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Desi Twist to Thanksgiving Staples: Gobi Musallam, Bread Upma Stuffing, and Curried Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Desi Twist to Thanksgiving Staples: Gobi Musallam, Bread Upma Stuffing, and Curried Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

  • The holiday spread at many Indian American homes includes a fusion of Indian sensibilities with traditional American flavors.

It’s Thanksgiving day, and cooks all across America are busy prepping, chopping, cutting, roasting, basting and baking, getting ready for the holiday spread. The smells of the season are wafting through homes —cinnamon, cranberries, pumpkin and butter squash, and pecans. This year, why not try something new? It’s not too late to give a desi twist to the staple side dishes. Like roasting Brussels Sprouts with some ginger and garlic; or adding a little cumin or garam masala to the mashed potatoes or sautéing green beans in some tikka spices.

These will “not only add a new flavor profile to your dishes but also make them pop,” assures Bergen, New Jersey-based chef Rama Ginde, who’s been catering in the North Jersey area for over 12 years. Through her company, Wanna Be Chef, the Puerto Rico-born and raised Ginde specializes in a fusion menu, “blending her American and Indian sensibilities.” Her mom, Anita, is her inspiration and her business partner. 

This year, the mother-daughter duo created an Indian-inspired menu of side dishes, including a sweet potato and pineapple casserole with a vanilla-cardamom crust; a creamy corn pudding with cilantro crema; basmati rice, egg and potato stuffing; a cardamon spiced roasted butternut squash with cashews; a tikka masala roasted Brussels sprouts; and green beans with dried fruits and nuts. 

Like Ginde, many Indian Americans blend Indian sensibilities with traditional American flavors to celebrate a holiday that began over 400 years ago.

It was in 1621, that the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

There’s no doubt that with times, the nature of the holiday has changed, many say, with the focus mainly on food and of course the Black Friday sales. For the majority, it’s a time to get together with family and friends and enjoy a feast, which has also seen significant changes over the years.

Immigrant families give their own twist to Thanksgiving staples. One might see a paneer dish here, or a tofu turkey there, or some biryani to go with the main turkey preparation. Despite such a smorgasbord and a multicultural or ethnic Thanksgiving table, there is no denying that Indian Americans have embraced the holiday and made it their own, with their unique traditions and family cultures.

Padmini Raman of San Carlos, California, a vegetarian, cooks a tofu turkey each year and serves both conventional American side dishes as well as a full Indian spread with beans poriyal, masala aloo, rasam, sambar and rice. “It’s a true blend of both cultures,” she says.

Above, Seattle-based Richa Hingle. Top photo, ‘Turkey & Nine’ Thali at Chauhan Ale and Masala House in Nashville, Tenn.

The vegan and vegetarian menu reign supreme in cookbook author Richa Hingle’s kitchen in Seattle, Washington. On her website VeganRicha.com she has posted some ideas for a vegan Thanksgiving. For an Indian flavor explosion, she suggests a Gobi Musallam (cauliflower that has been roasted whole), which is “a fantastic centerpiece.” “The whole cauliflower head is lightly blanched then drenched with the luscious Mughlai-inspired makhani sauce and baked,” she notes on her website. 

There’s also the Curried Caramelized Brussels Sprouts that are pan-roasted to caramelize with cumin seeds, then mixed with a tomato onion sauce.

It’s not just the sides that can be fused with Indian flavors. Many prefer to spice up the bird as well — with some bold tandoori spices. Nashville, Tennessee-based chef Manet Chauhan has been serving an Indian-inspired menu at her restaurant Chauhan Ale and Masala House for the past few years. They serve big thali with turkey tikka masala. The sides include vegetable pulao biryani stuffing, green bean coconut puri, corn chana dal, cranberry five-spice chutney, chestnut nan, papadum pickles, and sweet potato raita. There’s also a vegetarian version, which is the paneer version of the same thing.

Speaking to The Splendid Table in 2019 about the genesis of the Thanksgiving meal at the restaurant, Chauhan said her inspiration was “meat and three,” — having meat of the day, and then choosing three sides. “Our initial plan was that we’ll do Chauhan’s Ode to Nashville Thanksgiving Meat and Three. And then when we started making the feast, we were like oh it needs this, oh it needs this, and it ended up being Thanksgiving meat and nine.”

Shubhra Ramineni

Some like cookbook author Shubhra Ramineni of Houston, Texas, completely bypass the traditional bird. In a recent writeup in the Houston Food Finder about the Thanksgiving feast at her home, Ramineni wrote that this year, her family will “spare the turkey and have tandoori chicken instead.” The side dishes will have a desi twist as well — “an Indian cornbread served along with cooked winter greens sprinkled with powdered jaggery,” as well as “green beans sautéed with potatoes, cumin seeds and turmeric.”

For some chefs like Archana Mundhe of Ridgewood, New Jersey, eating the same side dishes every year, was reason enough to experiment with flavors of home. “Every year at Thanksgiving, I would eat the classic American stuffing and be reminded of this delicious Bread Upma,” she writes on her website, Ministry of Curry. “Finally, a few years ago I decided to serve my Bread Upma at Thanksgiving dinner as the stuffing.” The menu included “a whole roasted Tandori chicken and plenty of other festive sides,” she writes. Her sons, “who usually do not care for the traditional stuffing loved this spiced-up version and went back for seconds and thirds,” 

See Also

Mundhe has her version of the side dish staple Brussels Sprouts. The Indian Spiced Brussels Sprouts are inspired by the bold flavors of pakora; the thinly sliced brussels sprouts are tossed with gram flour, turmeric, red Kashmiri chili, ajwain, ground coriander, and garlic.

New Jersey-based chef Rama Ginde.

Festive Rice, DriedCranberries and Pistachios — Recipe Courtesy Rama Ginde 

Serves 4

Ingredients

• 1 Cup basmati rice
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 tbs. cumin seeds
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 2 cup water
• 2 tbsp. ghee
• 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• salt

Directions

1. Wash rice well.
2. In a medium pot, add 1 tbsp. of ghee and toast cumin seeds until they become fragrant, about 1 minute. Add in the rice and cook until the granules become translucent about 2 minutes. Add salt to taste.
3. Then add water, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and cranberries to the rice mixture and cook covered for 20 minutes.
4. Once the rice is cooked, sprinkle it with chopped pistachios

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