Memories, Traditions Season A Splendid Table
Story and photography by Nik Sharma
My earliest memorable Thanksgiving meal was when I cooked my first turkey. We were living in Washington, DC, and I brined the turkey all night in a large pot of salted water seasoned with a mixture of aromatics and spices and one big bottle of Sauvignon. The turkey turned out good but I felt it lacked something. It lacked a little bit of what reminded me of my home in India.
Thereafter, I sought to create recipes that represent my experiences and memories from growing up in India and those that I have acquired since immigrating to the United States—and now my meal has evolved. The dishes I include on the menu are a fusion of both Indian and American flavors and techniques that I’ve learned to appreciate. Here in Silicon Valley, we are fortunate to live amongst a wide and diverse collection of families from all over the world, which makes for a splendid dinner table.
Besides celebrating culture and traditions, Thanksgiving permits us to take advantage of the bountiful fall produce. Starting with the appetizer, I like to serve this lentil and pumpkin shami kebab, a vegetarian version of one of my treasured Indian recipes. Usually shami kebabs are made with a ground meat such as mutton, lamb or beef, which makes this version different from the traditional variety you would typically find, but the combination of lentils and pumpkin makes for a very meaty texture in these spicy little cakes, which pair nicely with the pickled onion relish.
Then, I try to balance the heavier main dish with a lighter side. Salads are a great way to add color, freshness and lightness to the meal. Roasted cumin in the pomegranate chaat salad helps to bring out the sweetness of the arils in the fruit and a light touch of smokiness in the tamarind sauce.
Although turkey is always served at our home, I also sometimes add a pot of chicken curry to the table—mostly because this is a recipe I grew up eating in India. Thanksgiving dinner is a time for comfort foods we love to celebrate, so I say go for it!
Dessert is one of my favorite parts of a holiday meal. With so many options it can get overwhelming, but pie is fun to make and eat. My ideal holiday pie is a sweet potato pie that uses a hint of Chinese 5-spice mix to add some depth. A little bourbon for warmth makes it extra special. Just because the weather tends to get cooler in fall, there’s no need to skip ice cream. In fact, I make it a point to serve homemade ice cream every year. This cardamom ice cream is built on contrasting textures and flavors—the salty and sweet notes from the roasted figs give this otherwise smooth ice cream a delicious fruity flavor. Holidays give us an opportunity to celebrate our diverse cultures and unique heritage. The foods and flavors in our meals bring community together and tell a story of our traditions—past, present and future.
Nik Sharma is a San Francisco Bay Area–based author and photographer behind the blog A Brown Table where he shares his love for all things food. In 2015, he won the award for best photo-based culinary blog at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and was also nominated in the Best Photography category by Saveur magazine. He currently works as a food photographer for Sprig in San Francisco.