An Indian Thanksgiving

Shubhra Ramineni apple pie

Trust we will have a Thanksgiving dinner, but it will be an Indian Thanksgiving. The spices from India combined with the traditions of America fuse together in my home on Thanksgiving Day. Three generations of Indian Americans gather together at my dining table with a cute, wobbly, turkey centerpiece my little one made of paper plates in preschool.

Trust we will have cornbread and butter, but it will be an Indian cornbread served along with cooked winter greens sprinkled with powdered jaggery (brown, unrefined cane sugar also called gur). Indian cornbread, called makki ki roti, is a winter favorite in the northern Indian state of Punjab. These circular, flattened disks are made of finely ground cornmeal kneaded with whole wheat flour, water, oil and carom seeds (ajwain) to add a special touch of flavor. The breads are cooked on a cast-iron skillet and each one is topped with a pat of butter that melts its way into it. Makki ki roti are fun to make with the kids since the dough is not too sticky, and cleanup in the kitchen afterwards is manageable. I have made these flatbreads in preschool with my children’s classmates, and kids of all ages love to make and eat them.

sauteed grean beans with potatoes and onions
Indian Green Beans are a staple during holiday meals. Photo by Shubhra Ramineni.

Trust we will have green beans, but instead of the traditional green bean casserole, we will have green beans sautéed with potatoes, cumin seeds and turmeric. This easy-to-make dish served on a platter makes a beautiful vegetable side. When shopping for fresh green beans, look for the bright-green and crisp, firm ones rather than the softer, flimsy ones. The best green beans will make a snapping noise when broken in half.  If you are tight on time, simply use frozen, French-cut green beans, and do not defrost them. This will be the quickest, full-flavored dish you can make for Thanksgiving.

Shubhra Ramineni's Sweet & Spicy Butternut Squash Mash
Shubhra Ramineni’s Sweet & Spicy Butternut Squash Mash. Photo by Shubhra Ramineni.

Trust we will have a beautiful autumn-colored dish, but instead of sweet potato casserole, we will have sweet-and-spicy butternut squash mash. Once you get past the arduous task of peeling and chopping this winter squash, the rest is a breeze. (You can also buy it already peeled and chopped at your grocery store.) This beautiful, orange, winter squash cooks into a healthy and flavorful mash with just a few simple spices, with cumin seeds being the star. Serve as a side dish, or stuff it between simple American dinner rolls to create a squash slider no child or adult will say no to. (I shared my Sweet and Spicy Butternut squash recipe on my blog, which includes a quick step-by-step video so you can watch how easily I make this dish.)

Trust we will have a bird, but we will spare the turkey and have tandoori chicken instead. You may have seen the bright, red-hued chicken pieces at an Indian buffet. The crimson color usually comes from artificial food coloring, but I like to get a hint of natural color by using paprika. As the name suggests, tandoori chicken is traditionally cooked in a tandoor, an open fire pit heated with coal or wood.

Shubhra Ramineni
Houston cookbook author Shubhra Ramineni. Photo by Ellie Sharp.

During my summer childhood visits to India, I would watch and learn from my maternal grandmother (Beeji) making tandoori roti (Indian flatbreads) in her clay tandoor on her veranda. Indian restaurants now have modern electric tandoors which go up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, which is well beyond most home ovens. However, you can still get great results cooking tandoori chicken at home or even on an outdoor grill. For deep flavor and to save time, I marinate the chicken a day before, and shortly before everyone arrives, I ask my husband to cook the chicken on the grill. Then I place the cooked chicken on a serving platter, cover it with foil, and keep it in a warm oven until dinner is served. This way it does not dry out, stays warm and makes cooking dinner a breeze. If I have mint getting unruly in my garden, I will pluck some and make a quick mint and onion chutney to go with the Tandoori chicken. 

Shubhra Ramineni apple pie
At Shubhra Ramineni’s house, Thanksgiving includes good old apple pie a la mode. Photo by Shubhra Ramineni.

Trust we will have seconds, especially for dessert. At this stage of the Indian Thanksgiving meal, we do have a house divided, but not between Indian and American flavors as you may think. The conflict is between American pies. Some of us want Texas pecan pie, and some of us want apple pie. (Can you guess which team I am on?) However, we all agree on what to have with our preferred slice of pie: a scoop or two of homemade vanilla ice cream. (It’s not actually homemade, but my fellow Texans know which one I am talking about.) 

Trust we will have an after-dinner coffee to revive us for chit-chatting and family games, but it will be Indian Espresso. You may have heard of the viral drink “dalgona (or whipped) coffee,” which popped up about two years ago, but this is actually my mom’s whipped coffee that she has been making for over half a century. She serves it at the end of her dinner parties. It is always a hit that even non-coffee drinkers like my husband enjoy. Because this coffee drink has milk in it, it is technically a “cappuccino,” though in India it is called “espresso coffee,” or simply “espresso.” This drink has a delicious creamy froth that is easy to achieve without using fancy milk-frothing machines. Simply pour the milk into the cup from as high a distance as you can and watch the froth form. The prep work to make the cappuccino batter does require a bit of patience and a lot of arm strength to ensure a perfect, fluffy, mousse-like texture. However, the cappuccino batter can be made in advance and refrigerated, so after dinner, you simply have to bring milk to a boil and add a dollop of the airy whipped coffee batter. 

So, let us gather and give thanks — for family, friends, good health and for an Indian Thanksgiving with new flavors to enjoy and intertwine with American traditions. Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours. 

Shubhra Ramineni is a first-generation Indian American raised in Houston, TX.  She is the author of two award-winning Indian cookbooks Entice with Spice, Easy and Quick Indian Recipes for Beginners, and Healthy Indian Vegetarian Cooking. Follow her as ‘Spice Girl Kitchen’ on Instagram to see what she is cooking next in her kitchen in her viral cooking videos.

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