Thanksgiving recipes: blending diverse cultures into an American tradition


Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Mira Dwyer

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and an array of mashed potatoes, turkey and cranberry sauce fills the table. And dumplings. And naan. And Brazilian-style stuffing.

On Thanksgiving, many students celebrate more than just American history. By incorporating their own diverse cultures into celebrations—using ethnic foods, music and traditions—many students prepare and eat meals that reflect their unique family backgrounds. The following students shared how they’ve added their own twists to the traditional holiday.

Katherine Lou:

For junior Katharine Lou, dumplings, noodles and rice are common Thanksgiving dishes. Because of her Chinese heritage and her vegetarian family, Lou’s Thanksgiving celebration incorporates other American traditions outside of food.

“We go around the table and say what we’re thankful for, and we watch a lot of football,” Lou said.

The various ethnicities nationwide are what make America so unique, so mixing other cultures into Thanksgiving represents American society, Lou said.

“America is made up of a bunch of different cultures,” Lou said. “The more cultures that are added to it, the better, because that’s what America was built ondifferent cultures coming together.”

Ananyaa and Aarushi Malhotra:

With a table full of naan, red beans and chicken tikka masala, Ananyaa and Aarushi Malhotra always include their Indian heritage in their Thanksgiving meals.

When the sisters moved from Michigan in 2012, they started celebrating Thanksgiving with family members they hadn’t met before moving.

“It definitely brings me closer to my family, just connecting to that Indian heritage rather than having the typical American Thanksgiving meal,” Aarushi Malhotra said. “We have food that my grandparents in India eat, which I think helps us bond more with our culture too.”

Incorporating other ethnicities into Thanksgiving also makes it more personal and brings out the true meaning of the holiday: to be appreciative, Ananyaa Malhotra said.

“I think since Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for what you have,” Ananyaa Malhotra said. “And in different cultures they are thankful for different things and celebrate different things, so incorporating all these different cultures makes Thanksgiving more personal for everyone and makes it a bit more special for each family.”

Mariana Fajnzylber:

Because most of junior Mariana Fajnzylber’s family lives in South America, Fajnzylber and her parents gather with their Brazilian family friends for a Thanksgiving dinner every year.

Since Thanksgiving is centered around family, it’s important to have people you’re close with to celebrate, she said.

“It’s a nice way of having that feeling of togetherness,” Fajnzylber said. “It almost makes up for the loss of not having family there.”

Fajnzylber, who lived in Brazil for five years and speaks Portuguese at home, combines meals from her home country with typical American Thanksgiving foods. Farofa, a traditional Brazilian meal consisting of toasted cassava flour and beans, is one of Fajnzylber’s favorites. They also put a Brazilian twist on traditional American foods, like collard greens, she said.

“I like the way that we celebrate it because it doesn’t take away from the essence of Thanksgiving, which is getting together with family and eating all these yummy foods,” Fajnzylber said. “But we play Brazilian music and we incorporate so many elements of our own culture.”

Maya and Evie Stallard-Wilder:

Cooking one Thanksgiving meal is already hard enoughimagine preparing two.

In addition to their traditional meal on Thanksgiving, sisters Maya and Evie Stallard-Wilder have an enormous Indian meal the day after Thanksgiving to honor their grandparents and great uncles who lived as missionaries in India.

Last year, the Stallard-Wilder family hosted a Syrian refugee family for their Thanksgiving meal after a refugee settlement service that their cousins worked for reached out to them.

“They came for our Thanksgiving meal, which is the day before the Indian meal, so they got to learn about the American culture we have surrounding Thanksgiving,” Maya Stallard-Wilder said. “It was a fun experience for all of us because we got to learn about their life in Syria and refugee camps, and they got to learn about ours as Americans.”

The Syrian family had just moved to the U.S. from their refugee camp in Jordan and spoke very little English. The language barrier forced both families to find new ways to communicate, like playing simple games with the kids and trying to learn as much Arabic as they could.

“We still could bond with them and play games with them, which I thought it was really nice because we got to experience their culture without having a conversation,” Evie Stallard-Wilder said.

Hosting the family not only helped introduce the refugees to American culture, it allowed for the Stallard-Wilder family to connect in new ways.

“We have a really big family, so we have some conservative people and some liberals,” Evie Stallard-Wilder said. “But when we all celebrated Thanksgiving with the refugees, you could see that everyone was really tolerant and was coming together and getting over our differences.”


Mariana Fajnzylber’s recipe for stuffing ala Brazilian:  


200 grams diced bacon

100 grams chopped olives

1 cup raisins

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 cup all-purpose yucca flour

1 cup corn flour

2 teaspoon of oil




In a pan, fry the chopped bacon. Then add the raisins, nuts, olives and stir well. Lastly, add yucca flour, oil and corn. Mix well and let cool.


Aarushi Malhotra’s recipe for sautéed potatoes with cilantro:


4-6 medium size potatoes

½ teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander powder

½ teaspoon salt



Boil the potatoes, then peel and cut into small cubes (about 1/2 inch). Set aside. In a small bowl, mix paprika, ground coriander powder and salt. Sprinkle this dry masala mix on the potatoes and mix well to coat the potatoes. In a flat non stick pan, add canola or vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add potatoes and sauté on high heat for 7-10 minutes. Garnish with fresh cut cilantro and enjoy with naan bread!