My first Thanksgiving meal was more than 38 years ago with extended family in the Bay Area. It was a magical day filled with foods I’d never tasted before. There was wild rice (not really rice!), stuffing made with bread, mounds of mashed potatoes (different from south Indian masala potatoes), savory vegetarian gravy, baked squash with a sprinkle of cinnamon, fresh rolls, green leafy vegetables with cream sauce and loads of desserts, including pumpkin pie made by the kids in our family. It was a day filled with easy camaraderie, stories and affection.
I loved this new holiday so much that when we got married a few years later, it seemed natural to continue the celebration. The day was a perfect combination of good food, family and gratitude.
Now I was brought up on ritual and decorum. Feasts in India are based on centuries-old beliefs. You always served tangy Aviyal stew for an Onam feast or sweet and savory rice balls were mandatory on Ganesha Chaturthi.
But there was no south Indian game plan for celebrating Thanksgiving and my husband’s childhood traditions didn’t quite fit our vegetarian lifestyle.
Over the years I have cooked all kinds of food for Thanksgiving. One meal was all Indian with masala dosas, Indian flat breads and vegetable stews. Another time, it was a huge lasagna with homemade noodles and sauce.
It took time to find that perfect meal to reflect my cooking and our own rituals. My mother-in-law shared her creamed onion recipe (years later it would be modified to include a light herbaceous béchamel sauce and roasted pearl onions). I remembered mashed potatoes from my first Thanksgiving feast. I experimented with adding roasted garlic, cauliflower and even malt vinegar for that salt and vinegar flavor. I tweaked gravy recipes until I found a hearty caramelized onion gravy we all liked.
Wild rice was mandatory and included chunks of succulent roasted squash and toasted nuts.
Herb-flecked asparagus timbales with béchamel sauce and parmesan-spiked bread crumbs became a family favorite, even a son who disliked asparagus managed to eat a timbale or two.
We had to have cranberry sauce. My friend Sandra had the perfect recipe which included fresh cranberries, a whole orange and plenty of finely chopped toasted walnuts.
For dessert, along with traditional pumpkin pie, we added different baked goods such as black forest cake, apple pie, cherry pie or chocolate pecan pie with a touch of bourbon.
A funny thing happened over the years, my boys and husband loved all the foods but we discovered we liked being together even more. We found that gratitude and giving thanks was almost as satisfying as the savory appetizer or slice of tart cherry pie with vanilla ice cream.
This year we are counting our blessings over spinach crepes with roasted red pepper sauce, roasted cabbage with walnuts and lemon and wild rice with pomegranates and pistachios.
The meal will be simple and a little untraditional but the sentiment behind it will be the same.
Here’s to next year when we’ll be back to eating all the foods we love with family we cherish.
Giving thanks never goes out of style.