Recipes for a New Kind of Thanksgiving

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Art and Culture / Food / Immigrants
Photo: Clockwise left to right: Kian Lam Kho, Flickr/SliceOfChic, Flickr/Back to the Cutting Board, Ana Sofia Palaez

Photo: Clockwise left to right: Kian Lam Kho, Flickr/SliceOfChic, Flickr/Back to the Cutting Board, Ana Sofia Palaez

Originally published on Colorlines on November 22, 2013.

Despite the political tensions surrounding Thanksgiving, it’s a holiday many use to unite with family and friends. And what ends up on the table is often a tweaked version of the usual fare that better matches the heritage and politics of the celebrants. For some that means looking to food history to incorporate forgotten ingredients that were essential to their ancestors or focusing on local, sustainable ingredients. For others, it’s about augmenting a holiday favorite. We’re sharing a few such recipes for you to consider if you celebrate Thanksgiving. Please share recipes you love in the comments section!

Soul Sorghum Turkey Brine by Food Historian Michael Twitty

“This is a recipe that speaks to an old Southern tradition of making sorghum in the fall. Sorghum is an African cultigen that has been grown for thousands of years. It produces a gluten free grain and has a sweet form that was chewed like sugarcane and processed into a molasses-like syrup with a very unique rich flavor,” says Twitty. “Try this Soul Sorghum Turkey Brine on a large turkey breast or a small whole turkey.”


  • 1/2 gallon of low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup of light or medium sorghum syrup
  • 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of allspice berries
  • 2 crumbled Turkish bay leaves
  • 1/2 gallon of ice water


    1. Bring the stock to a boil in a large pot and add other ingredients up to the crumbled bay leaves.
    2. Dissolve syrup and kosher salt and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let it come to room temperature.
    3. Add the 1/2 gallon of ice water. Using a very large resealable bag submerge washed turkey breast.
    4. Brine for 6 to 8 hours. Rinse meat off and roast or grill accordingly.

Sesame Coated Pumpkin Pancakes by Chef Kian Lam Kho

Kho, who hails from Singapore, sends this recipe from China where he is researching for an upcoming cookbook. “I offer this pumpkin recipe that I think would be interesting as a side dish for an Asian Thanksgiving dinner.”


  • 8 ounces of pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch cubes.
  • 2 cups of glutinous rice flour (mochi flour)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of sesame seeds (white, black or combination of both)
  • Vegetable oil for frying


    1. Place the pumpkin on a plate and steam over boiling water for 20 minutes or until it is completely soft.
    2. Remove from the stove and drain any excess water from the plate.
    3. Place the pumpkin in a medium mixing bowl and add the glutinous rice flour and sugar while it’s still hot.
    4. Mix the ingredients together well until a smooth dough is formed.
    5. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and press down to form a disk of about three inches in diameter and about 1/4 inch thick.
    6. In a shallow bowl spread the sesame seeds. Coat the pumpkin pancakes completely with sesame seeds by patting the dough down onto the seeds.
    7. Heat about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.
    8. When the oil reaches about 300 F place eight of the pancakes into the frying pan and fry for three to four minutes or until the side is golden brown. Flip each pancake and brown the other side for three or four minutes. Remove the pancakes from the pan and place them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
    9. Repeat the frying with the rest of the pancakes. Serve the pancakes while they are still hot.


Apple-Cranberry Sauce by Chef Bryant Terry

“Although this is an old recipe, I have been exploring the interconnection, change, and growth of Afro-diasporic food in most of my work,” says Terry, a food justice advocate and author. “My new book [Afro Vegan] focuses squarely on that subject. This recipe is a nod to the from-scratch cooking traditions of the African Diaspora, and uses fresh cranberries, apples—local preferred—and tangerine juice. It’s so naturally sweet and yummy you could even eat it as dessert.”


  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries, rinsed
  • 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet-tart apples such as Braeburn, Early Crisp or Gala
  • 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed tangerine juice (or fresh orange juice)
  • 2 tablespoons of raw cane sugar
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • Pinch of ground ginger
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon


    1. In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
    2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until soft with some chunks remaining, stirring every two minutes.
    3. Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate. Serve cool.


Huevos al Nido (Eggs in a Nest) by Chef Ana Sofia Palaez

Palaez is a Cuban chef and food writer who explores and blends Latin-American ingredients and flavors from across the region. Palaez adapted this recipe by Puerto Rican chef Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, tweaking a Thanksgiving staple—mashed potatoes.”With everyone flying home for the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought Valldejuli’s huevos al nido, a combination of baked eggs layered with mashed potatoes, was a fitting recipe,” she says.


  • 1 pound of potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup of lukewarm milk
  • 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


    1. In a heavy pot, bring potatoes to a boil in salted water. Cover and simmer until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
    2. Drain the potatoes and set aside until just cool enough to handle. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
    3. Peel potatoes and pass through a food mill or ricer. Add butter, milk and salt. Grease ramekins.
    4. Fill half of each ramekin with layer of mashed potatoes. Carefully break an egg over potatoes and sprinkle with teaspoon of cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  Cover with final layer of mashed potatoes and sprinkle with more cheese.
    5. Bake until eggs are set to taste,about 20 to 30 minutes.


Bourbon Pecan Pie by Chef  Therese Nelson

For some chefs, it’s the not so much the ingredients or the process, but the intention behind the dish. Therese Nelson takes one of the most classic holiday staples, but adds context and layers of history to reclaim pecan pie: “I came to my professional life in food certainly from my grandmother, who was a great cook but, more germanely, from my discovery at 17 of Edna Lewis. Miss Edna was a self-taught cook whose family dated back to the settlement of Freetown, Va. Being born into this community of freed slaves, Chef Lewis inherited a dignity and a sense of self that came from the ideals born out of this self-contained, self-sufficient, all-black community. I cook today in the footsteps of slaves whose stations were elevated because they could cook, of Caribbean expats who came to America and set the tone for the American gourmet palate, of women who fed the civil rights movement, and of Chef Edna Lewis, who commanded respect and was unabashedly proud of her blackness and our foodways.”


The crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
  • 3 tablespoons of ice water

The filling:

  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup of molasses
  • 1/3 cup of melted unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces of bourbon
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans


The crust:

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    2. Place flour, sugar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine.
    3. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.
    4. With the machine running, slowly pour in water. Process just until the mixture begins to come together.
    5. Gently press dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
    6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to fit a 9-inch pie plate.
    7. Place dough in pie plate. Trim and crimp edges and refrigerate until you are ready to fill and bake.

The filling:

    8. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, butter, bourbon, vanilla and salt.
    9. Place the pecans in the bottom of the prepared crust and pour the filling over the pecans.
    10. Bake until set, about 35 to 40 minutes.
    11. Let the pie rest for about an hour before attempting to cut it.

The Author

Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York City. She is a self-taught cook who explores Puerto Rican food, culture, and identity through memoir and multimedia. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, PRI’s The World, BuzzFeed, Colorlines, and Feet in 2 Worlds.

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