Thanksgiving, as a holiday, is simultaneously marked by rigid adherence to tradition and infinite room for variation: turkey is pre-ordained, but the contents of its stuffing are not; the appearance of green beans is inevitable, but the method of preparation is flexible; dessert will obviously include pie, but pie is defined only by the existence of crust. Thanksgiving is a template as opposed to a menu, and this Thursday, there's no doubt that more variations on the meal will be eaten in LA than anywhere else in the country. Below, a look at the hometown twists some of the city's biggest non-native contingencies, including Koreans, Armenians and Midwesterners, will be putting on the traditional feast.
Turkey's a fundamentally American meat--Ben Franklin famously made the argument that the wild turkey deserved the title of national bird over the bald eagle--but Armenian families might stuff it with lamb and rice pilaf to add a regional twist to the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece. Sides can include dolma, kufteh and pickled veggies along with the usual potatoes and green beans. And pie gets a delicious makeover when filled with dried apricots stewed in sugar and cinnamon, then baked until hot and gooey.
Is there anything more Southern than fried chicken? Angelenos originally hailing from below the Mason-Dixon line know that the same principle that brought us the Colonel's finest can also be applied to turkey, by dry-rubbing the bird and dunking it in gallons of hot peanut oil. Fire hazard? Absolutely. Worth it? Do you even have to ask? Southerners may also throw a variation on stuffing, using crumbly, buttery cornbread as the base. And nothing's more Southern than a classic pecan pie (pronounce it "pee-kan" for ultimate authenticity) made boozy with good Kentucky bourbon.
Maybe it's our shared heritage of being cut off from fresh produce for most of the winter months, but we Midwesterners are all about the non-perishable goods on Thanksgiving. Deviled eggs, eye-popping with mustard and horseradish, are a traditional starter, and most veggies are baked in something from the Campbell's line. The potato is an art form: sweet potatoes are candied in brown sugar and butter, while mashed potatoes are shamelessly whipped up with butter and lots of black pepper. Canned Michigan sour cherries, cooked with vanilla and a hint of citrus, make the perfect pie filling.
Mexican cuisine varies widely from region to region, but a few flavor profiles lend themselves exceptionally well to the Thanksgiving feast. Stuffing is made spicy with the addition of chorizo, and the traditional side dish of creamed corn is dressed up with roasted or fresh chilis. Mole sauce is delicious on anything, turkey most definitely included, while pumpkin, long a staple of Oaxacan cooking, can be blended into a spicy soup and dressed up with crunchy pepitas. Angelenos from all over also line up at the best panaderias on Thanksgiving morning for fresh bolillos to serve instead of the traditional dinner rolls.
Oh, turkey, you versatile meat, you: to add homestyle flavor to the American bird, Chinese Thanksgivingistas might stuff it with sticky rice, sausage, water chestnuts and mushrooms, then glaze it with honey, soy sauce and garlic before roasting. Veggies might include stir-fried green beans and pea sprouts or broccoli cooked with garlic. Even leftovers are transformed: instead of lackluster sandwiches, noodles and cabbage slaw can be combined with shredded turkey for a delicious day-after salad, or the meat can used in steamed buns.
Korea has a Thanksgiving all its own, and its three days of feasting easily trump our American version. But for the holiday the pilgrims celebrated, Korean home cooks might serve the usual banchan, like bean sprout salad or pan-fried scallion pancakes, alongside the traditional bird. Spicy kimchi, chopped and mixed together with chicken broth, veggies and bright citrus juice, is baked on the side as a delicious alternative to stuffing. For dessert, rice pudding gets a fall flavor profile with the addition of canned pumpkin and brown sugar.
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