Thanksgiving may still be a few weeks away, but, as frazzled cooks can attest, it's never too early to start planning the menu. If you're looking for an alternative to the gravy and stuffing feasts of the past, we suggest bringing a dash of Japanese cuisine to your table this season. Japanese rice dishes are comforting, simple recipes that adapt easily to the seasons. Chestnut rice (kuri gohan in Japanese) is an easy, seasonal option for those of us who are too busy with the turkey to spend a lot of energy on the rest of the menu but don't want to skimp out on the details. Best of all, it's vegetarian and perfect for the holidays- after all, there's nothing more wintry than roasted chestnuts.
25 to 30 chestnuts (raw, still in their shells)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 cups short grain white rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 5-inch long piece of konbu (optional)
Pot (to boil chestnuts)
A note on chestnuts: make sure to ask your local grocer when they're coming in to shelves (our research tells us that chestnut season starts in mid-November through December). Chestnuts can be surprisingly hard to find when they're out of season, and even if you can find them, they're likely to be quite hard to cook.
1. Place the raw chestnuts (still in their shells) in a pot with enough water to cover them, bringing the water to a boil.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and leave the chestnuts in the hot water for 30 minutes to soften the shells.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the rice. Begin by washing the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear. Add rice to rice cooker.
3. Add water, sake, mirin, soy sauce, salt, and kombu to rice cooker. Cook until done.
4. If you don't have a rice cooker, you can use a regular pot with boiling water. Cover and turn the heat to low, continuing to simmer for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. Turn off the heat and keep the rice covered to steam for 10-15 minutes.
5. Use a sharp knife to crack open the chestnuts. Peel and discard the shells. Mix in chestnuts with the rice, or arrange artfully on top of the rice.
You can enjoy your chestnut rice as a side dish with Thanksgiving turkey or as a standalone vegetarian dish (just add more chestnuts!). You can also get more creative and add seasonal harvest items like mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, or a little bit of soy sauce.
WORDS BY MAGALI ROMAN