November 20, 2018

After making hundreds of cakes and pies, pounds of stuffing, zillions of biscuits and rolls and gallons of gravy for customers for Thanksgiving in my cafe, I am extremely grateful to have a four-day weekend when the embassy where I work is closed.

I also usually host Thanksgiving at my house, so when the day after the holiday rolls around, it’s time to relax with my feet up. My tradition most weekends, but particularly during the days after Thanksgiving, is that I don’t cook. Rather, I assemble a few salads and spreads that get better over time as flavors marry. It’s so pleasurable to have a sofa or veranda picnic with friends and family — high-flavor foods you can eat while drinking a Bloody Mary or champagne. It’s made even more delightful when you don’t come back to a messy kitchen and dishes to do.

After Thanksgiving is over, there is something liberating about a casual meal that isn’t made up of leftovers. You have the whole week ahead of you for turkey salad sandwiches (I have a great recipe) but in my house, tradition dictates a break from the leftovers.

My parents and I do something similar each time I visit: We go to the store and we each pick a few of our favorite things. Once home, we don’t even bother to use dishes. We just take our precious finds and throw them onto a cutting board or large plate with only knives or some good crusty bread to use in place of forks. It’s such a fortifying ritual and I try to re-create it as often as I can.

I won’t even be slightly judgmental if you just pick up a few baguettes or fresh pita from your favorite bakery for this lazy extravaganza, but I want to teach you how to make a No-Knead Focaccia that will take you mere moments to put together right before you go to bed after the Thanksgiving meal. All you do is throw the ingredients into a bowl, stir them, cover the bowl and let time work its magic on your counter.

The next morning, just spread the now puffy dough on a baking sheet, cover it in extra virgin olive oil and herbs and watch as it puffs up in your oven. I like to douse it in more olive oil after it comes out of the oven, scatter some fresh basil atop it and once cooled, transfer it to a wooden board surrounded by some fresh and simple salads and dips.

By all means, go for any of your family-favorite dips or salads, but I’ve included a shortcut version of one of my all-time favorite Israeli-Moroccan salads, the flavorful madbucha, also known as a Salade Cuite, a warm salad similar to an Italian tapenade, made with peppers, tomatoes and garlic. Also, a spectacular chickpea salad recipe that takes about five minutes to prepare but somehow manages to be infinitely superior to the sum of its humble ingredients.

You’d be hard pressed to find a punchier, more savory dip than the Bulgarian version of Taramasalata called Ikra, made with caviar or roe and ready in seconds.

If you can motivate yourself to spend a few minutes mingling some flour, water and olive oil, even if it’s midnight Thanksgiving night and you’re tired, you will be rewarded immeasurably the next morning when your kitchen fills with the aroma of a Tuscan farmhouse. And if you’re still in your pajamas at 3 in the afternoon, a bottle of bubbly by your side surrounded by your favorite people or even just one special person, giggling and eating the afternoon away, I think you won’t be able to help but feel the gratitude.

8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
3 cups room temperature water
1 1/2 tablespoons flaky sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling
1 tablespoon fresh or dried minced herbs, rosemary and thyme
A handful of fresh basil leaves (optional)

In a large glass bowl, mix together the flour, water and yeast with a chopstick or fork until you get a shaggy dough. Add salt and olive oil and stir until a soft dough forms. Oil a piece of plastic wrap, place on top of the bowl and leave on the kitchen counter in a warm place or a turned off oven for 12 hours to rise.

After dough has doubled in size and is very bubbly, preheat oven to 450 F. Using oiled hands, gently lift the dough (it will be sticky) out of the bowl and onto an oiled full sheet pan. Spread it evenly, creating dimples on the entire surface of the dough (don’t worry if you tear it.) Drizzle the top with olive oil, rosemary and thyme (if using) and some extra flaky sea salt and
bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on top.

After it has cooled, scatter fresh basil leaves on top and cut into irregular triangular or square pieces. Serves 10.

Usually, this warm salad is made with roasted peppers but this quicker version will get you there without roasting and peeling peppers.
1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil (corn oil is traditional)
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, skins removed, chopped
1/2 pound green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1/2 pound red peppers, seeded and chopped
2 jalapeno or Cubanelle peppers, seeded and deveined, chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 /4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Heat oil in a pan and place tomatoes, peppers, garlic and seasonings into the pan and sauté over low heat, stirring frequently until all liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6.

2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6.

8 tablespoons smoked (or unsmoked) carp or cod roe
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 tablespoon onion, finely grated
Paprika for garnish

Put all ingredients, except paprika in a tall cup that fits your immersion blender head. Put your immersion blender into the cup and pulse for 20 seconds or until all ingredients are well incorporated and spread thickens to a mayonnaise consistency. Thin with a tablespoon of water if too thick.

Serve in a bowl garnished with paprika and a drizzle of olive oil. Serves 6.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive
chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

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