Thanksgiving is a purely American holiday, and most of the immigrants to this country that I know go out of their way to be as American as they can possibly be on this special day. In fact, it starts the minute that a federal official swears in a new crop of immigrants as American citizens. After being sworn in, one of the first thoughts in the minds of these people is not “who is the 41st president of the United States,” but, “How will I make Thanksgiving dinner, now that I’m an American?”
Perhaps this is because it seems like everyone, whether immigrant or native born, is convinced that eating a turkey on Thanksgiving is the proper thing to do. Last year, my brother’s wife, who is fairly new here from Syria, called me incessantly from Boston in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, asking, “How do I cook the turkey?” “How do I make the dressing?” “What do I serve with it?”
Our Thanksgiving family tradition is an interesting one. We usually get together with a small group of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants-all American citizens now-to celebrate this day of thanks. Of course, whether they intend to eat it or not, the turkey is mandatory. Typically, someone in the group will cook the bird…which becomes the centerpiece of a spectacular table. Along with the turkey these families (most of whom are excellent cooks) also bring a most dazzling array of side dishes. Some of them are purely American with a few added ethnic spices and seasonings, but most of them are from the Middle East.
It’s fascinating to watch the show, once all this food has been set out. The guests scoop up all the side dishes that have been prepared and everyone is busy eating and talking. The beautiful turkey, however, remains untouched, resting proudly in the center of the table, like an esteemed monument to our American citizenship.
The recipes our group of families will help spice up any Thanksgiving, adding a little something new and special. I’ve included two great dishes below: Instead of gravy, try a savory brown sauce with mushrooms and walnuts. Instead of bread stuffing, which I know is a holiday favorite; try a healthy recipe for rice with pine nuts and raisins. Enjoy!
Savory Brown Sauce
Makes about three cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 heaping tablespoon corn starch
1 cube vegetable bullion
1 4-ounce can of sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
-Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic, the ginger and cook for few seconds.
-Dissolve the corn starch in three cups of cold water, and then pour over the garlic mixture.
-Add the vegetable bullions, the mushrooms with the juice, and the thyme. Cook over medium- low heat, stirring continuously, until the sauce is thickened.
-Remove from heat, add the walnuts and serve hot.
Rice, Pine Nut, and Almond Stuffing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, diced
1 pound frozen peas, thawed
1 cup raisins
3 cups Basmati rice
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted to a golden brown
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted to a golden brown
-Heat the olive oil in a cooking pot. Sauté the onion and the tomato for couple of minutes.
-Add six and half cups of water and the seasoning. Bring to a boil. Add the raisins, the peas and the rice. Stir and bring again to a boil.
-When the water is boiling, cover and cook over very low heat for twenty five minutes.
-Turn off the heat, keep the pot covered and allow the rice to rest for ten minutes before serving.
-To serve: spoon the rice onto shallow serving platter, sprinkle with the toasted almonds and pine nuts and serve.