Home » News

Thanksgiving melting pot: Making a place for ethnic foods on the table

Published November 15, 2012 9:48 am

Holiday cooking • Making a place for foods from other countries on the holiday table.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Thanksgiving dinner doesn't always look like the one being served in that Norman Rockwell painting with turkey, bread stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

For many families, this decidedly American meal features flavors from the world's cultural melting pot. The turkey might share center stage with Vietnamese spring rolls, while stuffing sits alongside Italian garlic and anchovy dip and the yams are spiced with Indian-influences of coconut and curry flavors.

"Thanksgiving is a time when all families get together and count our blessings and give thanks," said Lavanya Mahate, owner of Saffron Valley Indian Street Food in South Jordan. "But we can't lose our roots, so we tend to add a touch of whatever that is to the meal."

Mahate, who moved to Utah 11 years ago, said her Indian family will serve a turkey. "That's the symbol of Thanksgiving, we don't replace that." But the side dishes will take on the flavors of her homeland. There is usually biryani — an Indian rice dish made with goat meat and spices — and coconut curried yams (see recipe at left). For dessert, the pumpkin pie will be replaced with a pumpkin halwa, a dense buttery confection that's served all across the Indian subcontinent. (See recipe at bottom of story.)

"We've definitely adopted the American holiday," she said, "but also made it our own.

Vietnam •This Thanksgiving, the holiday menu at the home of Mai Nguyen will feature Cornish game hens that have been marinated for two days and then stuffed with rice. There will most likely be a honey ham, and at least a half dozen other side dishes, she said.

But the main course will be Vietnamese spring rolls filled with shrimp, squid and paper-thin slices of beef. (See recipe at below left.)

For the holiday, "we take American and Vietnamese and put it together," said Nguyen, whose family owns Sapa Sushi Bar and Grill in Salt Lake City, and Green Papaya and Bucket O'Crawfish in West Valley City.

Making these Asian wraps is a hands-on activity for young and old. First, the family assembles plates of fresh fillings: raw shrimp, squid and beef; fresh cooked rice vermicelli; lettuce leaves; strips of cucumbers, bell peppers and green onions; as well as fresh basil, cilantro and mint.

Each person takes a turn at the hot frying pan, quickly stir-frying the raw meat to the desired doneness. The cooked meats along with favorite vegetables and herbs are placed in the soft, pliable rice paper wrapper and rolled into a neat, portable package. There's peanut dipping sauce for the kids and some spicier chili sauce for the adults.

"Everyone makes their rolls their own special way," said Nguyen. "My brother likes his beef practically burned, I like mine just barely cooked."

Italy • Vanina Meystre-Pirollo, native of Napoli in Southern Italy, had never heard of a Thanksgiving day feast until she moved to Utah five years ago.

But when friends invited her and her husband to share their holiday meal, Pirollo, owner of Cucina Vanina restaurant in Cottonwood Heights, knew she couldn't arrive empty handed.

So she brought one of her Italian family's favorite celebration dishes: bagna cauda, or "hot dip."(See recipe at bottom of story.) It's made with garlic — lots of it — that's slow cooked with anchovies, olive oil and butter. The rich dip is kept warm, much like fondue, and served with raw vegetables and bread. While it may seem like an appetizer, in Italy it's eaten as a meal, Pirollo said.

The dish actually hails from the Piedmont Region in Northern Italy. "My great grandfather came from Northern Italy and he passed the recipe down to my mom,"she said.

This decidedly winter dish has become Pirollo's signature Thanksgiving offering, even though she jokes about the after-effects of eating such a garlic-laden dish. "You need a minimum of one day off because you smell so bad," she laughed, adding: "I've never found anyone who does not like it."


Curried yams in coconut milk

1 pound yams

1 cup water

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 inches fresh ginger root, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/2 cup onion, chopped

2 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, chopped, for garnish

Peel yams, cut into one-inch cubes. Steam in water until they turn soft, about 20-minutes.

Heat oil in a pan over moderate flame. Add cumin seeds, cook for a minute until they roast into a golden brown color. Add chopped ginger, garlic, onion. Cook until the onion turns translucent. Add garam masala and salt.

Add steamed yam pieces to spice mixture. Stir in coconut milk and bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer covered about 10 minutes or until nearly dry, but still moist. Mash yams the back of a spoon. Serve warm, garnished with chopped cilantro leaves.

Serves • 4

Source: Lavanya Mahate, Saffron Valley Indian Street food —

Vietnamese spring rolls

1 small package rice vermicelli noodles

8 large raw shrimp

8 ounces raw fresh squid with tentacles

8 ounces top round beef, shaved into super-thin slices, (ask the butcher do this)

Rice paper wrappers

Lettuce leaves

1 cucumber or zucchini cut into 16 thin strips

1 green pepper, cut into 16 thin strips

8 green onion, washed and cut into strips

Fresh cilantro leaves

Fresh mint leaves

Fresh basil leaves

1/4-1⁄3 cup butter, for stir frying

Water, for soaking wrappers

Peanut sauce, for dipping

Garlic chili sauce, for dipping

Cook rice vermicelli according to package direction. Drain and keep warm or at room temperature.

Peel raw shrimp, then remove the dorsal vein and cut in half. Place pieces in a clean bowl.

Clean raw squid. Cut bodies into rings. Place rings and tentacles in a bowl. Place sliced beef on a plate.

Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of butter. Add two pieces of raw shrimp, two to three pieces of raw squid and 2 slices of raw beef to the pan. Cook quickly to desired doneness. (If you like your green onions cooked a bit, add those to the pan as well.)

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 2 or 3 seconds to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place a a lettuce leaf, 2 strips of cucumber, 2 strips of green pepper, a green onion, a handful of vermicelli noodles and several basil, mint and cilantro leaves. Top with cooked meat. Be sure to leave about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold sides of wrapper inward, then lift the bottom of the wrapper up and over the filling and then tightly roll up to create a tight package.

For each roll, repeat the cooking, filling and rolling process. Serve spring rolls with desired dipping sauce.

Serving • 8

Source: Mai Nguyen, Sapa Sushi Grill and Bar —

Bagna cauda (Italian hot dip)

9 ounce of extra virgin olive oil

10 anchovies*

10 garlic cloves, pealed and cut in small pieces

2 ounce of butter

Raw vegetables such as peppers, celery, cabbage, endives, carrots, broccoli

Artisan bread, slices

In a hot pan, pour a good amount of olive oil in with the butter. When the oil starts to warm up, add garlic and turn the flame down. Add the anchovies and cook until the garlic becomes brown and the anchovies dissolve, about 1 hour.

Put the sauce in a fondue pot to keep warm.

Serve with raw vegetables and bread.

*Purchase the best anchovies you can afford. Pirollo buys large cans or even bottled anchovies at Whole Foods Market. Smaller, less expensive, canned anchovies will work for this recipe, but are typically more salty. So rinse them before using.

Servings • 4

Source: Vanina Meystre-Pirollo, owner of Cucina Vanina —

Sweet yellow pumpkin halwa

1/2 cup melted unsalted butter (ghee)

10 unsalted cashews or pistachios, broken

2 cups grated pumpkin, skin and seeds removed

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

3 green cardamom seeds, removed from pods, and ground to a powder

In a wide pan with a lid, heat about 2 teaspoons of ghee (melted butter). Add the cashews or pistachios and gently roast until just fragrant. Remove from pan.

Add two more tablespoons of ghee to the heated pan and add grated pumpkin. Sauté until the raw smell goes away, about 10 minutes.

Add milk, cover and cook until the pumpkin turns soft, about 15 minutes. Stir mixture occasionally to prevent sticking. Add sugar, honey and cardamom powder. Mix and cook until all the moisture evaporates.

Add remaining ghee and cook until ghee starts to separate, 8-10 minutes. Stir in cashews or pistachios and turn off the heat. Serve warm.

Servings • 4

Source: Lavanya Mahate, Saffron Valley Indian Street food