water (I didn’t search extensively for chicken stock, but I may have been able to find it). The consensus was all positive – turns out you can roast a chicken in a pressure cooker!
Mashed potatoes. This was simple enough, I’ve made them here before. Potatoes are plentiful and easy to buy at the market. Boiled and smashed with butter, milk, and parsley.
Stuffing. This I made on the stove because I didn’t want it to fall out of the chicken in the pressure cooker. I toasted white bread and broke it into small squares. I sauteed some onions and garlic – we had to do without the celery, I haven’t managed to find that here – and added some of the herbs that I used on the chicken. Then came the bread, and the stock left from the chicken. I think the flavor was nice, but it could have simmered in the stock a little longer.
Green bean casserole. A classic Thanksgiving dish in my family. I made the easy stovetop version using cream of mushroom soup – because mushrooms are a bit more difficult to find – and crispy fried onion snacks – because I was too lazy to fry my own. But still tasty nonetheless.
Corn. Simple. From a can.
Cranberry sauce. This was fun because fresh cranberries are very difficult to find here. When I was teaching my students about Thanksgiving foods, most didn’t know what cranberries were. But I was able to find dried cranberries which I rehydrated and then boiled in water and orange juice with a little extra sugar, just like traditional cranberry sauce. And we had to agree that it was pretty darn good!
And finally, the real kicker, pumpkin pie. This was a real challenge because 1) no oven, 2) no store-bought pie crust, 3) no pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice, and 4) no canned pumpkin pie filling. So this was going to be a totally from scratch no-bake pumpkin pie. Impossible? Just try me.
The pumpkin pie spice was fun to make. I bought raw cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, chopped them, crushed them, and ground them in our food processor, then mixed them with the dried powdered ginger that I keep on hand. Easy enough.
The crust was a cookie crumb crust, made of almond shortbread cookies, crushed and mixed with melted butter, a bit of sugar, and some of the pumpkin pie spice. Chilled in the fridge overnight.
The pumpkin pie filling was a little more complicated. I bought a small pumpkin, cut it in half, scooped out the innards, sliced, peeled, chopped, and boiled. After the pieces were cooked and soft, I pureed them in the blender. I combined the pumpkin puree with two whipped eggs and a bit of milk and added the mixture to a skillet on the stove. Then I added a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, a pinch of salt, and a few tablespoons of flour and let it simmer for several minutes. Recipes online say to cook it for about 10 minutes until it thickens… if it’s not thick enough it won’t set in the fridge. Apparently mine wasn’t quite thick enough. After it cooled, I added it to the pie crust and kept it chilled for a few hours. The flavor was pretty excellent (if I do say so myself) but it was more like pumpkin pudding. We ate it accompanied with vanilla ice cream, a perfect substitution for whipped cream, which I’ve yet to find here in Pondy (and which I haven’t had luck making myself).
The only thing the meal was really missing was gravy. But other than that, everything came out well, and I was so happy to share this holiday with new friends, both Indian and foreign. Here, halfway around the world, miles and miles from the place I call home, I really have so much to be thankful for.