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Most people who live in the U.S. have no direct ties to those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving. Yet on the last Thursday in November, you'll find many of your friends, neighbors, and family members—whether in Texas or Maine or abroad—sitting down for a celebratory meal.
Which means that in each family, with every person who emigrates to the U.S., traditions are born. And that keeps things exciting and fresh, with new flavors and ingredients brought to the table every year.
From spiking gravy with soy sauce to developing a Yucatán-themed menu, here are the ways our friends and community members are taking some inspiration from the world:
My father was Italian and my mom American. At Thanksgiving, the two cultures collided. My father refused to eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing etc.—he wanted pasta. So at every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember, we had two meals at the same time. My mom made homemade pasta with a mixed meat ragù and she usually she made bracciole and pork and capon (Dad only ate capon) with cornbread dressing, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and vegetables.
It was a bit confusing for us kids, and a whole bunch of food. It was the only way my parents could harmoniously celebrate Thanksgiving, my mom satisfying her desire for a traditional Thanksgiving and my dad his need to have pasta on any special holiday or occasion. We did have a traditional dessert spread of pecan and pumpkin pie, homemade by mom of course.
- Suzanne DeBrango
We are shaking it up for the first time this year and NOT doing traditional Thanksgiving at all. Instead, our spread is going to be Yucatán!
The centerpiece will be my pavo en kol indio. We have a large crowd so I will make a big batch. We are planning to roast butternut squash in adobo and lime topped with pepitas—along the lines of my pan roasted pumpkin. I am fairly confident that my brother in law will make ceviche of some sort, and a friend has mentioned a spicy pumpkin cheesecake. I will make pumpkin flan.
We are still planning sides but that's what we are looking at—oh and also, open house style from 3 to 6, then it's all about the Game! Hook 'Em Horns!
- Abbie Argersinger
We always put a lot of soy sauce in our gravy. My mother is Japanese and we lived with my Japanese grandparents growing up, so that soy sauce flavor was just always everywhere. I still do it to my own gravy to this day.
- J. Kenji López-Alt
I didn't grow up celebrating Thanksgiving so it's rather a new holiday to me (I grew up in the Basque Country). So there are always Basque dishes on our holiday table that maybe are not very traditional, like tortilla.
- Aran Goyoaga (Canelle et Vanille)
My mother is Persian and Thanksgiving was always cooked by my Bibi (my Persian grandmother), who was the most magical cook I have ever known. Dinner on Thanksgiving was about gorgeous platters of jeweled rice, simmering stews rich with herbs called "choresh," that great crust from the rice called tadigh, and so much more. Our table was covered from corner to corner with these old-school Persian dishes from the Jewish village of Mashed where my Bibi grew up.
But Bibi always also made a nice big bird and it sat in the middle of the table like a centerpiece. It looked good, but it was untouched. Who wanted turkey when you could have Bibi’s rice? No one.
It wasn’t until I married a regular guy with American-born parents that I had a Thanksgiving with sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. I was kind of shocked. Where was the rice? And when my grandmother, the architect of all that wonderful Persian food died, it all died with her. Now I'm about to embark on my first Thanksgiving hosted at home, and I feel the need to do Thanksgiving the Persian way.
- Andrea Strong
In my family of origin my dad always made Persian rice as part of the Thanksgiving spread. With my extended Iranian family, Thanksgiving is always mostly Persian food but with the addition of a turkey, and ditto with my husband's Italian family when he was growing up: pasta, ravioli, meatballs, etc., but also a roasted turkey.
I've heard the same from friends with Chinese and Indian heritage. I have always loved these immigrant Thanksgiving traditions. Being non-religious, it feels like an occasion to be creative, make your favorite seasonal comfort foods, and celebrate your heritage.
- Lousia Shafia
I grew up in southwest Louisiana where food and drink are the central components of any good celebration. Nanny, my French-Cajun grandmother, was the culinary matriarch of our family, and while she acquiesced to my Sicilian grandfather's food desires much of year (we had spaghetti and roast, bread, and green salad every Sunday of my childhood) Thanksgiving and Christmas were the times her roots emerged with a bang.
She learned from her mother the cranberry sauce, bacon-wrapped green beans, blackberry pie, and rice and cornbread dressings that we all looked forward to for the months leading up to the holidays. I never knew my great-grandmother, but I spent many a happy afternoon in Nanny's kitchen, learning those beloved recipes and trying to take in all the wisdom therein.
Nanny taught me to can the cranberry sauce, which we made with mayhaw juice (pressed from the berries of the Louisiana state tree) and served in cut-crystal bowls; they looked like jewels atop the white expanse of the tablecloth. Together we wrapped green beans, securing the bacon with a toothpick before nestling the parcel in a Pyrex baking dish. We thickened blackberry-sugar mixtures to shimmery reductions before carefully pouring the lava-hot filling into pie plates layered with our family's oil-based crust. And we made vats of rice and cornbread dressings because while half the family swore that the rice version was king, others emphatically believed the opposite.
Both began with the Louisiana trinity: onions, celery, and green bell peppers wilted in hot canola oil until soft. Then, ground beef was added, and once browned, some chicken or turkey stock.
At that point, the road forked. Half the meat mixture was combined with fluffy, just-cooked, long-grain white rice. The other half went into a bowl of crumbled cornbread. Both were wrapped in foil and placed in a warm oven until the meal began.
My family had such fun back-and-forth over the years about which dressing was best. All of us were known to hide portions of our favorite in opaque Tupperwares tucked in the recesses of the fridge, hoping against hope that no one would find and eat our treasure. You had to be quick, eating or relocating your package regularly if you wanted to avoid theft.
Nanny died several years ago, but her hands still guide mine as I prepare the dishes I bring to my in-laws Thanksgiving table. Cranberry sauce, blackberry pie, rice dressing (my sons' and husband's favorite) and cornbread dressing (all for me).
- Emily Nichols Grossi (em-i-lis)
What globally-inspired foods make it onto your Thanksgiving table? Share in the comments!