DCSIMG
Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Articles

Arabic Cuisine Joins Thanksgiving Tradition of Cultural Mergers

By M. Scott Bortot | Staff Writer | 23 November 2010
Reda Asaad in kitchen (State Dept.)

Reda Asaad loves to enjoy his culinary roots at Thanksgiving dinner.

Washington — The traditional Thanksgiving meal: turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes and hummus.

Yes, hummus.

For Denise Hazime, of Mediterranean cooking website DedeMed.com, her family tries to keep a “traditional” Thanksgiving, but a few Lebanese favorites might wiggle their way next to the turkey.

“There will be hummus, tabouli salad, garlic dip, batata harra, which is sautéed potatoes, as an alternative to the mashed potatoes,” Hazime said.

She won’t be the only American of Arab heritage fusing food traditions with Thanksgiving meals. In homes across 50 states, Arab delicacies will mingle with Thanksgiving culinary classics, symbolizing a unification of cultures within a holiday that is uniquely American.

Lori L. Tharps, assistant professor of journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia and a blogger at My American Melting Pot, said Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday for the melding of cultures.

“It’s the perfect holiday … to say I’m in America, I’m thankful and I’m happy, let me bring my cultural traditions to the Thanksgiving table,” Tharps said. The historical Thanksgiving involved two cultures — European and Native American — uniting to share a meal. “That concept is quite adaptable to immigrant cultures, or to people who have lived in this country for a long time.”

For Alia Al-Kasimi, founder of the website Cooking with Alia and author of Moroccan Cooking the Easy Way, Thanksgiving is the best American holiday for fusing food between cultures. In fact, she dedicates recipes to doing just that on her website.

This year, Al-Kasimi is adding another dish that combines American and Moroccan ingredients to her website to mark the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I am making a pumpkin pie, but with a Moroccan twist by adding saffron, orange blossom water and honey to the pumpkin filling,” Al-Kasimi said. The zesty pumpkin pie recipe joins others already on her site, like sweet potato salad with raisins and turkey with almonds and apricots.

Al-Kasimi likes the fact that in America, life seemingly comes to a standstill for family and friends to spend time together over a home-cooked meal.

“It reminds me of the Arab culture where people are gathered around the table — the food is so important,” she said. “I think it is one of the most important culinary feasts of American culture, and I feel connected to it because of that.”

Reda Asaad, owner of the recently opened Bistro LaZeez in Bethesda, Maryland, feels a connection to other Americans through his Thanksgiving meal.

“Thanksgiving is an American traditional occasion, and I’m an American now. … It is nice to feel like you are with the rest of the Americans, sitting down and saying ‘Thank you, God,’” Asaad said. “It is one of the occasions that makes you feel like you belong here, you are living in this country and you are a part of it.”

One of the great things about Thanksgiving for Asaad is the opportunity to maintain some of the food traditions he and his family enjoy from Syria and Lebanon.

“We mix other Arabic dishes [with Thanksgiving dinner] because I found the table is for me not complete without my ethnic food,” he said. “My roots will be on the table with Thanksgiving.”

Al-Kasimi said the joining of foods on one table from different cultures hearkens back to the original Thanksgiving when Native Americans and Europeans dined in unity.

“Food can bring you together, especially when it is fusion dishes. That is why I am so focused on fusion,” Al-Kasimi said. “A fusion Thanksgiving table goes with the holiday season of peace and love and that we can all be together and sit around the table with food as a family.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov)