I grew up in a Cuban household and though we happily adopted the Thanksgiving dinner tradition of the United States, it was very much influenced by my parents understanding of cuisine, which was through the lens of the Cuban culinary culture.
So there was turkey, but it was marinated and bathed in Mojo, not gravy. There were vegetable side dishes, but they were yuca and platonos fritos y maduros, not green beans and Brussels sprouts. We had white rice and black beans, not mash potatoes or sweet potatoes.
You get the picture.
American Cranberry Sauce
For me, growing up, the only image I had of an American Thanksgiving meal was what I saw on tv. What I saw on tv was to so different really. Sure the side dishes were different, and yes we had no use for gravy, but on the whole, it wasn’t so stand out that I gave it much thought.
Save for this phenomenon of the canned cranberry sauce.
I couldn’t understand why something gelatinous and popped out of a can so that it held the cans shape would have any place at what typically looked like lush and beautifully put together tables.
We Judge What We Don’t Understand
I judged. I did. I thought it was ugly and rather denoted a lack of effort. But in general I didn’t give it much thought until this last year.
I made a small Thanksgiving meal for my brother, Jon and I. It was intimate, super small and perfect given the exhausting year we had just had. While I worked on the menu in the week leading up to the day I asked Jon what he wanted and in the conversation he mentioned cranberry sauce, which lead to me making a face. The face.
“Seriously… what’s with this ‘sauce’. I’ve never understood why this is such a thing when it’s canned… and people don’t do anything…I mean, mash it at least so it’s not some canned shaped tower on a plate!”
Note that I said all that without letting him even first attempt to answer the question. (Coughs)
But my sweet man didn’t skip a beat. His eyes grew wide and he shook his head, “Nooooo… the form is so important! Because that’s the best part. You slice off a round and smear it on the turkey or the bread.”
I blinked a few times, trying to download this information and finally answered with a “Hu.”
Making It My Own
So look… I know I need to respect food traditions. In fact, I’m all about the sanctity of food traditions. They ties us to history, one another and the stories that weave each of our lives together.
So viva the canned cranberry sauce!
However, if you want to try something different, I had to create my own and share it with you!
It’s easy, fresh and allows for personal variety if you so choose.
I made this and having never really incorporated cranberry sauce into my Thanksgiving meals, I have to admit the sweet on the savory turkey was pretty epic. But I loved it more the next few days when I made left over turkey sandwiches and spread the cranberry sauce on the bread.
Safe to say, I’m sold on this!
Cranberry Mandarin Sauce Recipe For The Holidays
- 3 C fresh cranberries
- 1 C pitted dates
- 1/2 C mandarin juice, freshly squeezed (use more if you feel the need to make the sauce thinner)
- 1 Tbsp mandarin zest (see note below)
- 1 Tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 pinch sea salt
Note on ingredients: I created this recipe in California where a massive variety of citrus fruits are available during the Fall and most of Winter. I like mandarins because they have a gorgeous sweetness and their rinds give off a beautiful flavorful oil. Honestly, it’s my go to citrus when I can find it. However, if you can’t, which is likely for a good chunk of the country, you can use other types of oranges or sweet citrus. If this is not possible, you can omit this ingredient, though it will obviously change the flavor profile of this recipe.
The other thing to note is the fresh nutmeg. In order to find this, you’d have to go to a grocery store that typically offers bulk spices and herbs or specialty gourmet shops, health stores etc. Nutmegs keep in an air tight bag or container for a good 6 months before they begin to lose their flavor. Hunt for one or two a couple of times a year to just buy and have on hand. Freshly grated nutmeg is orders of magnitude better in flavor than ground nutmeg you buy in a spice bottle. HOWEVER, if you cant find the whole nut, use the ground nutmeg. Same amount.
- Take the dates and soak in hot, close to boiling water for about 15 minutes to soften
- Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the dates are broken down some and then blend on low to medium until all ingredients are broken down
- It will not be a smooth sauce or cream. There is texture to this sauce and the color is glorious. This recipe allows for more tart than sweetness, so add a bit of brown sugar if you want it to be sweeter.
- Refrigerate before serving. Keeps for a week.