Variations of the Thanksgiving Turkey

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What started as a traditional North American holiday is now also celebrated by millions of immigrants and ethnic groups who call the United States home. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists (English) and Wampanoag Indians (Native Americans) shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. 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.

Given that the United States has become a melting pot of different races, ethnicities and nationalities over the last two centuries, it is only reasonable to expect that preparation of the Thanksgiving turkey is somewhat influenced by cultural palates.

Most households prepare a whole roasted turkey rubbed with butter and herbs, but here are some other variations of the Thanksgiving turkey reflecting the cultural diversity of the country.

Chinese Glaze Turkey – The American-Chinese substituted turkey in their popular duck recipe. This delicious creation has a glaze of soy sauce, honey, sesame and ginger. We recommend a side of steamed dumplings, sautéed green beans and fried rice.

Asian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo courtesy Food and Wine
Asian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo courtesy Food and Wine

Tandoori Turkey – Indians love grilled meats (usually chicken, goat, fish) basted with tandoori marinade (a sauce blend of coriander, cumin, cloves, chili, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, fenugreek, salt and pepper). Whole turkey can be cooked on an open grill or slow broiled in the oven. Serve with mint chutney, yogurt relish and rice pilaf.

Tandoori Turkey. Photo courtesy gearpatrol.com
Tandoori Turkey. Photo courtesy gearpatrol.com

Raw Vegetarian Turkey – Non meat eaters enjoy a raw turkey look-alike spread made entirely of vegetables. Lettuce, celery, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers layered in a creative display also makes a good starter for a Thanksgiving party. Show up at a potluck party with this and wow your coworkers!

Turkey of raw vegetables . Photo from Pintrest
Turkey of raw vegetables. Photo from Pinterest

Extreme Mexican Turkey – Mexican cook and writer Pati Jinich, of Pati’s Mexican Table uses citrus and achiote paste in her turkey recipe, then wraps it in banana leaves and bakes it in aluminum foil to emulate the ancient technique of cooking food in underground pits. Melissa Trimmer of Le Cordon Bleu Chicago also suggests a Turkey mole served with rice and beans, and flan for dessert.

Mexican Turkey. Photo by Penny De Los Santos
Mexican Turkey. Photo by Penny De Los Santos

Peruvian Turkey – The slow cooked Peruvian spice rubbed turkey is a close cousin of popular Peruvian grilled chicken dish. Chef John of Food Wishes serves it with chile verde instead of brown gravy.

Peruvian rubbed turkey. Photo by FoodWishes
Peruvian rubbed turkey. Photo by FoodWishes

Italian Thanksgiving Turkey – Many Americans are Italian decedents so its only natural to have Italian inspired dishes at the Thanksgiving table. Nonna Carolina Marino, originally from Calabria, stuffs her turkey with layers of delicious Italian sausage, Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and Porcini Risotto. Watch the full recipe on YouTube.

African Roast Turkey – African Birdseye Chillies paired with brown sugar give the turkey is sweet and spicy flavor. Another good option is to rub Nigerian Suya (grilled meat) spice on the turkey for some smokiness and stuff it with Jollof rice.

If you have an ethnic inspired turkey recipe to share, please feel free to share it in the comments box below. Happy Thanksgiving!

Italian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo from Cooking with Nonna
Italian Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo from Cooking with Nonna

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 70+ countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and editor of 'Go Eat Give' and author of 'Beato Goes To' series of children's books on travel.