Thanksgiving is a time for us all to gather around the banquet table and express how thankful we are. It's an opportunity to stuff ourselves silly with turkey and gravy, pie and drink. It's about enjoying treasured family and gathered friends.
And it can be kind of a crock, too, right?
Because we all know that family isn't always what it's cracked up to be. And we all know that much of America's bounty was stolen from the native people who first welcomed us here, whose descendants are even now fighting (still!) for some small shred of sovereign respect in North Dakota. And we all know that as holidays go, Thanksgiving is just a wind-up for Black Friday, when American gratitude really gets its game on.
Well here's something to remember: Just because Thanksgiving has become an anxiety-inducing nexus of guilt, gross consumerism and that awful aunt who insists on saying a prayer for the success of President Trump, it can still be about sharing good food. It can still be about welcoming people to our table.
Over the past year, Missoula and surrounding areas have started taking in a modern group of settlers—refugees from war-torn parts of the world including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq—and helping them make new homes. Soft Landing Missoula, a new nonprofit organization, received approval from the International Rescue Committee in the spring to help resettle families seeking refuge. For this year's Holiday Food issue, we talked with Soft Landing founder Mary Poole and five local cooks about what it means to invite a stranger to the table, and what kinds of recipes they'd pull out of their cupboards to welcome new friends to a new land. In the process, we leave behind the usual Thanksgiving fare to shine a light on some comfort foods that, in the spirit of the holidays, might make you feel at home away from home.
Pornthip Rodgers' Red Curry Seafood (Pagoda Thai Kitchen)
Pad Thai is probably the most popular dish at Pagoda Thai Kitchen in Missoula's Northside neighborhood. But if we're talking about warm and welcoming comfort food, owner Pornthip Rodgers says it's all about the red curry sauce. Rodgers, who goes by "Thip," grew up in Thailand on the border of Laos. She bought the Chinese restaurant in 2010 and added Thai fare to the menu. This recipe is close to what she serves at Pagoda Thai Kitchen, but because she's a seafood fan she recommends adding a combination of tilapia, crab, squid and shrimp. Another noteworthy "secret" ingredient is the Totole chicken flavor soup base mix (identifiable by the big yellow chicken on the bag). She ballparks the measurements and recommends tasting as you go.
Though relatives have worked with her at the restaurant, Rodgers doesn't host a big family Thanksgiving gathering in Missoula. She regards her regular customers as guests in her home. "I tell my kids, 'Make sure it's a little bit sweet and a little bit salty before the food comes out,'" she says. "Make it exciting-tasting for them."
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 (15 ounce) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon Totole chicken flavor soup base mix
1/3 cup red bell pepper, chopped into 1- or 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup green bell pepper, chopped into 1- or 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped carrot
1 small can sliced bamboo shoots
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh shrimp
1/2 cup tilapia
1/2 cup crab meat
salt to taste
In a medium saucepan, combine red curry paste with coconut milk. Simmer five minutes. Add bamboo shoots, fish sauce, brown sugar and chicken mix. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add peppers and carrot, simmer for 10 minutes. Add seafood and simmer three to five minutes or until cooked through. Add basil and salt to taste. Spoon over rice.