IMMIGRANTS' PERSPECTIVES: CELEBRATING THANKSGIVING

By Georgette Farkas

Thanksgiving is a time that we celebrate with loved ones and share our food with our gratitude. This uniquely North American holiday has come to mean a lot to newcomers to America. What is beautiful about the holiday meal today is the influence of global flavors and cuisines via new citizens as well as refugees from all over the world.

Georgette Farkas interviewed some of the chefs we’ve worked with for People’s Kitchen and at our Latke Festival. Each of these incredible women share their Thanksgiving stories and how they’ve made it their own, bringing in their cultures, traditions, and flavors, but always sharing a meal while sharing their gratitude.

Yen Vo, Co-Owner and Co-Founder, MADAME VO

Yen Vo’s hands down favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  The Vietnamese born fashionista’s penchant for the American harvest celebration reflects how families from around the world embrace the holiday as as they settle into American life on their own terms.

Yen and her husband, Chef Jimmy Ly, opened their chic East Village Vietnamese restaurant Madam Vo in 2017. Their second restaurant, Madame Vo BBQ, followed soon after. Jimmy had grown up working in his family’s restaurants and easily won Yen over with his cooking. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, Jimmy takes the day off, and Yen takes over in the kitchen. It’s also the only time her mother and grandmother give her free reign behind the stove, even if they still can’t keep their hands off the seasoning.  

Yen’s earliest Thanksgiving memories date back to age seven, and a feast hosted by the aunt who had sponsored her family to come to the US. Yen’s aunt wanted them to have a truly American style holiday meal, with an emphasis on the side dishes. Yen’s favorite, and one she still makes, is a classic green bean casserole. Her cornbread and andouille sausage stuffing has a Southern accent, thanks to the time her family spent in Mississippi. This year she’ll also be serving roasted garlic mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and maple glazed carrots.

Yet the menu would not be complete without cha gio, traditional Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls with their nuoc cham dipping sauce that are a must at all Yen’s family gatherings. Roast pork lettuce wraps with vermicelli and cucumber are another must, before the turkey comes to the table. So while the Vo and Ly families don’t fuse the flavors of East and West, they serve them side by side, combining their Vietnamese and American culinary cultures right up through dessert. They’ll have traditional American pumpkin and pecan pies and then give out moon cakes as gifts. As with Thanksgiving, the moon festival celebrates the harvest, with both traditions celebrating family gathered around the table.

Learn more about MADAME VO here.

Aarthi Sampath

Aarthi spent her first American Thanksgiving as the guest of a school friend’s Nicaraguan grandmother in the Bronx. She had no idea what the holiday stood for or what to expect on the table. To this day she recalls an incredible spread of pork stew, rice and beans, potato and egg salad, a giant pineapple glazed ham, and an even bigger bird that she did not know was a turkey, all followed by American pies and tres leches for dessert. She is still struck by the generosity and warmth shared by people she was meeting for the very first time.

Chef Aarthi Sampath first arrived in the US 2013 when she transferred from a food service management program in her native India to major in baking and pastry at Johnson and Wales. Her subsequent years in restaurant kitchens produced a wealth of turkey making experience. At the Breslin she learned from the highly technical and carefully tested sous vide approach. She was proud to put her own side dish on the menu and still remembers hand scrubbing mountains of rainbow carrots. She roasted them in her own blend of cumin, turmeric, honey, raisins and walnuts and finished the dish with a carrot top and cilantro pesto seasoned with ginger, garlic and lemon, clearly an East meets West inspiration.

At Junoon, Aarthi’s Thanksgiving turkey was the center of a staff family meal. She marinated the bird Indian style, rubbed with turmeric, chili powder, cumin, coriander and garlic. “It was the first time I had ever brined anything, an entirely new technique for me learn, and it took the biggest pot we had in the kitchen,” explains Aarthi. On the side she served black lentils and a rice salad.

For a Thanksgiving dinner in Seattle, where Aarthi was making her mark with her gourmet food truck, she took the night off to host a group of healthy eating athletic friends. She wanted them to be able to indulge with abandon on her menu of quinoa salad, roast vegetables and whole roasted tandoori chicken marinated in yogurt, lime, chili, coriander and cumin. The chef still remembers, “I didn’t have enough plates in my own tiny kitchen and used every possible implement and container on hand to serve the dinner.”

During the 2020 shutdown, Aarthi prepared Thanksgiving dinner as a private chef for a family with Italian and South American roots. “They wanted their many cultures reflected in the menu and especially asked me to add some Indian spices of my own,” recalls the chef. “It was the most customized Thanksgiving dinner I have ever created.” In addition to a rosemary and sage brined turkey, Aarthi made whole roasted plantains topped with spicey beef stew; Bengali style potato and egg salad with mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. For dessert, Aarthi served pumpkin and sweet potato trifle. “At home we had my grandmother trifle for every family gathering, so I served my own version of this childhood memory,” say Aarthi. “The Thanksgiving meal is about family memories and traditions, no matter where they may originate.”

Follow Chef Aarthi Sampath on social: @arthi_sampath

Hong Thaimee, Chef-Owner, Thaimee Love

Today Hong Thaimee considers herself a New Yorker, yet she experienced her first Thanksgiving in her native Thailand as the guest of an expat American family. “I am open to new experiences, never judgmental, so I was happy to embrace this very foreign meal. I loved the stuffing and its aroma pervading the house. It must have been the celery,” remembers Hong. “They served classic roast turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce. To this day, I can’t imagine where they got that turkey.”

Hong enjoyed her first Thanksgiving dinner here in the US in 1995, as an exchange student living in Portland, Oregon. Her host family were great cooks, but she still remembers the jazz soundtrack that accompanied dinner, more than the food itself. 

By 2006, Hong had moved to the US full time and took on a Thanksgiving dinner of her own for a group of friends from around the world. Learning to brine the turkey was the greatest challenge at the time. Ever since, she’s been seasoning her bird with a Thai curry spiced butter under the skin. As a side dish, Hong makes fried rice with green curry paste, coconut milk, eggplant and Thai basil, which she explains can double as a stuffing. Yet the holiday recipe she remains most proud of is her now famous red curry paste pumpkin pie. It was published in Rachel Ray magazine and still appears on her restaurant menu.

Learn more about Thaimee Love here.

Lebjulet Braganti, Chef, Eat Off Beat

Lebjulet Braganti has two passions: the first, numbers and the second, cooking and making desserts. Prior to moving to the US in 2016, she taught university-level mathematics. But now, she shares her passion for cooking and making desserts at Eat Off Beat, a New York based company offering ready-made meals made by refugees to explore the world from your home.

Lebjulet remembers the first time she celebrated Thanksgiving: her mother-in-law prepared different dishes and a lot of food. Lebjulet cooked three desserts—a lemon curd fruit pie in strawberry, kiwi, and peach. As she sat to eat the feast, she felt nostalgic, remembering her childhood. Every Sunday, she and her parents, brother, and some friends would eat together, giving thanks to God for the family and everything they had. Thanksgiving brought back those cherished memories through the shared experience.

Every year, her family celebrates with five families at her friend Ana Maria’s house. Each family brings Venezuelan dishes, and Lebjulet typically prepares meat and dessert. She’ll traditionally prepare two or three desserts, typically desserts her friends request. One dessert she always makes is her famous tres leches cake, which as been described as “one of the best desserts I’ve had’ by most. This past year, she prepared guanabana (soursop) cake filled with pastelera of guanabana and decorated with suspiro.

She and her family and friends like to celebrate Thanksgiving as a moment to share, talk, and most importantly, giving thanks for the opportunity to be together, to feel freedom, and to grow their children together without being afraid and sad.

“Every day we live in constant fear [of leaving] America. For asylum seekers, it’s not easy to live here. Some people celebrate, but others, like parents, think about leaving everything again. I like Thanksgiving Day. It is the marvelous celebration when we can remember where we come from and where we are going. The decorations, the happiness, the food… this day is part of me now.”

Learn more about Eat Off Beat here.

It’s been a year of change for us at Great Performances. From moving to the Bronx and getting involved with our new neighbors (read about our Thinkubator project) to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and all the pivots, we haven’t had a moment to pause.

But right now, we want to take a moment to share some holiday spirit.

We’ve updated our Katchkie Farm CSA Cookbook first produced in 2015 by Suzannah and Andrew, our 2015 Katchkie Farm NYC CSA Team. We’ve kept many of our favorite recipes, but added some new ones from Georgette Farkas, our culinary ambassador, and from Emilia Sochovka, MS, RDN, CPT, who works with us on Embrace Wellness.

Download the Katchkie Farm Thanksgiving Recipes Cookbook

Our favorite recipes from Great Performances' CSA

We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do — and share your photos with us @gpfood and @katchkiefarm.

To go with the recipes, our young neighbors who participated in the Thinkubator project have submitted a playlist that’s sure to get your feet tapping and heads bopping as you prepare these recipes.

More Thanksgiving Recipes & Tips

Spiked Apple Cider

  Morgan Golumbuk shared her tip for creating batch cocktails so guests can serve themselves with ease. We loved the idea of her spiked cider,

Read More »

Even as we’re practicing social distancing, we continue to see great examples of how life happens around food. Instead of the corporate lunches, we’re seeing teams enjoy video conference lunches; instead of big dinner parties, families are having home-cooked meals together; and instead of packing bars at happy hours, friends are toasting each other virtually.

With more people cooking at home, we’re collecting recipes from our Great Performances’ team members, families, friends and partners to share with you and provide some inspiration for delicious dishes you can make at home. Share your recipes and photos with us: tag us on social media #gpcovidcooking, direct message @gpfood or email marketing@greatperformances.com.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH, BRUSSEL SPROUTS AND QUINOA SALAD

It’s a bit autumnal, but I tried a similar dish around Thanksgiving and I have been wanting to recreate it since.

 
 

Recipe provided by Great Performances’ Banking Partner:

Mitchell Hart
CapitalOne

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups tri-color quinoa
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 pound butternut squash
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 8 ounces unsalted dry-roasted pecans
  • olive oil
  • a few tsp lemon juice
  • Spices: salt
  • Optional: dried cranberries

Procedure:

  1. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes.  After quinoa is cooked spread out in thin layer over parchment paper to cool and dry
  2. Cube butternut squash, coat in olive oil, season with salt, and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 min on a baking sheet.
  3. Dice onions and quarter Brussels sprouts, saute in olive oil for 10-12 minutes in a cast iron pan.  Finish in oven for 4-6 min.
  4. Combine quinoa, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and onions, and pecans in a large bowl. Coat with additional olive oil and lemon juice, mix well and enjoy.
  5. If desired, sprinkle dried cranberries on top of each serving

 

Morgan Golumbuk shared her tip for creating batch cocktails so guests can serve themselves with ease. We loved the idea of her spiked cider, which can be served warmed out of a slow cooker set on low or cold from a pitcher. In either case, make sure to have a pitcher of regular cider on hand for those who don’t drink!

Spiked Apple Cider

 

For the cider

  • 1 gallon apple cider

  • 2 cups dark rum

For the garnish

  • Cinnamon sticks

  • Ground cinnamon

  • 1 apple, sliced, tossed in lemon juice

  • 2 apples, cubed, tossed in lemon juice

Warm Spiked Apple Cider

Heat apple cider with 2 cinnamon sticks on medium low heat just until it starts to simmer. Remove from heat and add rum. Keep warm in a slow cooker set on low. To serve, ladle into heat-safe mugs and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Cold Spiked Apple Cider

Combine apple cider, rum, and sliced apples in a pitcher and chill until ready to serve. Thread 2-3 pieces of cubed apple on cocktail skewers. To serve, pour over ice, add skewer of cubed apple and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

 

 

A few days before Thanksgiving, I’ll make the cranberry sauce with whatever I have on hand. I’ll weigh the cranberries, add 30% of the weight in sugar, 1-2 Tbsp of lemon or orange juice, large pieces of rind (without the pith), a scrapped vanilla bean or 1-2 Tbsp of vanilla extract, and a bit of water. I’ll cook this on low for 20-30 minutes or until most of the cranberries are popped, then remove the vanilla bean and pieces of citrus rind and chill. Leftover cranberry sauce gets turned into cranberry muffins.

Lea’s Cranberry Muffins

Muffin Batter

  • 250 grams AP flour

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 165 grams vegetable oil

  • 375 grams sugar

  • 225 ml milk

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 2 eggs

Crumb Topping

  • 65 grams brown sugar

  • 65 grams granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 113 grams butter, melted

  • 215 grams AP flour

Prepare the Crumb Topping

  • Add sugars, cinnamon and salt to melted butter, whisk until combined. Add flour and stir until crumbs form. Let sit for about 20 min. Then break up the crumbs to use on muffins.

Prepare the Muffin Batter

  • Combine flour, salt, baking powder in a bowl. Combine vegetable oil, sugar, milk, vanilla and eggs and whisk until combined. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix just until combined. Do not over mix. Batter should still be lumpy but with no visible dry flour.

  • Scoop batter into muffin tins about 1/2 to 2/3 full, add some cranberry sauce (about 1 Tbsp per muffin) and swirl with a toothpick. Top with crumb topping. Bake 350 for about 15-20 until done.

Note: Muffin batter and crumb topping can be made a head and kept in the fridge for up to 2 days.

 

Chef Justin shares his special method for creating a crispy, succulent turkey confit.

PRO TIP: Preparing dark meat in advance helps save time the day of the event.

 

Ingredients

  • Legs and thighs (keep attached) and wings from 1 14-lb. turkey (reserve to prepare separately)

  • ¼ cup kosher salt

  • 1 tbsp peppercorn

  • 2 tsp coriander

  • ¼ tsp anise

  • 2 tsp juniper

  • 6 sprigs thyme

  • 3 sprigs sage

  • 2 4-inch sprigs rosemary

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 2 2½-inch strips lemon zest

  • 6 2½-inch strips orange zest

  • 9 cups duck fat

Procedure

  1. Combine ingredients in roasting pan. Cook in 250o oven for 3.5 hours until tender and almost ready to fall off the bone when gently prodded.

  2. Remove turkey from pan and drain well. Wrap and chill for up to 3-5 days.

  3. To reheat, allow to come to room temperature. Roast in 400o oven until warmed through and skin is crispy and golden brown.


 

Chef Dana MarieMoore shares her perennial Thanksgiving favorite. Steeping the corn cobs in the stock and milk adds to the fresh corn flavors in the polenta — make sure not to skip this step!

Broccoli and Cheese Polenta

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups polenta (instant or regular)

  • 2 cups chicken stock

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 2 oz fresh thyme

  • 2 oz olive oil

  • 3 ears corn, kernels removed and cob reserved

  • 2 oz garlic, minced

  • 2 oz shallots, minced

  • 1 1/2 oz lemon zest

  • 1/4 pound broccoli, tops minced

  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese

  • 1 cup Mascarpone cheese

  • salt and pepper to taste

Procedure

  1. Combine chicken stock, milk and a pinch of salt and heat in a small sauce pot with corn cobs. Simmer 20 minutes then discard corn cobs.

  2. In a separate sauce pan, heat olive oil and add garlic, shallots, fresh corn kernels and a pinch of salt. Sweat until fragrant. Add heated stock and milk mixture and bring to simmer.

  3. Slowly whisk in polenta and cook until polenta has puffed and doubled in size. Remove from heat.

  4. Add Parmesan and Mascarpone cheeses, fresh thyme and lemon zest. Fold in minced broccoli heads. Season with salt and pepper.


 

Roasted Tomato Mac and Cheese

Chef Dana MarieMoore shares her family’s recipe for Roasted Tomato Mac and Cheese.

Ingredients

  • 2pts cherry tomatoes

  • 2 plum tomatoes

  • 4 oz unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup sliced shallots

  • 2 oz garlic, chopped

  • 2 oz fresh thyme, chopped

  • 1/2 oz red chili flakes

  • 1 red bell pepper, small diced

  • 1 1/2 oz lemon zest

  • 32 oz heavy cream

  • 2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese

  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  • 1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided

  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided

  • salt and pepper

  • 1 1/2 pounds elbow pasta

 

Procedure

  1. Roast the cherry tomatoes. Heat over to 400 degrees. Season whole cherry tomatoes seasoned with salt and pepper and roast on unlined pan until caramelized.

  2. Cook pasta to al dente following package directions.

  3. Prepare the cheese sauce. Heat butter in a large pot. Add shallots and sweat until translucent. Add diced bell peppers and plum tomatoes. Add garlic, thyme, chili flakes and lemon zest. Cook until fragrant. Add heavy cream, bring to a simmer, and reduce liquid till it coats the back of a spoon. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth, then add all of the Parmesan and sharp cheddar cheeses and half cup each of the mild cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  4. Make the mac’n’cheese. Fold in roasted whole cherry tomatoes and elbow pasta. Transfer to oven safe dish and cover with remaining cheese. Broil until golden brown.

 

 

Mike Deuel cherishes his grandmother’s recipe for Pecan Balls — not only because they’re delicious, but because of the memories they evoke.

This was the first recipe I can remember making with my grandmother. Gram, as I called her, lived until she was 96 years old. I have great memories of making this recipe with her each year for the holidays. We would then send packages full of baked goods to our family members around the country. As soon as I could drive I left home and moved in with her, learning from her every day. I eventually went to culinary school, and during my year away, I returned home when I could; but every holiday I would get a huge care package. She eventually moved to Miami and helped me evolve into good cook and a much better person.

 

Grams’s Pecan Balls

Yields 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour

  • 1/2 cup softened butter

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1 cup chopped pecans

  • 2 tbsp sugar

  • 1/8 tsp salt

  • Powdered sugar

Procedure

  1. Mix all ingredients except powdered sugar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Form dough into 1” balls (makes approximately 30). Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes (do not brown). Let stand 10 minutes

  3. Roll cookies in powdered sugar, being sure to press sugar into cookies. Cool completely, then roll again in powdered sugar.

  4. Store in air-tight container.


 

Yields Two 10” Pies

 

Ingredients

For Flaky Pie Dough

  • 12 ½ oz bread flour

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 8 oz cold, unsalted butter

  • 2 ½ oz cold shortening

For Filling

  • 5 eggs

  • 3 cups cooked pumpkin puree

  • 12 oz granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 tsp ground ginger

  • ½ tsp ground cloves

  • 3 ½ cups half and half

  • 1 pt heavy cream

  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar

Procedure

For the Flaky Pie Dough

  1. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the firm butter and shortening to the flour and pinch the fat to the size of a hazelnut with your fingertips.

  2. Add the ice water and mix with your hands just until the dough comes together. The butter should be lumpy. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten it into a disc to help it chill faster.

  3. Cover the pie dough and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours before using. This step is important to allow the dough to hydrate, since the flour absorbs some of the moisture. Roll the dough out so it is 1/8 inch thick and large enough so it extends about 1 inch beyond the edge of the pie pan. Use the knuckle of your right index finger and the tips of your left thumb and index finger to bend the tip of the dough into an evenly spaced fluted design. Cover the dough in the pan with baking paper and fill the shell with dried bean or pie weights. Bake the shell at 375° F until the dough is set but has not yet started to color (about 12 minutes). Let the shell cool completely and then remove the paper or plastic and bean or pie weights.

For the Pumpkin Filling

  1. Beat the eggs lightly to mix. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Mix together the first measure of granulated sugar, the salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Add this to the egg mixture. Stir in the half and half. Divide the filling evenly between the pie shells.

  2. Bake at 375°F for approximately 45-50 minutes or until the filling has puffed slightly and is firm around the edges. Let the pie cool.

  3. Whip the heavy cream with the second measure of granulated sugar until stiff peaks form. Slice the pies and serve at room temperature with a large dollop of whipped cream.