What is a traditional Thanksgiving dinner now, nearly 400 years after what historians call The First Thanksgiving? We think turkey and sides, except the wild turkeys then were nothing like the Butterballs now, or even what our grandfathers may have brought home from their factory jobs for our grandmothers to cook.
That’s what my maternal grandfather, the great Frank Hugh, did. But my grandmother Yok Ping let my Uncle Eric roast the bird. He was American as all get-out and was even once crazily courted to be a young Chinese Elvis before he joined the U.S. Army. But his Thanksgiving turkeys were rubbed with black bean and garlic sauce, then chopped up like Chinatown ducks. Delicious though differently traditional.
This year, after quite frankly what’s been one of the most divisive years in our lifetimes, we wanted traditional Thanksgiving recipes, with a nod to indigenous and immigrant flavors.
For the turkey, I turned to our history. Poring over a decade of recipe archives, I was drawn to one of columnist JeanMarie Brownson’s recipes but swapped in maple syrup for the brown sugar, then added a finish of smoked salt, for a kiss of sweetness and fire.
Award-winning Chicago chef and restaurant owner Iliana Regan is also a master forager. Her recipe for buttered chanterelles can be found in the new “Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook” from the indie magazine of the same name that celebrates women and food irreverently. Regan may use mushrooms from the woods around her family farm in Indiana, but you can substitute what’s available in stores.
Tribune test kitchen chef Mark Graham shares his recipe for crispy Indian-spiced Brussels sprouts. He thoughtfully blanches what can be tough little buggers, before roasting them until tender and intensely flavorful with familiar fall spices. Graham carries that warmth to this year’s cranberry sauce, adding a whisper of evergreen herb.
Plus I offer my own nonrecipe recipe for roasted root vegetables seasoned with a lazy vinaigrette, for fellow plant-based feasters.
We give thanks for not only the harvest, as our ancestors did, but the hope to imagine a happy Thanksgiving 400 years in the future where our best traditions endure.