Heavily touted as a holiday that brings people together, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to welcome new flavors into the fold as well. Traditional dishes needn’t be banished from the banquet this fall, but even the old standbys can be given new life with unexpected seasonings as in these international Thanksgiving recipes.
Of course, many American Thanksgiving tables already include regional and international dishes and influences. We are a melting pot, after all, and generations of immigrants from all over the world have incorporated their own foods and flavors into the canonical holiday spread.
You might find a dish of sauerkraut beside the sweet potato casserole; a pot of menudo and a platter of tamales next to the gravy boat; a bowl of daal nestled up to a biryani-stuffed turkey; a Chinese-style steamed turkey as centerpiece; or even a soy-roasted duck in place of the bigger bird.
Whether your meal already includes multicultural dishes but you’re always hungry for more delicious new twists on familiar favorites, or your family feast is way more traditional and you’re ready for a change, it’s easy to bring all kinds of global flavors to your groaning board.
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You can lend a little global flair through your dinnerware as well.
You can search out specialties from various countries and simply add them to the mix, or you can tweak the tried-and-true, from the bird and all its classic sides on through the dessert course, to have more interesting flavors than what you may be used to.
International Thanksgiving Recipes
Here are some basic ideas to give you a little inspiration, plus specific international Thanksgiving recipes, broken down by category so you can jump straight to what you’re hungry for:
- Turkey & Gravy
- Bread & Rolls
- Mashed Potatoes
- Other Veggie Sides
- Cranberry Sauce
This is probably the easiest place to work international flavors into even more traditional menus, and Thanksgiving appetizers are a must, both for guests and the cook.
This bright, tangy, Italian-accented appetizer is sprightly enough not to weigh down the taste buds in advance of a traditionally heavy meal yet meaty enough to be a satisfying snack—and it’s best made at least three days ahead (if not more like a full week), so you can knock it out well before the big day. Get our Pickled Eggplant recipe.
Spanish tapas: never a bad idea, including before Thanksgiving dinner. These sweet-tart pickled peppers are stuffed with creamy goat cheese and topped with crunchy marcona almonds, fresh oregano, and olive oil for bright little bites. Get our Stuffed Peppadew Peppers recipe.
Take traditional hummus up a notch by using white beans and edamame and seasoning with toasted sesame oil and cilantro in addition to the usual garlic. These are great with taro chips, but pita chips work too. Get our White Bean and Edamame Hummus recipe.
If you want a first course to pass at the table before the turkey, this pumpkin soup is perfect. The addition of white or yellow miso for extra umami depth of flavor, and black sesame seeds in the crunchy brittle, give it a vaguely Asian twist, but the flavors are still familiar enough for any Midwestern grandma to enjoy. Get the Miso Pumpkin Soup with Sesame Walnut Brittle recipe.
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Turkey and Gravy
Changing up the star of the show is a cinch; just switch out the rosemary, sage, and other fall herbs for spice blends like berbere, za’atar, Indian curry powder, or Chinese five spice—or slather the bird with harissa, mole, or Thai curry paste (in which case, stuff the cavity with ginger and lemongrass too)—and cook it as you normally would.
Use the drippings to make a matching gravy, and if you’ll need extra (because honestly, there’s no such thing as too much gravy), make a batch ahead of time. Using a judicious hand, sub in the spices you’ll use on the whole bird instead of the thyme in the recipe, and if the white wine will clash, substitute more turkey stock instead.
Of course, if it makes more sense for your chosen flavors (and if your family will tolerate it), ladle mole, spiced yogurt, or a coconut milk curry sauce over your turkey instead of gravy. And if your meal is meatless, you can do the same basic spice swapping with your homemade tofurkey or protein of choice.
This gorgeously burnished bird could be called Latin American, Mexican, or Southwestern, but it is most definitely delicious thanks to dried pasilla, ancho, and chipotle chiles, garlic, spices, vinegar, and citrus. Mashed sweet potatoes would play particularly well off the vibrant, complex flavors of the adobo butter. Get the Adobo Butter Turkey recipe.
Indian spices like coriander, garam masala, fenugreek, and cardamom in the brine, the marinade, and the stuffing make this richly flavored turkey taste as stunning as it looks. The yogurt-based marinade, similar to that used in tandoori chicken, turns out to be a fine Thanksgiving trick (also used to great effect in this Turkish-spiced turkey). Get the Tandoori Turkey recipe.
There are numerous options for Asian-flavored turkeys in general, like Chinese five spice, a Peking-style lacquer, or a soy-miso glaze, but this relatively simple bird boasts an aromatic Thai seasoning paste of garlic, cilantro, white peppercorns, palm sugar, and oyster sauce rubbed under the skin. Soy butter is brushed on top for a golden-brown glaze. Consider a sticky rice stuffing (though it’s safest to make it outside of the bird itself). Get the Roasted Turkey with Thai Aromatic Paste recipe.
This, too, can simply be seasoned with different spice blends for an easy fresh take, but you can also play around with the base ingredients.
Replace bread cubes with rice (whether sticky, long grain, wild, etc.), or quinoa, couscous, and other grains, and mix in nuts and dried fruits for texture instead of plain old celery and apples. Look to the dim sum classic sticky rice with Chinese sausage, Persian jeweled rice, and Moroccan tagines for inspiration. Try rice and beans with a Cuban-spiced bird. Or take a cue from tamales and make a masa stuffing for a mole turkey.
Tamales are generally soft, steamy, and fragrant, just like bread stuffing, so why not make one giant tamale to go with your Thanksgiving spread, particularly if you go with a Mexican or South American flavor for the bird? The soft masa, poblano peppers, chorizo, and mushrooms are steamed in banana leaves to imbue extra earthiness. Get the Tamale Stuffing recipe.
Chewy, nutty pearls of toasted Israeli couscous make another great stuffing alternative, especially if you make a Moroccan or Turkish turkey. The dates and almonds lend additional flavor and texture, and the cinnamon is perfect for fall. If you need a gluten-free option, the same flavors would be a natural fit for quinoa too. Get our Toasted Israeli Couscous Pilaf with Dates, Almonds, Cinnamon, and Parsley recipe.
No, it doesn’t have the crunchy top crust of traditional stuffing, but this creamy, luscious Milanese risotto does have golden saffron and fall’s favorite butternut squash, so it’s a perfect replacement if you’re willing to break with tradition. Get our Squash and Saffron Risotto recipe.
Bread and Rolls
This pillowy-soft flatbread with za’atar blows dainty dinner rolls out of the water, but the flavors (thyme, oregano, sesame, and sumac) aren’t totally out of place at most meals. Still, they’ll be even better if your turkey seasonings and sides veer along the same spice profiles. Get our Za’atar Flatbread recipe.
Cranberries don’t have to be the only fruit on the table. This Tuscan-style focaccia studded with grapes (which effectively roast as the bread bakes) isn’t too sweet, but we still like a splash of good-quality grappa to balance it out at the end. Get our Grape and Grappa Foccacia recipe.
While these would obviously be perfect for a tandoori-roasted bird, their pumpkin flavor profile means they’d be equally at home on any autumnal table, which is most of them on Thanksgiving. Get the Pumpkin Naan recipe.
Creamy mashed potatoes and gravy are a surefire crowd pleaser, but there are lots of other vegetables that make equally great mashes or purées, and that (like potatoes) can be adapted to countless tastes.
Butternut squash puréed with Middle Eastern spices and a little pomegranate molasses is a fabulous option to consider, as are Mexican-spiced mashed sweet potatoes (cumin, chipotle, lime), or miso-sesame turnip mash, or garlicky mashed yuca…
It may sound strange at first glance, but peanut butter adds a great depth and extra creaminess to mashed butternut squash or pumpkin, in the same way sesame paste works in tahini whipped sweet potatoes—and both are vegan. Get the Zimbabwean Peanut Butter & Butternut Mash (Nhopi) recipe.
Other Vegetable Side Dishes
These can be borrowed wholesale from various cuisines—tempura squash, caponata, fried plantains—or you can just toss your usual roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, and other root veggies in a blend of spices that’s a bit more exciting than simple salt and pepper. Add soy, miso, or tahini too for another depth of flavor, as long it harmonizes with your chosen seasonings.
Not all cuisines complement each other, but many flavor profiles overlap or can be successfully mixed and matched. Try Korean seasonings on your spinach or braised greens. If you’re a fan of green bean casserole, think about making it with coconut milk (which is also good for vegan guests) and perhaps curry-dusted panko bread crumbs on top instead of or in addition to the onions.
Miso adds a salty umami depth to anything it touches (for instance, this miso caramel apple pie). Here, it’s mixed with togarashi and butter for a spicy, rich medium in which to roast radishes. It’s definitely worth trying radishes this way, but the seasoning and cooking method will also work just as well for pretty much any root vegetable, and will be just uncommon enough to pique interest while still marrying beautifully with more traditional Thanksgiving flavors. Get our Pan Seared Radishes with Miso Butter recipe.
Purple yams (ube) have a sweet, earthy, and somewhat nutty flavor that intensifies wonderfully when you roast them; adding coconut oil and lime lends a slightly tropical vibe, but not so much that these wouldn’t work with plenty of different flavor profiles. Get the Roasted Purple Yam with Coconut, Lime, and Tahini recipe.
While unarguably tasty together, Brussels sprouts and bacon are old hat—but add spicy Korean kimchi and you have a delicious new trio that jazzes up your Turkey Day spread (though may not be so great with gravy). Get our Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi and Bacon recipe.
Plenty of pumpkin is the autumnal order of the season, and here it’s roasted with cinnamon and black pepper, then garnished with honey-tahini yogurt and dukkah, the Egyptian hazelnut, sesame seed, and spice blend. If you’re sick of squash by now, try making this with carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, or Brussels sprouts instead. Get the Cinnamon Roasted Pumpkin with Tahini Yogurt and Hazelnut Dukkah recipe.
Salad shouldn’t be forgotten on Thanksgiving, when it can add a much-needed refreshing element to the usually rich sides. This one is Spanish-inspired with manchego cheese, membrillo quince paste, and crunchy almonds tangled up with watercress in a sherry-garlic vinaigrette. Get our Watercress Salad with Manchego, Memrbillo, and Almonds recipe.
Although you can’t forget the perfectly piquant fruit in some form (whether you like it chunky or jellied), you can make it a little more exciting with different seasonings—five spice is nice, or add a little chipotle for a smoky kick—or change the format up entirely and make a cranberry salsa instead.
Add other fruits like mango or figs to make more of a chutney.
Or get a little tricky and make vinegret, a ruby-red Russian salad of beets, potatoes, and pickles, which not only looks similar to cranberry relish, but fulfills the same sweet-tart role at the table. (But maybe also keep a can of the classic stuff on hand in case of revolt.)
To cap off the big meal, die-hard traditionalists simply cannot do without a pumpkin pie, and some of them will accept no modifications (like, not even a relatively conventional eggnog pumpkin pie, let alone one with walnut streusel and Sichuan peppercorn).
But for more flexible families, you might try a pumpkin flan instead, or an ube pie (call it purple yam or purple sweet potato if that helps win hearts and minds). If you’re apple pie people, our Spiked Apple Galette recipe makes a fine French alternative.
Ube is the Filipino ingredient du jour, and it makes a spectacular showing with its rich purple hue. Although the color is uncommonly lovely, this dessert will taste familiar to anyone used to pumpkin and sweet potato pies. For a more traditional Filipino recipe, this Filipino egg pie is simple, custardy, and sweet, but if you want the warm spices of fall with a few new bells and whistles, this purple pie is perfect. Get the Purple Sweet Potato Pie with Gingerbread Crust and Pecan Streusel recipe.
Indian chai spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and black pepper) work beautifully with lots of fall ingredients; add chai masala to your pumpkin pie for a subtly different spice, bake a chai spice apple pie, or make this whimsical yet elegant poached pear dessert. The tender fruit helps the spicy cake stay moist, and a dusting of powdered sugar adds just enough extra sweetness, but some caramel drizzled on top of each slice, or even some caramel ice cream, certainly wouldn’t be amiss. Get the Vegan Chai Spice Poached Pear Cake recipe.
Greeks are often associated with baklava, but many countries that were part of the Ottoman Empire lay claim to the dessert. This version is solidly North American with its gooey maple syrup in place of honey, and pecans instead of pistachios or walnuts. The sweet, crunchy little bites evoke classic pecan pie with an extra-flaky, crispy crust. Get the Maple Pecan Baklava recipe.
Above all, don’t be afraid to get creative in the kitchen this Thanksgiving, and play around with palates from various parts of the globe. For more Thanksgiving tips, hacks, and recipes, check out our Ultimate Thanksgiving Guide.
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