By: Chef Shahir Massoud
Growing up in an Egyptian household, our annual Thanksgiving table didn’t always seem “traditional”. Sure, my mom always cooked a whole bird, (usually seasoned with rosemary and sage), there was stuffing, and of course, some gravy. But there were also grape leaves, cucumber yogurt, kobeba (a dish with ground beef or lamb, bulghur wheat, pureed onion, and spices), and her famous phyllo cheese squares. Without realizing it at the time, she masterfully balanced the two worlds between a classic Thanksgiving spread and the celebratory flavours from her childhood to be shared with her family.
In that spirit, I’ve shared my own tips on how to cook a modern Thanksgiving feast, while simultaneously incorporating the flavours of your heritage. Whatever you cook, remember it’s your kitchen, your rules. Yes, you should serve a whole bird, but you can also use the occasion to get creative by incorporating new and bold tastes.
- Turkey is the star of the table, AND it’s versatile!
A Thanksgiving without turkey is not Thanksgiving. As a kid, I remember getting invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, and the host served chicken cordon bleu. Even as a nine-year old, I recognized that Thanksgiving just didn’t feel the same without the turkey centrepiece. The great news is that your turkey is a blank canvas for whatever spice, marinade, or rub you want to incorporate. You can take your bird in any culinary direction, so let it be the inspiration for the whole meal! For example, my Indian-Inspired Boneless Turkey Roasts include the robust flavours of a quality garam masala and Kashmiri chili. Or, using a whole bird, try taking a modern Middle Eastern spin by incorporating a za’atar and sumac infused rub—it’ll take your turkey in an exciting new direction.
- Get Creative with the Sides
When you think of a Thanksgiving table, some form of potato, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy are usually staples. Fair enough. But what if those potatoes were vibrant, yellow Bombay-style spuds to match that Indian-inspired turkey roast? Then, picture a tangy mango chutney to take the place of a cranberry sauce. Bake up stuffing-spiced (think sage, thyme, rosemary) pita chips to accentuate a fresh Fattoush salad along-side that Middle Eastern whole bird! You can even season the gravy to fit whatever theme you have going this year. Keep the framework of the traditional meal, while still finding ways to sneak in your own family’s traditional plates and sides.
- Involve your Guests!
Whether you’re gathering friends, family, or both, think about ways to include your guests. As the host, you should tackle the turkey (whether you choose a roast or Easy Fresh cut for a smaller gathering, or whole bird for a big group). And don’t forget to decipher your cook time and thaw time with Butterball’s Turkey Calculator to keep this part of the meal easy breezy. But, for the sides and desserts, feel free to disclose your theme to your guests, and ask them to embrace the flavours of your heritage, and invite them to do the same! Then, on Thanksgiving, you’ll have a Thanksgiving table filled with great food, warm memories, and interesting stories behind the inspiration of each dish. After all, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about!? Happy Thanksgiving everyone!