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Middle Eastern Style Western Holiday Dinner

posted on: Nov 23, 2021

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

As a youth on the western Canadian prairies, my mother for holiday meals often cooked a turkey, the renowned western holiday treat. However, unlike the bread stuffed turkeys, common in North America, she stuffed it with rice, a tradition of stuffing fouls she brought with her from Syria. The rice stuffing was always delicious. Even though in the ensuing years, I often enjoyed bread stuffed turkeys, I never forgot my mother’s rice stuffing.  Today, I often cook rice-stuffed turkey on special occasions.

The adopting and adapting of the North American turkey to Arab is a marriage that works well. To people unaware of the foods of the eastern Arab world, stuffed turkey might sound exotic, but a bird stuffed with rice and enhanced by almonds and a variety of spices and other condiments is a dish they will come to love. For those who wish to experiment by trying new foods, a holiday feat whose mainstay is a rice-stuffed turkey will be a never-to-be-forgotten gourmet repast.  Overwhelmed with its exotic taste, a diner will remember that tasty meal for days after the event.  

Numerous are the times when people in Canada and the U.S. look forward to a sizzling bread-stuffed turkey holiday dinner. A great tradition in North America, Thanksgiving and Christmas bread-stuffed turkey dinners offer, in the main, the same menu year after year. For me, even though I am a fan of the new world’s bread-stuffed turkey with cranberry sauce, I feel that rice-stuffed turkey is even more of a holiday treat – as the saying goes, ‘a meal fit for a king’.

The following make a holiday meal for 12 persons: 

Rice Stuffed Turkey – Hashwat Rizz

Middle Eastern Style Western Holiday Dinner

Serves 10 to 12

1 turkey, 10 to 12-pounds, cleaned and washed

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 teaspoons salt

12 tablespoons butter, melted

1-pound lean beef or lamb cut into 1/4-inch cubes, or 1/2-pound ground

beef or lamb 

3 medium onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 small hot pepper, seeded and very finely chopped

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 cups rice, rinsed

4 cups boiling water

1 teaspoon sage

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted 

Rub turkey inside and out with a mixture of the lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of salt, then set aside.

In a saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter then sauté meat over medium heat for 10 minutes. At onions, garlic, coriander leaves and hot pepper, then stir-fry for further 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, thyme, rosemary, coriander seeds, allspice, rice, 2 cups of the water and half of the following: sage, pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Bring to boil then cover and turn heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes stirring a number of times.  Remove from heat then stir in almonds before stuffing turkey.

Stuff turkey, including the neck opening and then sew and place in a roaster.

Make a basting juice by combining 4 tablespoons of remaining butter, sage pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and remaining water then baste the turkey and cover.  

Bake in a 350o F preheated oven for 2 1/2 hours, basting every 20 minutes, then uncover and turn the turkey over.  Baste and bake for a further 2 hours or until the turkey is cooked, basting every 20 minutes.

Make a sauce by adding the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the juice in the pan then place in a gravy bowl.

Place turkey on a serving platter then, serve immediately with the gravy, and side dishes of peas, corn, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. 

Mashed Potatoes

Middle Eastern Style Western Holiday Dinner

6 cups warm mashed potatoes

3 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl then thoroughly blend well. Keep warm until served.

Peas and Corn

Middle Eastern Style Western Holiday Dinner

4 cups fresh or frozen peas

2 cups fresh or frozen corn

4 tablespoons butter

salt and pepper to taste 


Place peas, corn, butter, salt, and pepper in the saucepan then barely cover with water. Bring to boil and cover then cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Serve warm.  

Cranberry Sauce

Middle Eastern Style Western Holiday Dinner

2 cups fresh cranberries any sour berries can be substituted

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil then cook for 5 minutes. Serve hot or cold. 

Bread of the Palace – ‘Aysh as-Saraaya

Middle Eastern Style Western Holiday Dinner

8 slices white bread, crusts removed and toasted 

2 cups half and half cream

8 slices white bread, crust removed and cut into tiny pieces 

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 tablespoons orange blossom water

4 tablespoons crushed pistachio nuts

3/4 cup water

Place toasted bread in a 9 X 13-inch pan then set aside.

Place cream, bread pieces, 1/4 cup of the sugar and orange blossom water in a saucepan then, stirring constantly, bring to boil. Continue stirring over medium heat until mixture thickens, then set aside, but keep warm over very low heat.

Prepare syrup by placing remaining sugar and water in a pot and bringing to boil, then cooking for a few minutes. Pour syrup over toast in pan then spread cream mixture evenly over top. Sprinkle pistachio over top then refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Cut into 12 pieces and serve.