Bring family heritage to the Thanksgiving table

At the first Thanksgiving, a harvest celebration between the Pilgrims and the American Indians, the story goes that the tradition of serving a wild bird with native fruits, like pumpkin and squash, was born.

Today, America is a melting pot of cultures, yet for years, most of us still have sat down to the tried-and-true trifecta of turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

But why?

Just like those Pilgrims, most of us have come from someplace else. And that "someplace else" should be welcome on the table, too, culinary experts are saying.

Thanks to cooking shows, celebrity chefs and internationally inspired restaurants, Thanksgiving celebrations can include a smorgasbord of dishes from around the globe.

Consumer trend-watcher and analyst Phil Lempert, who calls himself the "Supermarket Guru" (, predicts that adding an ethnic twist to any meal this holiday season will be one of the top entertaining trends throughout the country.

"Holiday meals will go beyond ham and turkey this year to include ethnic flavors like falafel, dumplings, giant meatballs and kebabs," he said in a news release.

Ricky Moore, lead instructor at Le Cordon Bleu Dallas, said he has noticed that home chefs are more willing to experiment with ingredients and cooking techniques on holidays and on regular weeknights, whether they are incorporating dishes from their family heritage or simply looking to try something new.

"I think that because of the popularity of cooking shows, the general public is more aware of other cultures and their cooking techniques," he said.

Devon Doyle, general manager and pastry chef at the popular new Flying Carpet Turkish Café in Fort Worth, said learning about other cultures' produce, grains and proteins can add important variety to diets.

"It seems like [in the U.S.], we don't use a wide variety of produce, and we stick to beef and chicken," she said. "There's so much out there that you should experience."

Even just changing cooking methods can completely alter the flavor of an otherwise mundane dish.

"Most people hate Brussels sprouts, but we sear them on a smoking pan until charred and then finish them covered in the oven," Doyle said. "They taste delicious that way, but most people have only had them boiled or steamed."

Crystal Padilla, managing partner at Mariposa's Latin Kitchen, another new buzzed-about Fort Worth eatery, said that with new local markets and grocery stores like Whole Foods and Central Market in the area, there's better access to ingredients than there was generations ago, which makes incorporating your heritage -- no matter whether its Czech, Chinese or Jamaican -- easier than ever.

Padilla was raised in a family that values its Latin American roots and honors its culture through cooking, she said. Her family brings the Mexican tradition of holiday tamales into its Thanksgiving feast. This year, they incorporated turkey and stuffing in the dish (see recipe, above), which is typically made with pork.

"Here, we encourage trying new things all the time," she said.

We've asked chefs at local German, Turkish, Japanese and Mexican restaurants to create recipes that would pair well with a traditional American feast.

This year, start your meal with a Turkish-inspired pumpkin soup and substitute a German-inspired potato-plum gratin for those tired mashed potatoes.

Or use these as inspiration to incorporate an old family recipe into your menu.

Your family might just be giving thanks for the new flavors at the table.

Holiday tamales made with turkey and dressing

Note: This recipe makes enough for a very large family gathering or party. Adjust the recipe for the number of servings you desire.

For the masa:

5 pounds masa

1 1/2 cups hot water


1 1/2 cups olive oil

For the filling:

Turkey leftovers


Corn husks

1. Make the masa: Work masa and hot water together, adding salt to taste. Once mixed thoroughly, add olive oil.

2. Shred leftover turkey and mix with the dressing. Very little seasoning will be needed since the turkey and dressing will already be seasoned.

3. Spread masa on the corn husks to about 1/4-inch thickness. Then add 1/4 cup of the turkey/dressing mixture to the middle and roll until the corn husk is closed. Once you have rolled a dozen tamales, you are ready to steam them.

To steam tamales: Pour 2 to 3 cups of water in a large stock pan and place a coffee cup in the center. Lay tamales in their husks around the cup in a single layer, then cover with foil. Cover with a lid and steam over medium heat 25-30 minutes. When finished, the husks should come off the tamales without being sticky.

-- Irma Gamez, Mariposa's Latin Kitchen, 5724 Locke Ave., Fort Worth; 817-570-9555,

Potato-plum gratin with pecans and cheese

5 ounces bacon, chopped

2 tablespoons water

4 ounces minced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 1/2 pounds potatoes, washed, cooked and peeled (I use russet potatoes)

7 ounces dried plums, cut into chunks

Salt and pepper

3 cups white sauce (recipe follows)

3 ounces pecans, chopped

6 ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese

1. Put the bacon and water in a pan over medium heat. Roast the bacon, stirring, until golden brown.

2. Remove the grease, add the onion and garlic, and lightly glaze.

3. Slice the peeled potatoes to 1/4-inch pieces and place in bowl. Add the bacon, onion and garlic mixture and the plums. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add 2/3 of the white sauce and mix carefully. If needed, add the rest of the white sauce.

4. Place mixture in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle pecans and cheese on top. Cook at 300 to 350 degrees 30-40 minutes until the top is slightly browned.

Note: White sauce and potatoes can be prepared a day before.

White sauce: Heat and stir together 3 cups milk, 1 1/2 ounces butter and 1 ounce flour, plus salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste, until combined.

-- Peter Gruenewald, Greenwood's German Restaurant, 3522 Blue Bonnet Circle, Fort Worth; 817-921-6777,

Japanese green bean casserole

1 pound green beans, trimmed

3 cups heavy cream

2 ounces unsalted butter

4 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon pepper

1 pound silken tofu

Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) for topping

Sesame seeds for topping

1 leek, white parts only, thinly sliced

1 cup flour, for dredging

Oil, for frying

Kizami nori (shredded seaweed), for garnish

1. Preheat oven at 425 degrees. Blanch green beans and put them in an ice bath.

2. Mix heavy cream, butter, salt and pepper in small saucepan and bring to a simmer.

3. Put tofu in food processor and puree.

4. Combine heavy cream mixture with tofu puree in a large mixing bowl.

5. Put green beans in a casserole dish, and add liquid mixture until just covered. Top with panko and sesame seeds. Bake for 20 minutes or until dish is bubbling and top is golden brown.

6. Meanwhile, dredge leeks in flour and fry until crisp. Remove casserole from oven, top it with fried leeks and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Garnish with kizami nori and serve.

-- Kevin Martinez, Tokyo Café, 5121 Pershing Ave., Fort Worth; 817-737-8568,