How 5 Chefs Blend Cultures and Cuisines to Make a Totally American Thanksgiving
What’s so great about America? Americans! And what does an American look like? The people in this article. That’s why we asked first- and second-generation American chefs to tell us how they mix cultures and cuisines to create Thanksgiving dinners that could only come from right here in the U.S.A.
Chef-Owner of Balaboosta, New York City
Israeli-born chef Einat Admony didn't celebrate Thanksgiving as a child. But the spirit of the holiday is familiar.
"I grew up in a very religious Jewish family, and every Friday, we would have a feast," says the chef-owner of several NYC restaurants, including the popular Balaboosta and the soon-to-open Kish-Kash. "Thanksgiving is like a bigger version of that."
This year, she is drawing inspiration from her Iranian-born mother's Persian chicken with pomegranate and walnut gravy. "She made it on the holidays," Einat says. "The sauce is dark, sweet, and sour, and I'm going to use it for our turkey."
She sees Thanksgiving, which she spends with her French-born hubby, Stefan, and their two children, Liam and Mika, as a deep dive into American tradition. "Yes, I'm an immigrant, but my kids aren't," she says. "They were born and raised here. I want to embrace Thanksgiving not just for me, but for them."
Persian-Style Roast Turkey with Pomegranate-Walnut Gravy
A spiced pomegranate glaze gives this Thanksgiving bird a beautiful laquered look.
Try Einat Admony's Persian-Style Roast Turkey with Pomegranate-Walnut Gravy
Chef-Owner of Johnny Sánchez, New Orleans and Baltimore
Long before he began judging home cooks on Chopped and MasterChef, Aarón Sánchez was in the hot seat himself with his mother—the influential Mexican chef and cookbook author Zarela Martínez—as he tried to dazzle her with the dishes he contributed to the family's Thanksgiving table.
"She always set the bar pretty high," says Aarón. His mom usually delegated simple sides to him and his twin brother, Rodrigo, like roasted Brussels sprouts or Mexican street corn, while she prepared the turkey and helped his father and uncles cook an entire goat in an outdoor fire pit.
No matter what they made for Thanksgiving, it was always an ambitious affair, after which the grown-ups would sit back and tell stories in Spanish, laughing and sipping tequila. These days, with a family of his own, Aarón tries to preserve his Mexican traditions. "I dream in Spanish and I dream in English," he says. "It's a funny way of being. I'm in two different worlds."
Chorizo & Cornbread Stuffing
Sweet corn and spicy chorizo make this side dish taste like a deconstructed tamale.
Try Aarón Sánchez's Chorizo & Cornbread Stuffing
Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Honeydoe, Chicago
Rana Nouna emigrated with her family from Damascus, Syria, to Chicago in 2015, partly to evade the dangers of war-torn Syria. It didn't take long for Thanksgiving to become one of her favorite new traditions.
"I love that everyone in America is celebrating that day," says Rana, who spends the holiday with her husband, Philip Jebran; children; and members of her extended family who have been living and working in the U.S. for decades. "I love that families are reuniting at home," she says.
Along with her son, Anwar Jebran, and mother, Siham Alhwaiek, Rana now runs Honeydoe, a popular Chicago catering company that specializes in Syrian cuisine. She thinks of Thanksgiving as a chance to celebrate her family's successes here, while honoring Syrians who live among the conflicts back home.
"Chicago has welcomed us to America," she says. "All of the people here are friendly, and we are thankful for everything we have. But I have a lot of people still in Syria. And I always ask God to protect them."
Beet & Tahini Dip (Khlat)
Rana Nouna likes to serve up this Syrian-style beet-and-tahini dip with a pile of toasted pita chips.
Try Rana Nouna's Beet & Tahini Dip (Khlat)
Chef-Owner of Compère Lapin, New Orleans
Nina Compton, the celebrated chef behind the buzzy New Orleans restaurant Compère Lapin, says she first understood the true meaning of Thanksgiving while attending culinary school in upstate New York. Nina was thousands of miles from her native Saint Lucia when she was invited by a friend to spend the holiday with her family in Brooklyn. And it's an experience that has stuck with her to this day.
"At Thanksgiving, you can't be an outcast if you're in someone's home," she says. "The meal is a warm blanket of friendship."
These days, the busy chef often works on Thanksgiving Day. But she makes sure there's a feast of turkey, green beans, and mashed potatoes for her staff, who hail from places as far-flung as Nicaragua and Sri Lanka. For Nina, the holiday serves as a perfect metaphor for the United States itself.
"It embraces different cultures," she says. "That's what really makes America great—all the different cultures putting their own little twist on things."
Jerk Sweet Potatoes
Five spices give this side dish a kick.
Try Nina Compton's Jerk Sweet Potatoes
Chef-Owner of MP Taverna, New York City
Growing up as the son of Greek immigrants, chef and cookbook author Michael Psilakis says Thanksgiving was the holiday that made him feel like a genuine American.
"Even though I was raised on Long Island, we did everything under the umbrella of Greek tradition," says Michael, owner of several New York City restaurants, including MP Taverna and the Mediterranean-inspired Fishtag. "This was the holiday where we did American things. My mom made turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce. It was our official attempt to assimilate." But Michael's family never lost sight of where they came from, even at the Thanksgiving table. "There was always lamb next to the turkey—and a moussaka by the mashed potatoes."
Greek Custard Pie (Galaktoboureko)
Along with apple pie, Michael Psilakis's family devours this custard pie with phyllo crust at Thanksgiving.
Try Michael's Greek Custard Pie (Galaktoboureko)