A Cardamom and Tea Thanksgiving

My family immigrated to the US from Baghdad in October 1964, so they celebrated their first Thanksgiving right after they arrived. Their relatives, who had already been here for a few years, invited them over to their house and explained the holiday, and my grandmother recalls noticing that it was thematically similar to an Assyrian holiday, which commemorates Jonah’s prophecy through a fast, followed by a celebration of blessings. For my family, Thanksgiving embodies the generosity of our Middle Eastern roots; it is a time when you invite not only your whole family, but also friends and acquaintances who don’t have anywhere to go.

But all this hospitality sometimes comes with a lot of pressure, especially if you've never hosted Thanksgiving before, and especially if the cooking has been left up to you, and you alone. Between my husband's family and mine, we know plenty of supermoms, superdads, and plain old superheroes who plan and cook entire Thanksgiving meals all on their own year after year, (sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, and sometimes by a little of both). If that's you, I hope this menu plan makes it a little less overwhelming. But if you've got some helping hands, feel free to add a few more favorites to the menu. Just be sure to add ingredients to the grocery list, and schedule additional dishes around the amount of available oven and stove space.

the grocery list

Stuff you probably already have

* don't forget to add the ingredients for your favorite pie (see pie round-up below for ideas) *
Cornmeal
Flour
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Sugar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chicken stock or broth (optional)

Pantry

Dates (about 20 to 25)
Whole pecans (about 20 to 25)
Bulgur (preferably bulgur #1)
Oil for deep frying
2 medium pitas *
1 pound tubular pasta
1 loaf seeded rye
Basmati rice
Pine Nuts
Almonds
Raisins
Pomegranate molasses

Spices

Cardamom
Allspice
Caraway seeds
Sumac
Sesame seeds

Produce

6 medium roma tomatoes
4 or 5 big tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
4 lemons (more if they don't seem juicy)
1 small fennel bulb, preferably with fronds still attached
3 large bunches parsley
1 red onion
1 small pomegranate
1 grapefruit
1 large or 2 small bunches kale
2 or 3 Persian cucumbers
1 green bell pepper
1 small bunch basil
1 bunch green onion
11 ounces cranberries (frozen or fresh)

Dairy

1 small wheel of brie
3 sticks butter
1 quart Whole milk
5 ounces minouri (or another creamy, crumbly, mild cheese, like feta, ricotta, or fresh goat cheese)
10 ounces fontina (or another stringy melting cheese, like non-fresh mozzarella or monterey jack)
5 ounces parmesan (or another sharp, dry, salty cheese, like pecorino romano)
3 eggs
1 pint buttermilk
1 1/2 cups labneh (feel free to substitute full fat Greek yogurt or goat cheese) *

Meat

1 10 to 20 pound turkey (depending on how much you want to have left over)

* The schedule below assumes you're getting store-bought labneh and pita bread, but feel free to make your own if you feel motivated! They can both be made ahead, and the pita bread can be frozen for weeks.

the plan

This schedule is for people who like to plan ahead, but if you really like spending the whole day cooking, feel free to put off some of the make-ahead steps (just make sure you'll have enough oven space and time before making changes to the schedule).

I timed it out for a 3pm Thanksgiving day serving time (since so many people prefer the tradition of eating Thanksgiving dinner in the afternoon), but you can of course push things back to have dinner ready in the evening.

the week before

active time: 40 minutes + shopping time

  • Buy a frozen turkey and start to thaw it on time. It takes 5 days to thaw a 20-pound turkey in the refrigerator, so plan for the size turkey you have, and make a reminder on your calendar.

  • Make the pie dough and freeze it.

  • Bake the cornbread, let it cool, seal it tightly in a freezer bag, and freeze it whole.

  • Make the cranberry sauce and freeze it.

Monday

active time: 15 minutes + shopping time

  • Go grocery shopping.

  • Slow-roast the tomatoes, and then store them in the refrigerator. They'll keep until Thanksgiving, and a couple days after, but if you want them to last longer, you should freeze them instead. To keep them tasty and pretty, roast them until they're no longer oozing tomato juice, freeze them on a parchment-lined sheet pan, and then place the frozen tomatoes in a ziplock bag.

Tuesday

active time: 25 minutes

  • Prep the stuffing and keep it in the fridge. One full recipe of my stuffing for chicken will fit inside a 15 to 20 pound turkey (feel free to cook any extra on the side, as in the recipe for stuffed chicken, but there probably won't be any)

  • Thaw the pie dough in the refrigerator.

  • Pit the dates.

Wednesday

active time: 35 minutes

  • On Wednesday morning, place the cranberry sauce in the fridge to thaw.

  • Dry-brine your turkey about 24 hours before you intend to start roasting it (you can do this Wednesday morning before work—it should only take about 10 minutes). Do not skip this step, or your turkey will dry out by the time the stuffing is cooked through.

  • Blind bake the pie crust, if necessary, and make the pie filling if it can be made ahead. To work ahead without blind baking, you can roll out the dough and place it in the pie tin in the refrigerator.

  • Disinfect the kitchen and clean up after prepping the turkey, so everything is totally ready for Thanksgiving day.

  • Thaw the slow roast tomatoes in the refrigerator if you froze them.

thanksgiving morning

active time: 2 hours 5 minutes

  • Before the turkey goes in the oven, bake your favorite pie first thing in the morning.

  • Stuff and roast your turkey, being sure to leave enough time, based on its weight. Use your favorite roasting method, and tent any parts that start to look too brown before the rice has come to temperature. The turkey is done once the stuffing is 165° F.

  • Stuff each date with a slice of brie and a pecan and keep refrigerated until a few minutes before serving.

  • Make the kale fattoush, and plate everything but the pita chips, lemon juice, and salt.

thanksgiving afternoon

active time: 1 hour

  • Place the cornbread in the oven with the roasting turkey for about 10 minutes, until it's thawed and warmed through. Let it cool for about 30 minutes, and then slice the cornbread into squares and arrange it on a plate.

  • Make the ruby fennel tabbouleh and plate it in a serving bowl.

  • Make the caraway mac and cheese.

30 minutes before serving

active time: 25 minutes

  • Set out the dates and serve the as an appetizer while everyone's waiting, or with the meal.

  • Place the mac and cheese in the oven at 300° F to warm it up for a few minutes before serving.

  • Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes once it comes out of the oven, and then carve it in the kitchen or at the table, and plate the stuffing in a serving dish.

  • Optional: While the turkey is resting, if you have a spare minute, make a quick pan gravy with the turkey drippings (this is a really simple recipe).

  • Plate the cranberry sauce.

  • Place a dollop of labneh and a slow roast tomato on each slice of cornbread.

  • Top the fattoush with the lemon juice, salt, and pita chips and toss together right before serving.

  • Look over the menu to make sure everything's on the table. Enjoy!

thanksgiving