Andy Baraghani puts his bold, stylish spin on Thanksgiving classics
Nine years ago, I found myself in San Francisco, a fresh transplant from New York. With only a week of work at a new job under my belt, there was no money (or vacation time) to fly home for Thanksgiving. Thankfully, my friend Andy Baraghani, who’s from the East Bay, invited me to his family’s home in El Sobrante for the holiday.
I remember arriving at their house and being immediately greeted as if I were family. Andy’s family is Persian, and as I walked through their home, I was struck by the smells and sights of his mother’s cooking and all the staging in the kitchen and dining room. There were Thanksgiving staples, of course, but tucked among the turkey and stuffing were bright red pomegranates and piles of freshly chopped dill and parsley. All the food — a blending of Persian and American cuisines and traditions — had a freshness you don’t normally associate with Thanksgiving. I fondly remember that meal, and Andy’s family’s hospitality, every year.
That feast was on my mind again a few months back while talking with Andy, and I told him that’s the kind of food I wish to have at Thanksgiving. But instead of wishing, I asked him to make it a reality for The Times’ Thanksgiving menu this year. And he delivered, big time.
All his recipes are nourishing and rich but accented with bursts of acidity and freshness and boldly realized in a way that modernizes the classic holiday dishes in all the right ways. It’s the same tone he brings to his forthcoming cookbook, “The Cook You Want to Be” (Lorena Jones Books), publishing April 26.
You might know Andy. As the former senior editor at Bon Appétit, he developed recipes for the magazine and starred in numerous videos in its test kitchen, showing off cooking that results in relaxed yet statement-making dishes. The influence of California on his cooking is undeniable, as is his tutelage at Chez Panisse, where he first worked at age 16. Traditional Thanksgiving fare is often in dire need of excitement and freshness, so who better to tackle it?
Andy brings his effortless California sensibility to a collection of instantly craveable classics: His centerpiece turkey is broken into more easily manageable parts, rubbed with shawarma-inspired spices like coriander, cumin and smoked paprika and then roasted with purple onions and heads of garlic until tender and burnished from the rub. All the parts fit on a single baking sheet and cook in just an hour and a half, a boon to your cooking schedule when there’s a bottleneck of dishes waiting to get into the oven.
A whole kabocha squash is dismantled and roasted with slices of lemon and squidgy date halves before getting drizzled with warm spiced hazelnuts and honey. Creamy mashed potatoes are cut with tangy labneh and served with a pool of garlic butter in the center; despite that extra richness, the potatoes eat surprisingly light. And an assertive greens salad is enlivened with a tart dressing of preserved lemon — a whole one, at that — honey and olive oil. This is not shy cooking, and for the biggest cooking holiday of the year, a generous dose of audacious flavor is just what the table calls for.
While some dishes are more striking, others are refreshingly simple and focused on expert technique. His stuffing is made with sourdough bread and lots of broth but suffused with more celery and garlic than you’ve probably used before. Tons of herbs, including whole celery leaves, add freshness and bite amid the soft, tender bread pudding. The relies on the turkey neck and trimmed bits plus shiitake mushrooms to add meaty, umami depth to a simple roux-thickened sauce spiked at the end with Worcestershire. And his cranberry iteration is a fresh take on a raw relish: Here, though, it’s sweetened with less sugar and brightened with grapefruit zest, chunks of citrus and slices of savory shallots, all of which wonderfully complement the bitter tang of the berries.
For dessert, Andy keeps things chic and understated — no heavy pies to pile on the weight in your stomach. An elegant sheet tart is made of thinly sliced apples tiled over a brown sugar-sweet peanut butter frangipane. The base — a sheet of puff pastry — rises at the edges to create its border. Cut into plate-size squares or narrow strips, it’s the perfect sweet-savory dessert to pair with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Andy’s daring flavors and playful twists on classics modernize the holiday affair in a year where many of us are ready to see old friends again yet eager for a change to the old routines. This menu is Thanksgiving, Andy-style: sleek, refined and generous, while also exuding the kind of elbows-on-the-table gusto you want on the biggest cooking — and best eating — holiday of the year.
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