Create multicultural food traditions this Thanksgiving

Sticking to tradition is the best thing about Thanksgiving. 

Once you establish a set of recipes, it’s easy to plan out year-by-year. And if you’re like my family and you have a good menu, your stomach will be grumbling for Thanksgiving months in advance. 

My family sticks to the traditional Thanksgiving recipes, but we also incorporate some of our own family favorites, turning it into a multicultural feast.

From my signature pumpkin spice tres leches to my uncle’s chicken biryani, the wide variety of Thanksgiving meals never fail to satisfy everyone. My mom also makes the best mashed potatoes that just melt right in your mouth. And I make candy turkeys every year. 

The mashed potatoes are personally my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s what I look forward to most. 

Garlic Mashed Potatoes Recipe


• 5 pounds potatoes 

• 2-3 large cloves garlic, minced

• salt

• 6 tablespoons butter

• 1 cup whole milk

• 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

• freshly-cracked black pepper


1. Peel the potatoes. Cut them in small chunks. Fill a large pot with cold water and add the potato chunks. Make sure the water is about 1 inch above the potatoes. Add the garlic and 1 TB of salt to the water.

2. Boil the potatoes. Turn the heat to high and cook until the water comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-high (or whatever temperature is needed to maintain the boil) and continue cooking for about 10-12 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of a potato goes in easily with almost no resistance.  Carefully drain out all of the water.

3. Prepare your melted butter mixture. Meanwhile, as the potatoes are boiling, heat the butter, milk and an additional 2 teaspoons of salt together either in a small saucepan or in the microwave until the butter is just melted.  (Don’t boil the milk as this changes the flavor)  Set aside until ready to use.

4. Pan-dry the potatoes. After draining the water, immediately return the potatoes to the hot stockpot, place it back on the hot burner, and turn the heat down to low.  Using two oven mitts, carefully hold the handles on the pot and shake it gently on the burner for about 1 minute to help cook off some of the remaining steam within the potatoes.  Remove the pot entirely from the heat and set it on a flat, heatproof surface.

5. Mash the potatoes.  

6. Stir everything together. Then pour half of the melted butter mixture over the potatoes, and fold it in with a wooden spoon or spatula until potatoes have soaked up the liquid.  Repeat with the remaining butter, and then again with the cream cheese, folding in each addition in until just combined to avoid over-mixing.  (Feel free to add in more warm milk to reach your desired consistency, if needed.)

7. Taste and season. One final time, taste the potatoes and season with extra salt if needed.Add Black Pepper to taste and on top. 

8. Serve warm. Then serve warm, garnished with any extra toppings that you might like, and enjoy!

Fittingly, I would say that mashing potatoes is the most crucial part of making mashed potatoes (unless you like them clumpy, obviously). The smooth texture changes everything — you have one clump in there, and it’s ruined. Make sure you mash them all the way through, and double check before you serve them that there are no remaining chunks. According to my mom, a key ingredient in making these mashed potatoes is cream cheese. “Not everyone makes mashed potatoes with cream cheese. It really makes a huge difference, and you can tell. It makes the potatoes rich and creamy, which is an aspect you would definitely lose without the cream cheese.” 

Now, moving onto my dad’s personal favorite: the chicken biryani. My uncle makes this for us every year, and it is definitely one of the main dishes that sets our Thanksgiving menu apart from other people’s. This is in addition to, not a replacement for, the turkey.

Chicken Biryani Recipe


  • 2 lb chicken breast
  • 3.5 cups washed & soaked Basmati rice
  • 3 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 2 TB garlic paste
  • 2 TB ginger paste
  • 1 cup whipped plain yogurt
  • cooking oil
  • Biryani spice mixture (available at any Indian store)


1. Add 4 TB oil and fry onions until golden. Add tomatoes and fry until oil separates.

2. Add garlic paste and ginger paste and fry for 1 minute until raw fragrance goes away. 

3. Add meat, yogurt and Biryani spice mix. Stir-fry for 10 minutes. 

4. Add 2 cups of water. Cover and cook on low heat until meat is tender. Then increase heat and stir-fry until oil separates from gravy.

5. Separately: Boil 15 cups of water with 2 TB of salt. Add soaked rice. Boil rice until ¾ cooked. Remove and drain thoroughly.

6. Spread half of the rice in pot and pour meat curry on top. Top with remaining rice. 

7. Spread cilantro and mint over the rice. Cover pot very securely and cook on low heat until rice is fully cooked (5-10 minutes). Mix before serving.

This chicken and rice are such a good combination that will get your mouth watering every time. You can also be generous with the spices, or not, depending on your personal preference. Personally, I don’t like a ton of spice, but most of my family would disagree. My aunt especially loves this recipe. She says, “the unique aroma that surrounds our Thanksgiving table makes our feast like no other. The blending of ordinary ingredients like mint, cinnamon, ginger and rice for chicken biryani creates an extraordinary aromatic experience for our Thanksgiving feast.”

Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… dessert. 

Pumpkin Spice Tres Leches Recipe (see below for alterations I make)


  • 2 packages yellow cake mix
  • 1 package Jell-o Pumpkin Spice Flavor Instant Pudding
  • 1 can evaporated milk, divided
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 cups thawed Cool Whip Whipped Topping


  • Heat oven to 350 F.
  • Prepare cake batter and bake as directed on the package for 13×9 inch pan, blending dry pudding mix and ¼ cup evaporated milk into batter before pouring into prepared pan.
  • Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes, then pierce with fork at ½-inch intervals.
  • Blend condensed milk, sour cream, pumpkin pie spice and remaining evaporated milk in blender until well blended; pour slowly over cake. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Frost cake with Cool Whip before serving. Enjoy! 

The pumpkin spice tres leches I make is always the highlight of Thanksgiving dessert. Even after our family is stuffed from dinner (mainly with mashed potatoes and chicken biryani), there’s still always room for some pumpkin spice tres leches, and I’ll show you the recipe so you can see just why that is. 

I love this recipe because it’s SO easy to make — it saves you the stress of having to block out the entire Thanksgiving Day just to make it. It’s convenient because essentially, all you do is make a cake from cake mix, which takes 15 minutes (minus bake time) and then you pour the liquid mixture into the cake every few hours to soak it, to ensure that it’s ready by dinner time.

Obviously, you can make the cake from scratch if that’s your preference, but sometimes convenience comes first – especially when you have nine other family members crowding the kitchen trying to make their own dishes.

I found this recipe online, but I make a few alterations to it to make sure it tastes its best. 


This recipe says to pour the liquid into the cake all at once and then refrigerate it for 1 hour. However, I think it comes out better if you pour the liquid in at intervals, pouring a little bit at a time over the course of a few hours. This allows the cake to soak more and makes it a lot more moist when you bite into it. 

Also, before you think about using evaporated milk for the condensed milk, slow down. Yes, they can be used as each other’s substitutes, but condensed milk gives a sweet, caramelized flavor that you just don’t get with evaporated milk. So use both for the best outcome!

The final dessert I will share with you is candy turkeys. I found this recipe on Food Network a few years ago, originally made by Giada De Laurentiis, and I’ve been “making” (really just assembling together) these every year since then. I even showed the Baking Club, which I started as a sophomore, how to make them last year. These are so easy to make, and it literally takes 5 minutes to put one turkey together. It’s perfect if you have younger children who want to help out with making Thanksgiving dinner, or even for you to do as a fun crafty recipe, if you aren’t someone who cooks or bakes. 

Candy Turkeys: (see below for alterations I make)


  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (melted chocolate chips will act as glue to stick everything together).
  • 30 candy corn candies, plus white tips of candy corn
  • 6 chocolate sandwich cookies (such as Oreos)
  • 6 mini peanut butter cups 
  • 6 malt balls
  • 1 cup red frosting, recipe is below
  • 6 chocolate sandwich cookies with top cookies removed


  1. Place the chocolate chips in a medium stainless steel or glass bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. For each turkey, push 5 candy corn candies, tip-side down, into the cream filling of a chocolate sandwich cookie to make the feathers for the turkey. Lay the cookie on a work surface.
  3. Dip the flat, larger end of a peanut butter cup in the melted chocolate, allowing any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Place the peanut butter cup, chocolate-dipped end down, onto the sandwich cookie.
  4. Dip a malt ball into the melted chocolate allowing any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Place the malt ball above the peanut butter cup to make the head of the turkey.
  5. Dip the flat end of the white candy corn tip in the chocolate. Place on the malt ball, to make the turkey beak. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set, about 10 minutes.
  6. Place the red frosting in a piping bag. Using scissors, cut a small opening in the end of the piping bag. Pipe a small piece of frosting under the malt ball to make the turkey’s beard.
  7. Place a cookie (with non-frosted side removed) on a platter. Stay the turkey upright into the frosting cream filling, and you are done with one turkey! Repeat. 


Again, I make some alterations to this recipe, which I find makes it easier. 

  1. Instead of putting the entire malt ball on the Oreo, I cut the malt ball in half so it sticks better on a flat surface.
  2. Instead of making the red frosting, I just buy a mini tube of red icing and make a little line on the beak for its gobbler (the red part that hangs from the turkey’s face). However, you can make the red frosting using the recipe given if you would like! 

Image sources: Pouring the milk mixture over the cake is by Ria Sharma. The other photographs are from the linked webpages for each recipe.

Comments are closed.