A West Asian Thanksgiving

West Asian Thanksgiving is served

West Asia, a region comprised of the Near East and Middle East includes countries like Turkey and Syria which were at the center of the spice trade for centuries. It’s no surprise then that West Asian cuisine makes extensive use of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and sumac.

For Thanksgiving this year, my family flew out from California, so I wanted to make something a little different than the usual turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Still, it wouldn’t be Turkey Day without the eponymous bird and the traditional fixin’s so I created this West Asian inspired Thanksgiving dinner.

While the flavours may taste exotic to the western palette, the preparations stick to their more traditional North American roots. I also borrowed some North African flavors such as Harissa for the Turkey and Mergueza sausage for the stuffing. While it might sound like it’s all over the map, the ingredients all play together very nicely with the spices adding vibrance to the late autumn meal without loosing the comforting feel of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Sausage and Yarn

This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen to host one of the 24 Thanksgiving meals being featured on Foodbuzz this month. For those of you not familiar with Foodbuzz, it’s a community of people who are passionate about all things food. If you have a blog, you can become a featured publisher which gets you access to food events and you can submit a proposal for their monthly 24,24,24 event. If you’re chosen, you get a stipend to cover the expenses of your proposed dinner.

Like my last 24, 24, 24 meal, I tried to source as much of the ingredients as I could locally. Most raw ingredients including the 8 lbs. heritage turkey came from within a few hundred miles of Manhattan. The Mergueza sausage I used for the stuffing came from a cool little stand at Union Square that sells both wool and lamb.

Mountains of apples at the union square farmers market

Onion anyone?

Brussel sprouts still on their stalk

Sugar Pumpkin for the "Pie"

An unintended side benefit, of this meal is that it’s actually quite healthy by Thanksgiving standards, using no butter or cream and making spare use of processed sugar. The potatoes use tahini for creaminess and both the brussel sprouts and yams use fruit juice reductions for sweetness. We also had a guest that’s gluten intolerant, so with the exception of the stuffing(which you could make with gluten free-bread), the rest of the meal is entirely gluten-free.

Cranberries, Pepper and Cinnamon ready to be cooked

So what was on the menu you ask?

The spread

Appetizers
fresh local baby carrots with cherry wood smoked sea salt

selection of local cheeses

multi grain and seed bread & home made zucchini bread

salt & sumac sweet potato chips

Main
harissa cinnamon roast turkey

fiery cinnamon cranberry sauce

tahini mashed potatoes

sweet potato sumac gratin with meringue

brussel sprouts caramelized with pomegranate molasses

multi-grain stuffing with dried cherries and mergueza

Dessert
Crust less milk and cardamom “pumpkin pie”

Salt & Sumac sweet potato chips
These chips were a result of leftover sweet potatoes and yams after I made the gratin. They’re just deep fried until crisp and are dusted with salt and tangy sumac.

Harissa Cinnamon Turkey waiting to be carved

The turkey came out golden brown and perfect with a crisp fragrant skin and moist flavorful meat underneath. The rub is the same as I used on the chicken except I doubled the quantity. I roasted the turkey at 425 for 30 minutes, breast side down then reduce the heat to 325, flipped it and cooked breast side up until it was done. Stay tuned for a more detailed recipe.

Fiery Cinnamon Cranberry SauceI’m normally not much of a cranberry sauce fan, but this one really worked. The chili pepper and cinnamon overdose really gives it the kick it needs to be more than just a tart jam. In our family, cranberry sauce is usually what ends up being consumed over the following week as leftovers, but this batch sold out the first night. See recipe here

Tahini Mashed PotatoesThese tahini mashed potatoes were also a part of my preview dinner, but I swapped in Yukon Gold potatoes for their smoother texture and added a ton of milk. This resulted in the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. Honestly they tasted like they had cream and cheese in them. The flavour and creaminess comes courtesy of the tahini, which is a smooth paste (like peanut butter) made out of ground sesame seeds. Tahini does have a way of absorbing a lot of water though so I ended up adding about twice the amount of milk I’d normally put in mashed potatoes. See recipe here

Sweet Potato Sumac GratinFor this dish I layered thinly sliced yams (orange) and sweet potatoes (yellow) along with cinnamon and sumac then covered it in a reduced apple cider. It’s topped with a lightly sweetened meringue which is browned until slightly crisp on top. Stay tuned this week for a recipe.

Brussel Spouts and Shallots Caramelized with Pomegranate MolassesBrussel sprouts are one of those reviled veggies that I’d try about once a year hoping I’d like them better. I realized this year that the thing I liked best about brussel sprouts where the bits around the edges that got caramelized, so instead of halving or even quartering them, I decided to shred them like cole slaw. This worked better than expected and 6 people managed to polish off 2 lbs of brussel sprouts in one night. See recipe here

Multi-grain Stuffing with Dried Cherries and Mergueza topped with a little sumacThis stuffing was good the first time I made it but it was even better the second. I like really moist stuffing and the key is to douse it with chicken stock until it’s nearly mushy. The spicy North African lamb sausage is packed with flavour and goes nicely with the sweet and tart dried cherries. The multigrain retains a pleasant texture even after being thoroughly soaked in stock, and a light dusting of sumac on top gives it a bit of color and a nice tang. See recipe here

Crust Less Milk and Cardamom Pumpkin PieHaving a gluten intolerant guest I knew I’d need to make a dessert that didn’t involve the use of flour. Sure, I could have cheated and used a gluten-free flour, but I wanted something a bit more interesting. The Turkish have a fantastic baked milk custard dish which was my initial source of inspiration. I ended up straying pretty far from the Turkish original using an egg based custard and steaming it instead of baking it. I infused the milk with with green cardamom, nutmeg and orange zest and it gets its intense creaminess from the sweetened condensed milk (similar to a flan). While it looks fantastic and the custard was the perfect texture, I wasn’t a huge fan of the tough skinned sugar pumpkin. Next time I think I’ll try it with a finer textured Kabocha pumpkin. See recipe here

Thanksgiving toast

  • http://mikes-table.themulligans.org/ Mike

    That’s a beautiful spread and a great twist on the classic Thanksgiving dinner–it sounds like the West Asian twist worked wonderfully and you’ve definitely inspired me with a lot of new ideas!

  • http://mikes-table.themulligans.org Mike

    That’s a beautiful spread and a great twist on the classic Thanksgiving dinner–it sounds like the West Asian twist worked wonderfully and you’ve definitely inspired me with a lot of new ideas!

  • http://www.shelbymaelawstories.blogspot.com/ HoneyB

    I love the tahini mashed potatoes!

  • http://www.shelbymaelawstories.blogspot.com HoneyB

    I love the tahini mashed potatoes!

  • http://cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.blogspot.com/ Reeni

    Everything looks fabulous! I love how you spiced it up. Harissa cinnamon roasted turkey!!? I’m speechless! I have to try it!

  • http://cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.blogspot.com Reeni

    Everything looks fabulous! I love how you spiced it up. Harissa cinnamon roasted turkey!!? I’m speechless! I have to try it!

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com/ Manggy

    I can’t wait to see the recipes! (Esp. the cranberry sauce… I never got that stuff– too candy-like normally.) The pumpkin dessert is simply inspired!

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com Manggy

    I can’t wait to see the recipes! (Esp. the cranberry sauce… I never got that stuff– too candy-like normally.) The pumpkin dessert is simply inspired!

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com/ Jaden, Steamy Kitchen

    WOW – what a fab Thanksgiving menu! Love the theme.

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com Jaden, Steamy Kitchen

    WOW – what a fab Thanksgiving menu! Love the theme.

  • http://feedingmaybelle.blogspot.com/ maybelles mom (feeding maybell

    Very very nice dinner.

  • http://feedingmaybelle.blogspot.com maybelles mom (feeding maybelle)

    Very very nice dinner.

  • http://www.souvlakiforthesoul.com/ Peter G

    Geez! You’ve really outdone yourself Marc! I love the whole west Asian feel. So many spices and dishes. Can’t wait to see more of the recipes!

  • http://www.souvlakiforthesoul.com Peter G

    Geez! You’ve really outdone yourself Marc! I love the whole west Asian feel. So many spices and dishes. Can’t wait to see more of the recipes!

  • http://voodoolily.blogspot.com/ Heather

    This is just fantastic, Marc. And I thought mine was good! Seriously, the food looks amazing.

    I always think of that geographic region as north Africa, but the Asian influences really are what set it apart. Such a great area to cook from, with that whole spice route.

  • http://voodoolily.blogspot.com Heather

    This is just fantastic, Marc. And I thought mine was good! Seriously, the food looks amazing.

    I always think of that geographic region as north Africa, but the Asian influences really are what set it apart. Such a great area to cook from, with that whole spice route.

  • http://noobcook.com/ noobcook

    U did such a fantastic job, love the stunning photos and the delicious food. Congrats! =D

  • http://noobcook.com noobcook

    U did such a fantastic job, love the stunning photos and the delicious food. Congrats! =D

  • http://www.gracenotesnyc.com/ Grace

    It looks like your Thanksgiving was a HUGE success! I LOVE the photograph of the pumpkin and custard and I can’t wait to read all of your recipes!

  • http://www.gracenotesnyc.com Grace

    It looks like your Thanksgiving was a HUGE success! I LOVE the photograph of the pumpkin and custard and I can’t wait to read all of your recipes!

  • http://www.kalofagas.blogspot.com/ peter

    Marc, I remember us discussing your menu planning for this grand day back at that cocktail bar in NYC.

    You’ve done a wonderful job, offered up some creative Thanksgiving dishes and gave due respect for the ingredients.

    That dessert looks freakin’ awesome!

  • http://www.kalofagas.blogspot.com peter

    Marc, I remember us discussing your menu planning for this grand day back at that cocktail bar in NYC.

    You’ve done a wonderful job, offered up some creative Thanksgiving dishes and gave due respect for the ingredients.

    That dessert looks freakin’ awesome!

  • http://tastewiththeeyes.blogspot.com/ Lori Lynn

    Wow Marc! This is fabulous. Love your photos and the menu. Especially like to try that cranberry sauce. I am always lukewarm on it, but spicing it up sounds like the perfect remedy. I still have some leftover in the fridge, I might just try adding the chile and cinnamon right now.

  • http://tastewiththeeyes.blogspot.com/ Lori Lynn

    Wow Marc! This is fabulous. Love your photos and the menu. Especially like to try that cranberry sauce. I am always lukewarm on it, but spicing it up sounds like the perfect remedy. I still have some leftover in the fridge, I might just try adding the chile and cinnamon right now.

  • http://www.aggieskitchen.blogspot.com/ Aggie

    I’m going to try the brussel sprouts that way! I don’t mind brussel sprouts, but enjoy the outer crunchy leaves the best so this sounds great!

    Wonderful spread! Thanks for the add on Foodbuzz!

  • http://www.aggieskitchen.blogspot.com Aggie

    I’m going to try the brussel sprouts that way! I don’t mind brussel sprouts, but enjoy the outer crunchy leaves the best so this sounds great!

    Wonderful spread! Thanks for the add on Foodbuzz!

  • http://joiedevivreanamateurgourmetsguide.blogspot.com/ Joie de vivre

    Fabulous post and everything looked delicious. What a great idea.

  • http://joiedevivreanamateurgourmetsguide.blogspot.com/ Joie de vivre

    Fabulous post and everything looked delicious. What a great idea.

  • http://www.huggingthecoast.com/ Hugging the Coast

    Like everything else, that pumpkin dessert looks delish! I’ve linked to all the 24, 24, 24 posts on my blog…it’s been great reading everyone’s Thanksgiving memories!

  • http://www.huggingthecoast.com Hugging the Coast

    Like everything else, that pumpkin dessert looks delish! I’ve linked to all the 24, 24, 24 posts on my blog…it’s been great reading everyone’s Thanksgiving memories!

  • Marc

    Thanks Mike! Nice job on your 24 post!

    HoneyB thanks:-) Give them a try!

    Thanks Reeni! If you don’t feel like using a whole turkey, try it with a chicken. I’m also thinking it would work on a lamb roast as well.

    Thanks Manggy, the cranberry sauce post is up:-)

    Thanks Jaden, I already have an idea for next year…

    Maybelles Mom thanks!

    Thanks Peter, I hope I’m able to top it next year:-)

    Heather, thanks! I’ve looked through quite a few thanksgiving posts at this point, but yours was the most envy inspiring. I did blur the food lines a bit with North Africa but the flavors work pretty well together.

    Thanks Noobcook:-)

    Grace thanks, but there were some hiccups. Thankfully it all came together in the end.

    Thanks Peter, too bad you weren’t here a week later, you could have joined us;-)

    Lori Lynn, I’m not much a cranberry sauce fan either, but I think the trick is to give it some depth as well as another a taste beyond the sweet and sour thing it has going on.

    Aggie, I’m a real convert now and am thinking of other ways I can add brussel sprouts into my repertoire.

    Thanks Joie de vivre. Nice job on your post as well, your kids are adorable!

    Hugging the Coast, thanks for the link!

  • Marc

    Thanks Mike! Nice job on your 24 post!

    HoneyB thanks:-) Give them a try!

    Thanks Reeni! If you don’t feel like using a whole turkey, try it with a chicken. I’m also thinking it would work on a lamb roast as well.

    Thanks Manggy, the cranberry sauce post is up:-)

    Thanks Jaden, I already have an idea for next year…

    Maybelles Mom thanks!

    Thanks Peter, I hope I’m able to top it next year:-)

    Heather, thanks! I’ve looked through quite a few thanksgiving posts at this point, but yours was the most envy inspiring. I did blur the food lines a bit with North Africa but the flavors work pretty well together.

    Thanks Noobcook:-)

    Grace thanks, but there were some hiccups. Thankfully it all came together in the end.

    Thanks Peter, too bad you weren’t here a week later, you could have joined us;-)

    Lori Lynn, I’m not much a cranberry sauce fan either, but I think the trick is to give it some depth as well as another a taste beyond the sweet and sour thing it has going on.

    Aggie, I’m a real convert now and am thinking of other ways I can add brussel sprouts into my repertoire.

    Thanks Joie de vivre. Nice job on your post as well, your kids are adorable!

    Hugging the Coast, thanks for the link!

  • http://www.lonelysidecar.com/ macduff

    You had me at tahini mashed potatoes…

    Great post, and excellent photos. I’m already craving another Thanksgiving…

  • http://www.lonelysidecar.com macduff

    You had me at tahini mashed potatoes…

    Great post, and excellent photos. I’m already craving another Thanksgiving…

  • http://appetiteforchina.com/ Diana @ AppetiteforChina

    As usual, amazing photos. The pumpkin looks almost marzipan-like. And tahini mashed potatoes are a very creative twist.

  • http://appetiteforchina.com Diana @ AppetiteforChina

    As usual, amazing photos. The pumpkin looks almost marzipan-like. And tahini mashed potatoes are a very creative twist.

  • Mari

    This very special Thanksgiving surpassed all my expectations. The meal tasted even better than it looks. Thanks Bro!

  • Mari

    This very special Thanksgiving surpassed all my expectations. The meal tasted even better than it looks. Thanks Bro!

  • http://foodwoolf.com/ Brooke

    What a delicious and resourceful meal! What great ideas. I love Harissa and think it’s a perfect compliment for turkey. Wonderful ideas, photos, and writing.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://foodwoolf.com Brooke

    What a delicious and resourceful meal! What great ideas. I love Harissa and think it’s a perfect compliment for turkey. Wonderful ideas, photos, and writing.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://wanderingchopsticks.blogspot.com/ Wandering Chopsticks

    I used cardamom in my pumpkin pie too. Great minds think alike! ;) I’ve never had harissa but keep seeing it pop up on the web. I’m so curious now. Your menu looks fabulous. Great job!

  • http://wanderingchopsticks.blogspot.com Wandering Chopsticks

    I used cardamom in my pumpkin pie too. Great minds think alike! ;) I’ve never had harissa but keep seeing it pop up on the web. I’m so curious now. Your menu looks fabulous. Great job!

  • http://wheat-free-meat-free.blogspot.com/ Rachel

    This was such an interesting post. I’ll have to try those sumac-spiced potatoes. And you are very cool to tailor the meal to be gluten-free for your friend!

  • http://wheat-free-meat-free.blogspot.com Rachel

    This was such an interesting post. I’ll have to try those sumac-spiced potatoes. And you are very cool to tailor the meal to be gluten-free for your friend!

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com/ _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    Another beautiful meal! Great 24, 24, 24 post. Salt and sumac sweet potato chips? I’m so there. Pomegranate Brussels sprouts? Something new.

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    Another beautiful meal! Great 24, 24, 24 post. Salt and sumac sweet potato chips? I’m so there. Pomegranate Brussels sprouts? Something new.

  • http://www.redcook.net Kian

    What a great interpretation of the American tradition. The pumpkin dessert is just absolutely fabulous looking! Congrat on a job well done.

  • http://www.redcook.net Kian

    What a great interpretation of the American tradition. The pumpkin dessert is just absolutely fabulous looking! Congrat on a job well done.

  • http://ww.thecotswoldfoodyear.com James

    cinnamon, tahini, pommegranite molasses, zacchini bread – your menu’s full of wonderful flavours – looks amazing!

  • http://ww.thecotswoldfoodyear.com/ James

    cinnamon, tahini, pommegranite molasses, zacchini bread – your menu’s full of wonderful flavours – looks amazing!

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  • http://indonesia-eats.blogspot.com/ Pepy

    You should invite me to this party :)
    Great Job!

  • http://indonesia-eats.blogspot.com/ Pepy

    You should invite me to this party :)
    Great Job!

  • http://www.freebieshark.com/ Jason

    I would love to eat those mashed potatoes, they look awesome!! :)

  • http://www.freebieshark.com Jason

    I would love to eat those mashed potatoes, they look awesome!! :)

  • http://www.asharedmile.blogspot.com/ Errin

    Thanksgiving only comes but once a year and that is just not enough for me to get my cranberry fill. I SERIOUSLY can’t wait to try your version of the sauce.

    Thanks for all the ideas for next year!

  • http://www.asharedmile.blogspot.com Errin

    Thanksgiving only comes but once a year and that is just not enough for me to get my cranberry fill. I SERIOUSLY can’t wait to try your version of the sauce.

    Thanks for all the ideas for next year!

  • Rebecca

    Wow I’m so impressed!!! This is how I like my Thanksgiving dinner!! I’ve made a Tandoori Turkey with Wild Mushroom pumpkin bread stuff that is fantastic..so I didn’t realize there are other out there that like it bit different!

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