Most people in the US have one or two Thanksgiving dishes that make their holiday complete. I'm not picky, so I'll just say that I'm pretty much in it for the carbs. But if you ask people to think a little more generally about what they love about Thanksgiving dinner, people will almost always go right for the butter. I too cook with an unprecedented amount of butter every Thanksgiving, and I'd be really sad to have to let go of this tradition (although I suppose it can be done). But if you ask me what makes Thanksgiving dinner even more magical than all the dairy fat in the world, it's got to be the way that everything's a little sweeter and a little tarter than usual thanks to the cranberry sauce. Or in the words of Samin Nosrat, "Often, the only acidic thing on the entire table is cranberry sauce, which is why most people just keep spooning cranberry sauce onto their plates."
"Sweet and savory" is such an important concept in making really good Middle Eastern food, although I think this dichotomy is generally over-attributed when people see neutral foods in a context that's simply different than the one they're used to—but either way, it's majorly important, and sour almost always finds its way in too. It's a big deal in everything from riza sh'ariyeh with lots of golden raisins, to muhammara, to falafel with amba. And so, while not necessarily traditional Middle Eastern fare, cranberry sauce is the kind of thing I could totally imagine seeing on a meze tray. And likewise, it brings that little extra mouth-watering sweet and sour something to all those buttery carbs on a Thanksgiving table.
A few recipe notes
Most recipes call for orange juice, apple cider, or another slightly tangy fruit juice, but I'm a big fan of using lemon juice for a little extra acidity. And don't be fooled by the teeny-tiny pinch of cardamom in this recipe. It's the kind of thing you want just a hint of—adding any more can end up taking over the flavors of this dish and turning it into a soapy mess. You want cranberry sauce to be the kind of thing you could slather on anything at the table, so it's important to keep its flavors subtle and dynamic.
cardamom-spiced cranberry sauce
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup water
11 ounces cranberries (fresh or frozen, about 3 1/2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Combine the sugar, lemon juice, water, cranberries, and cardamom. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes for fresh, 5 minutes for frozen. Stop cooking as soon as the cranberries break down into a bright red sauce, with a few chunks remaining.
- Chill for at least 3 hours and serve cold or at room temperature.