Arts and Culture | Religion & Jewish Life

At Thanksgiving, a cornucopia of Jewish sides

NEW YORK (JTA) — The best thing about Thanksgiving is that it invites Americans of all religions and ethnic backgrounds. On the same autumn Thursday, most American families eat turkey and a cornucopia of side dishes.

No country has been more welcoming to the Jews than the United States. Thanksgiving is a metaphor for the opportunities this country offers Jewish people.

While turkey is the centerpiece of the harvest table, I’ve seen people of various ethnic groups put their own spin on the side dishes they serve. I grew up with an Italian friend whose mother always made two lasagnas — for either side of the turkey. An Indian woman who used to baby-sit for my daughter prepared vegetable curry every year. The family of a Cuban friend offered up black beans and rice.

Recently I started thinking, why can’t foods from the canon of Jewish cuisine accompany the Thanksgiving turkey? After all, most traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as sweet potatoes, string beans and dried fruit, are pareve and were readily available in many of the countries where Jews have lived. Surely there must be many recipes to tap.

The first that came to mind was a basic sweet potato tzimmes, a wildly popular dish throughout the Ashkenazi world. Loaded with carrots and dried fruit surrounded by a sweetened sauce, tzimmes would be perfect to serve with turkey. I add a generous amount of ginger to my recipe, giving this traditional dish a sassy air.

Many recipes from Sephardic countries start with instructions to saute onions in olive oil. Add a vegetable, such as green beans or Brussels sprouts, before simmering in tomato sauce for an easy dish that’s always delicious.

Perusing Jewish cookbooks, I found a medley of recipes, including cranberry rice from Iran, a luscious Moroccan couscous stuffing, Indian curries, and stuffed pumpkin dishes from Bukhara to Iraq.

If your family adores a particular Jewish delicacy from its country of origin, serve it this Thanksgiving. There’s no reason why you can’t celebrate being Jewish and American at the same time.

I’m always a bit dashed when I hear people say they take a pass on Thanksgiving because it’s not a Jewish holiday. With its inclusiveness, Thanksgiving not only reflects the principles for which this country stands but also Jewish values.

The holiday’s name encourages us to be thankful for the food on our table and for living in a land of plenty. I find it poignant that the concept of plenty has diminished during our current economic downturn.

The fourth Thursday in November is all about celebrating the end of the growing season and getting together with family and friends to share warm feelings and a nice meal. It actually reminds me of a one-day version of Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival that stretches over seven glorious days.

If the November issues of food magazines prove anything, it’s that people are always searching for exotic side dishes to adorn the Thanksgiving turkey. Why not dip into the archives of Jewish cuisine to dazzle your guests with foods that our people have been savoring for centuries?

The following recipes were developed by Linda Morel.


1 (4-inch) finger-shaped piece of ginger root
4 medium sized sweet potatoes
6 medium sized carrots
1 (9-ounce can), about 1 cup, pitted prunes
2/3 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange, plus the juice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white wine

1. Scrape the peel from the ginger. Dice ginger and then chop it fine.
2. Peel the sweet potatoes and carrots. Cut them into 1-inch chunks.
3. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Cover and simmer on a medium-low flame for 45 minutes, or until potatoes and carrots soften. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature and refrigerate in a covered container. Recipe can be made up to 3 days in advance. Reheat on a low flame before serving. Yield: 8-10 servings.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound string beans, rinsed in cold water, tips and ends snipped
Kosher salt to taste
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1. In a large pot, heat olive oil on a medium flame. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until softened but not burnt, about 2 minutes. Add the string beans to the pot. Sprinkle with salt and stir. Saute for 2 minutes, stirring.
2. Pour the tomato sauce into the pot and stir to coat string beans evenly. Cover pot and simmer on a medium low flame, until string beans are softened but not wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium-sized onions, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 cauliflower, broken into florets
1 1/2 pounds baby white potatoes, cut in half or thirds, depending on size
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground curry
1 1/2 teaspoons  ground cumin
Dash of cayenne pepper, or more if you like hot food
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1. Heat oil in a large pot on a medium flame. Saute onions and garlic until transparent, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer until they soften and give off a little sauce. Add the cauliflower and potatoes, stirring.
3. Place the tomato paste, kosher salt and spices into 1 cup of water. Stir to blend. Pour this mixture into the pot and stir. Cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, or until the cauliflower and potatoes soften. Remove from heat and cool to warm before adding the peas. Gently stir to blend. Heat on a low flame and serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before reheating on a low flame. While piping hot, sprinkle ilantro on top. Yield: Serves 6.

(Pareve or Dairy)

1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 (2-inch) finger-shaped piece of ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoons margarine (preferably non-hydrogenated) or butter to saute, plus 1 tablespoon cut into quarters
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
Dash of white pepper
Kosher salt to taste
1 cup uncooked plain couscous, preferably Near East brand (1 box of Near East contains 1 cup)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, optional garnish

1. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and roast in a 350-degree oven for 2 minutes, or until almonds turn golden brown. This can be done in a toaster oven. Watch almonds carefully as they burn easily. Remove from oven and reserve.
2. Peel ginger. Dice it, then chop it fine.
3. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt 1 1/2 teaspoons margarine or butter on a medium flame. Add ginger and saute until tender, about 1 minute. Add turmeric, white pepper and salt. Quickly stir, then pour in 2 cups of water. Cover saucepan and bring this mixture to a boil.
4. Pour couscous into boiling water and quickly stir to combine. Cover the pot and remove it from the flame. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork.
5. Add the remaining tablespoon of margarine or butter and dried cranberries. Stir to combine. Cover the pot for 1 minute. Place couscous in a serving bowl. Sprinkle almonds on top, and cilantro, if using. Serve immediately. Yield: Serves 6.