A South AfriKhan-American Thanksgiving (Recipes Included!)

November 28, 2013 10:35 am


Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday. A four-day weekend surrounded by family and spent mostly in a food coma, web courtesy an epic feast, with some bargain shopping thrown in — what’s not to love? I even wrote an ode to the holiday, and to my naturalization experience, for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago.

If you want more background, this hilarious Slate article is a solid, witty primer on how Americans celebrate — written in the clichéd tone of American media covering a foreign holiday.

This year, things are different for me. I’m spending my first Thanksgiving in South Africa, far away from my family and from my aunt’s extravagant Thanksgiving dinner, here in a land where the fourth Thursday of November is just another workday, and where Black Friday sounds like it might have some racial implications. So what’s a homesick expat to do? Re-create her favorite holiday for the locals, of course.

I decided to celebrate on Wednesday for practical reasons: the cleaning lady comes on Thursdays, so she could help with the aftermath. #thirdworldproblems But I prefer to think I was just being extra-patriotic and beat everyone back home to it!

First order of business: draft a menu.


God bless South African grocery stores, for helpfully stocking 12-pound halal turkeys so I didn’t have to run around trying to source one. But may God curse them simultaneously, for my latest “Guac Moment”: the butchery department of Pick n Pay mysteriously burst into gales of giggles when I inquired after the whereabouts of a meat thermometer. The associates at Woolworths were far more helpful.

The garlic bread was the only store-bought item on the list — everything else would be done from scratch, by yours truly. In order to really appreciate what a major effort this was, you need to realize that I have never once made a single one of these items before (unless heating up pre-made stuffing from a bag qualifies. I suspect it doesn’t). This endeavor made me really appreciate what goes into my aunt’s elaborate 40-person gathering each year.

Speaking of my aunt, I used her Indian-style turkey recipe (outlined helpfully in the WSJ article linked above). There I am, violating the poor bird with a heady cocktail of chillis and garam masala.

I basted that turkey so long that two days and multiple showers and handwashing later, I still smell buttery. I prepped the night before, and the entire ordeal wasn’t so bad. I put the turkey in around 2:30 and it was done by 6:30. I made the sides while the turkey was going, so the whole day-of process was about 5 hours (night-before prep time not included).


The results were well worth the effort! Everything was delicious, except perhaps the corn, which was slightly underwhelming — I’d probably cook it a bit longer and add some more spices the next time. See below for the recipes. For dessert, guests brought ice cream and cheesecake, and someone found a “USA-inspired” pecan pie at Woollies.


And just as I do back home, I dressed up in an Indian outfit for dinner. I forgot to take a picture, but there were plenty of happy, fattened, America-loving stragglers at the end of the night. Our group of about 15 included two Brits and two Joburgers

So now I should probably re-create another tradition: Black Friday. Look for me at the mall — at least there are no crowds here!

Ingredients for a South AfriKhan-American Thanksgiving Feast

Turkey à la Taimi (my aunt)
4.5kg/10lb turkey
1 large washed onion
4 tsp ginger paste
3 tsp garlic paste
1/2 stick butter
10 small washed fresh green chillies
1 cup washed fresh green coriander leaves
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
1.5 tbsp garam masala
1tbsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp cooking oil (canola)
Salt to taste

Defrost turkey – either put it in the fridge for two days. If you’re short on time, place it, still in its packaging, in a sink full of cold water, refreshing water every half hour, for six hours.
Pat dry turkey with paper towel.
Chop onion and fry it until brown. Blend all the ingredients above, along with the onion, into a paste.
Get dirty. Rub the paste thoroughly under the skin of the turkey
Stuff the cavity with a few onions, carrots, celery
Add some flour to an oven bag and place turkey inside it. Scatter some celery, onions, and baby carrots to bag. Let it marinate overnight.
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C
Cut slits in bag
Bake turkey in a deep pan, turning every hour
After about 2.5 hours, remove bag
Bake another two hours or until done (use a meat thermometer), turning it over once more, and constantly pouring juices over it
Take it out of the oven and let it sit in a platter before dressing with coriander and anything else. Save the juices for…

Turkey Gravy
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 cups pan drippings
Chicken broth as needed to supplement pan drippings for a total of 4 cups

Drain drippings from turkey pan. Add chicken broth if necessary, to make a total of 4 cups.
Melt butter in pan, add pepper
Add flour, whisk
Slowly add in the 4 cups turkey broth/drippings; whisk constantly over medium-low heat until bubbly and thickened (about 3 minutes)
Add cream if and as needed, to get the right texture

Creamy Slow-Cooker Mashed Potatoes
(I found this recipe in order to showcase my new slow-cooker/rice cooker. I don’t think you really need the slow cooker though, the potatoes get soft enough after boiling that you can mash them easily by hand or with a hand-held blender.)

2kg bag of potatoes (about 12)
1tbsp minced garlic
3 cubes chicken bouillon (I used chilli chicken flavor for a subtle kick)
8oz container sour cream
8oz container cream cheese
½ cup butter

Peel and cut potatoes into small chunks
In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the potatoes, garlic, and bouillon until potatoes are tender but firm, about 15 minutes
Drain, reserving water
In a bowl, mash potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese, adding reserved water as needed to attain desired consistency
Transfer the potato mixture to a slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for two to three hours
Just before serving, stir in butter and season with salt and pepper to taste

8 slices of white bread, diced
1 onion, chopped
½ cup chopped celery
Full package of mushrooms
½ stick butter
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped sage, thyme and/or marjoram
1 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 400 °F/200°C
Spread the diced bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Give the pan a shake midway through so the cubes brown evenly
Remove pan and let the bread cool
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion, mushroom, celery, and garlic until the onion is slightly translucent. Remove from heat and let cool
Transfer the toasted bread, chopped herbs, and cooked celery/mushrooms/onions to a large bowl. Give it all a toss to combine
Now, drizzle a bit of the stock over the bread cubes and gently mix. Repeat until all the bread is  moistened but not soggy. Toss until all the ingredients are coated
Butter a baking dish, transfer the dressing to the dish and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is crispy
Serve hot

(I would probably add more spices and bake longer next time)

2lb/1kg bag of corn
8oz cream cheese
Salt, pepper, paprika, any other spices you prefer
1 onion
3 red bell peppers
1 tsp minced garlic
1 stick of butter
Coriander, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 °F/180°C
Melt butter, sautee onion and bell peppers with garlic
Refresh frozen corn under cold running water, drain thoroughly
Mix corn thoroughly with cream cheese in casserole dish
Add onion/pepper mix, mix thoroughly
Cover with salt, pepper, paprika, any other spices, mix
Bake at 45 mins, or until golden

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

1 Comment

  • Anees

    That was very cool and sounded like fun! – I’m sure when you’ve put all that effort in, it’s that much more enjoyable, despite being away from family. Insha’allah, many more South African Thanksgivings to come!