Thanksgiving Through an Arab Immigrant Lens
By: Blanche Shaheen / Arab America Contributing Writer
As a first-generation Arab American, Thanksgiving has always been a celebratory mishmash of cultures in my family. For appetizers, plates of hummus and baba ghanoush shared the table with a westernized cheese board. Cornbread stuffing would compete with “hashweh,” or a Palestinian/Lebanese diced lamb and rice dish seasoned with allspice and cumin. My mother would wedge in a bowl of tabbouleh between the maple sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. Of course, we would always make room to cram in desserts like pumpkin pie, along with a side of homemade baklava.
Thanksgiving was a chance to celebrate our heritage while being thankful for the country that welcomed my grandparents and parents when they escaped from war. I still tear up when I think of my late grandfather or sido who mastered how to make cornbread stuffing from one of his African American friends from South Carolina when he first arrived in the United States. The stuffing was rich with fennel sausage, celery, carrots, pecans, peppers, and sage. More than fifty years later, I still make that recipe to honor my grandfather and his friend. Every time I take a bite, I think of my childhood, and my grandfather’s warm smile and hospitality.
Each year there was always a surprise guest at my Sido’s house for Thanksgiving. He felt it was his duty to invite anyone that he met that had no extended family. He made friends easily, starting conversations with strangers whether at the farmer’s market or the bank. He hated the thought of anyone spending Thanksgiving alone, so he would invite them over. It is no wonder that at the end of his high social life, over 1000 people showed up at his funeral.
As immigrants that appreciated America and yearned for assimilation, my parents carried on Sido’s traditions and then some, learning how to master the art of roasting the perfect turkey. After 40 years I would say my mother has become a legitimate turkey wizard. She takes so many careful steps to ensure that the white and dark meat are equally juicy and flavorful. In keeping with her Arab tradition, she spends as much time cleaning the bird as she does seasoning it, giving the turkey a thorough salt and vinegar scrub. In the end, the effort is all worthwhile. Some people might not like day-old turkey, but we literally fight over the tender meat, bringing our own containers so we can ensure we get a sizable portion to take home.
While I personally know many Arab Americans that cook strictly Arabic dishes like kibbeh and even molokhia for Thanksgiving, we take pride in incorporating both cultures, commemorating my grandfather’s first taste of freedom when he arrived at Ellis Island in 1958. He loved Cadillacs and apple pie as much as he coveted his keffiyeh and felafel–a true Arab American experience.
With that, here is our Thanksgiving turkey tutorial video, where my mother shares her decades learned tips to give you everything you need to roast the perfect turkey, whether you are a beginner, or advanced and want to pick up a new tip or two:
For Washing Turkey
- 1 Turkey ( we used a 9 pound turkey
- Salt for scrubbing
- 1 tbsp of flour for scrubbing
- 2 tbsp vinegar for soaking
For Seasoning Turkey
- 8 cloves garlic
- 6 Strands (or more) Fresh Thyme
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 stick of butter- room temperature.
- Salt and pepper
- Lemon Pepper
- 3 stalks celery
- 3 stalks carrots
- 3 stalks parsnips
- 2 onions, cut into wedges
- 2 cups chicken broth, or 1 cup chicken broth and one cup wine
To begin, rinse the turkey several times until you stop seeing any blood leaching out the turkey. Using plenty of salt, rub the entire turkey (as well as the cavity) with salt) Take the flour, and then rub the entire turkey with flour, this will prevent the turkey from getting greasy upon cooking. Take the vinegar and rub the entire turkey. Put the turkey in a large bowl and fill it up with water and let it soak. After 30 minutes, remove the turkey and rinse one more time. Dry off with paper towels. Remove the bag of giblets. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine” which you can order here: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?isbn=9781545675113 She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/
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