By Bev Bennett
Bring home your ethnic roots for Thanksgiving Humorist Calvin Trillin once suggested that we replace turkey with spaghetti carbonara on Thanksgiving. From his perspective, pasta with a rich cream-and-egg sauce pays homage to Christopher Columbus and tastes better than an overcooked bird.
For this day of feasting and gratitude, why not take a cue from Trillin and prepare one recipe that represents your culture or introduces your family to other ethnic influences?
As you serve this dish, tell your children something of its origins or importance. You're not only sharing food, but making this holiday an appetizing learning experience for everyone.
"The way foods relate to holidays is common in all countries. In each country, people have foods they associate with a particular holiday or celebration," says Michelle Greenwald, a business professor and author of The Magical Melting Pot (Cherry Press, 2003), a cookbook that celebrates diversity.
If you're not sure how to start, food experts offer some suggestions.
Chicagoans are fortunate. There are 76 active ethnic communities in the city, according to Judith Dunbar Hines, director of culinary arts and events for Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs.
Take inspiration from any one of them to create a dish that's an exciting departure from the typical fare, Hines suggests.
For example, to celebrate Mexican heritage, prepare a turkey with mole sauce, a spicy mixture of chiles, onion garlic and a touch of chocolate.
"Mole sauce was originally a convent food," says Hines. People who didn't have money donated turkey, spices and chiles to the church. Inventive cooks turned the disparate ingredients into what is now one of Mexico's famed dishes, she says.
You can find a recipe for mole in almost any Mexican cookbook in your local library.
If your family is from Cuba or Central America, you probably have great rice and bean recipes stashed away. Pull one out for Thanksgiving, Hines says. In many African-American homes, sweet potato pie replaces pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving table. It's possible to trace the slave experience-from the Caribbean spices to the sweet potatoes of the Carolinas-in the recipe, says Hines.
Even if you can't draw from your own background, you can still include unusual and appealing dishes for the holiday.
"My family loves it if I try something new," says Greenwald, who teaches at Columbia University in New York. Greenwald recommends looking at typical Thanksgiving ingredients and finding new ways of presenting them.
Instead of the usual pumpkin dessert, how about carbonada criolla? The dish from Argentina calls for beef short ribs, tomato, sweet potato and squash stew served in a pumpkin. Or instead of plain corn, try a Senegal recipe for sweet potato, acorn squash and other harvest vegetables mixed with peanut butter and served as a stew, Greenwald suggests.
You can satisfy young children with less adventurous foods that are still a break from the routine.
Flan, a custard dish popular in Spain and South America, has the consistency of pumpkin pie filling but without the crust. Substitute cooked rice with dried apricots and raisins for a bread stuffing for turkey and present a Persian-inspired entrée, says Greenwald. If you can't mess with Thanksgiving, you can devote part of the weekend to exploring new foods, such as homemade tamales.
"Many times families are together for the whole weekend. Making tamales using leftover turkey is a great family project for Friday or Saturday and it takes a whole family to make them," says Hines.
Sweet Indian Pudding 4 cups milk 1 cup maple syrup 1/4 cup unsalted butter 2/3 cup cornmeal 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 2-quart casserole. In a medium saucepan, combine 3 cups of milk and the maple syrup over medium heat. Heat until it simmers and then add the butter. In a small bowl, combine the cornmeal, ginger and allspice. Using a wire whisk, stir the milk mixture as you slowly pour the cornmeal mixture into the milk. This will keep it from becoming lumpy. Reduce heat to low and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally. Fold in the cranberries. Spoon into prepared casserole and pour remaining milk over the top of the pudding. Do not stir. Bake for 2½ hours until milk has been absorbed and the top is golden brown. Serve plain or with a dollop of honey-sweetened whipped cream. Makes 6 servings.
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