Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but it is also about sharing — stories, traditions and, of course, food. The individual recipes that stand out in the day's feast often tell a story about our own heritage, beyond turkey and mashed potatoes.
We asked readers to share the dishes that have been fixtures on their Thanksgiving tables for years, and those that help remind them who they are and where their family comes from. Here's a selection of the recipes you shared:
Dorothy Manevich | Washington, D.C.
Dorothy Manevich's family fled their home in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in 1991. Those that escaped Eastern Europe during the Holocaust had settled in Georgia, but with the Soviet Union crumbling, they decided to leave.
Manevich struggled for years to make sense of her family's complex history.
"Growing up, I always had a really hard time pinning down my family identity," she says. "We spoke Russian, but we weren't Russian. We were from Georgia, but we weren't Georgian. We were Jewish, but I had learned that Judaism was a religion, not a national or ethnic identity.
"My mom cooked Georgian food, Russian food, Jewish food and eventually American food. But the one thing my brother and I always loved was my mom's khachapuri. Whenever she made it, we would eat it for every meal until it was all gone. She used to make two huge baking sheets of it because she knew that if we were having people over, just one batch would never last to the party. I may not have known 'what we were,' but I knew we made khachapuri, and that was definitely something to be happy about."
The simple cheese pastry requires only four ingredients, and its flaky crust is an ideal vehicle for the filling of gooey mozzarella, feta and ricotta.
Manevich's parents have been hosting 15 to 20 people at Thanksgiving for as long as she can remember, "in a dining room that comfortably seats about eight." And while there's always turkey and mashed potatoes on the table, guests often bring dishes from the former Soviet Union, such as pkhali (spinach and walnut salad) and olivie (a kind of potato salad).
Brenda Clough | Reston, Va.
When Brenda Clough's mother left China for college in the United States after World War II, she lacked confidence in the kitchen, but that doesn't mean she didn't aim high at Thanksgiving. Clough vividly remembers the year her mother attempted to baste a duck in Coca-Cola.
"We ended up having our Thanksgiving at a Chinese restaurant," Clough says.
Eventually, Clough says her mother got a grip on roasting a turkey. But for her children, the turkey was just an excuse to eat sticky rice stuffing.
Turkey, as Clough notes, isn't the most popular protein in Chinese cooking. "Name me one Chinese dish that uses it," she says. "But it is made Chinese with the addition of sticky rice stuffing."
Shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, onion, celery, water chestnuts and dried Chinese sausage all work together in this comfort food, but it is the sweet, glutinous Japanese short-grain rice that brings it all together. And while her family is now spread across the country, Clough guarantees every one of their tables will have sticky rice stuffing on it Thursday.
"Everyone is going to do it — it's very key. If you ask the children, they all agree," Clough says. "As long as you get the Chinese sausage and the glutinous rice, you're cool. You can mix and match any other ingredients and it'll turn out great."
Juliette Pahl | Raleigh, N.C.
The Stage Coach Inn in Guthrie, Ky., holds a special place in Juliette Pahl's heart, and on her holiday table. In the early 1950s, her parents visited the inn — which opened in the 1800s — and enjoyed an iron pot full of this crunchy-layered casserole. Pahl says the dish has appeared at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner since.
"As an 18-year-old bride who couldn't boil water, this was one of the very first recipes I learned to make because my husband loved it when sharing holidays with my family for a year before we married."
The recipe reflects the Southern style of Pahl's mother's Thanksgiving table, which also featured giblet gravy and rice instead of mashed potatoes. Quartered onions are covered in a sauce of butter, flour, sherry, pimentos, celery and mushrooms, which is layered with with sharp cheddar cheese, cracker crumbs and paprika.
Nia Decaille | Washington, D.C.
Rice and peas has been served at family dinners for as long Washington Post staffer Nia Decaille can remember. "It's always just kind of been there," she says. "It was a staple side dish."
When Decaille's mother came to the continental United States from the U.S. Virgin Islands, she and her sisters kept on cooking their favorite island fare. Much of their Thanksgiving menu is pretty standard — "except that one time my uncle made a jerk turkey" — but oxtail and roti often make appearances.
Decaille's mother makes a huge pot of the rice dish, so big that she can freeze half of it for future meals. And knowing how to prepare it properly is a source of pride for the women in Decaille's family.
"Growing up, I always associated [knowing how to make rice and peas] with being an adult woman and being able to provide for yourself," Decaille says. "You don't know how to cook until you can whip up a good rice and peas."
The ingredients are simple: jasmine rice, coconut milk, peas or beans, garlic, scallions and a little seasoning. But there's a sneaky hit of heat from a Scotch bonnet pepper (in the tested recipe, we used a more widely available habanero).
Whether she or her mother, a dietitian, is preparing the dish, Decaille can't imagine celebrating Thanksgiving without it.
"Some families have their favorite [side dish, like] mac and cheese. Ours is rice and peas. It's not Thanksgiving without it."
Store-bought sheets of puff pastry dough are easy to work with here.
From District resident Dorothy Manevich.
One 17.3-ounce package (two sheets) puff pastry dough, defrosted, such as Pepperidge Farm brand
Flour, for rolling
3 large eggs
One 8-ounce block feta cheese
6 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese (do not use pre-shredded cheese)
10 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Crumble the feta cheese and shred or grate the mozzarella cheese, combining them both in a large mixing bowl. Add two of the eggs and the ricotta cheese, stirring to incorporate.
Cut or have at hand two 13-by-18-inch pieces of parchment paper. Working with one at a time, roll out each sheet of puff pastry dough to completely cover the paper. Transfer one of them to a large, rimmed baking sheet and fit it in. Use a large spoon to spread the cheese mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a half inch margin all the way around. Cover with the remaining rolled-out sheet of puff pastry (by inverting the dough and then carefully pulling off/discarding its parchment). Seal the sides to the bottom puff pastry dough, all the way around.'
Use a fork to poke lots of holes so the pastry dough doesn't puff up too much. (You can't really overdo on the poking.)
Beat the remaining egg in a cup, then use it to brush over the top of the puff pastry. Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Let cool slightly before cutting into 20 squares of equal size. Serve warm.
Feel free to use a rice cooker for the rice. The dish doubles (and quadruples) easily.
Those ingredients are available at Asian markets. The sausages are available at Costco as well.
MAKE AHEAD: The rice needs to soak for 30 minutes. The rice stuffing can be reheated in a microwave.
From Reston resident Brenda Clough.
2 cups sweet (glutinous) Japanese short-grain rice (see headnote)
1/4 cup dried Asian shrimp (see headnote)
1 medium onion
3 ribs celery
One 8-ounce can whole Chinese water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
12 dried shiitake mushrooms
3 cups water
3 or 4 dried Chinese sausages, cut in half lengthwise and then into thin half moons (see headnote)
1 teaspoon soy sauce, or more as needed
Place the rice in a mixing bowl, cover with cool water by an inch or two and let sit for 30 minutes. Put the mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water to soften them.
Pick over the dried shrimp and remove any heads and bits of shell. Place the dried shrimp in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let them soak while you cut the onion, celery and water chestnuts into small dice.
Drain the mushrooms and cut them into the same size small dice; do the same with the shrimp.
Drain the rice and put it into a pot with the 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. It will form a sticky mass.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat, then add the onion, celery, water chestnuts, mushrooms, shrimp and sausage; stir-fry just until the onion has softened, then add the sticky rice. Stir-fry, adding the soy sauce until heated through and well incorporated. The rice should be quite sticky. Taste and add more soy sauce, as needed.
The original recipe called for a teaspoon of the now obsolete (or very hard to find) Sexton brand Alamo Zestful Seasoning, a Chicago blend that included salt, sugar, MSG, paprika, onion and chili powders and some preservatives.
MAKE AHEAD: The casserole can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance; bring to a cool room temperature before baking.
Adapted by Raleigh, N.C., resident Juliette Pahl.
21/2 pounds white or Bermuda onions (trimmed), cut into quarters
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
11/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1/4 cup jarred pimentos, drained and chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery (from 1 large rib)
About 10 large button mushrooms (stemmed), cut into quarters or large chunks
Water, as needed (optional)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup plain cracker crumbs or panko
Sweet paprika or smoked Spanish paprika
Place the quartered onions in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a light boil over medium heat; cook for 6 to 8 minutes, checking them often, just until they are crisp-tender. They may break up a bit; this is okay. Drain.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a roux, then gradually add the cream and half-and-half; reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, to form a thickened sauce.
Add the salt, sugar, onion and chili powders, the sherry, pimentos, celery and mushrooms, stirring to mix well. Turn off the heat. The sauce will thicken upon standing; before you begin building the casserole, you may need to stir in a little water to loosen the sauce a bit.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use some butter to generously grease a 31/2- to 4-quart baking dish or casserole.
Arrange half the onions in the dish, then spoon enough of the sauce over them to cover. Scatter half the cheese, then half the cracker crumbs or panko; repeat this layering to use the remaining onions, sauce, cheese and crumbs or panko. Sprinkle the paprika on top.
Bake (middle rack) for 1 hour, until bubbling at the edges.
8 to 12 servings
MAKE AHEAD: The dish can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. Reheat, covered, in a saute pan over low heat; you may need to add a little water to loosen up the rice.
From Washington resident Nia Decaille.
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red or orange habanero pepper, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups water
One 13.5 ounce can coconut milk, preferably Goya brand
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 to 11/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
11/2 cubes chicken bouillon or 11/2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon chicken soup base (optional)
One 15-ounce can no-salt-added kidney beans (or 11/2 cups home cooked kidney beans)
3 cups jasmine rice
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the scallions, garlic, habanero and ground cloves. Cook for 2 minutes, until the scallions are soft and everything is fragrant.
Add the water, coconut milk, thyme sprigs, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the chicken bouillon, if using, stirring until the chicken bouillon is dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. Taste the broth; it should be a little too salty; if it's not, add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Add the beans; cook for 41/2 to 5 minutes, then stir in the rice. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes at a gentle boil (reducing the heat, as needed), or until the liquid is absorbed. Use a wooden spoon to stir the rice every 3 or 4 minutes to prevent it from sticking and burning on the bottom.
Reduce the heat to low, place a paper towel between the lid and the pot, (to catch any condensation) and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the rice mixture is fluffy and slightly dry. Taste and add salt, as needed.
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