Life happens at the dinner table and at Moji's house dinner is always a feast. If it's a good day, a bad day or something to celebrate, there is always a comforting meal to match the experience.
Thanksgiving at Moji's
My memories of Thanksgiving are glorious. As first generation Kashmiri-Americans, my sister and I treasured the fact that we could participate in this secular American holiday with all our relatives. A day devoted to being grateful and showing love through food defined our own family values perfectly. My mother, or Moji, cooked her specialties for days while coordinating with friends, family and neighbors to ensure our potluck had it all. I have flashbacks of the endless buffet of fragrant traditional Kashmiri dishes on one side of the table and classic American ones on the other: rosemary and thyme bread stuffing sat opposite a tray of dried fruit and nut pulao (spiced rice); butter mashed potatoes across from delectable aloo rasedar (potato curry). Sliced cranberry and gravy shared a tray with spicy walnut, mint and coriander chutneys. The exhibition of sides was anchored by a large garam masala-brined turkey that was as much a cultural statement as it was the center of the meal. Determined to experience the dry-leaning holiday bird to its fullest, my dad, a physician would bring home syringes and methodically inject butter and spices deep into every part of the turkey. Moji, excited for the multi-cultural feast would secretly make a a large pot of rogan josh (lamb curry) or yakhni (lamb in yogurt-mint sauce) as a back up fearing no celebration was adequate without it. And of course to end the night, it was the pumpkin and apple pies that stole the show, gently laced with green cardamom and cinnamon and enjoyed with the most satisfying cup of masala chai.
My sister, cousins and I were excited by the blended feast but devoured the traditional thanksgiving dishes. Our parents, uncles and aunties on the other hand stuck with the Kashmiri food, only adding a slice of turkey and a dollop of mashed potato almost as a garnish. Slowly but surely, temptation, curiosity and comfort drew us to explore the whole table of fine fare. As the years went by the table looked largely the same, but our plates certainly evolved as we all crossed sides excited by the new and familiar, however we each defined it.
Today, Thanksgiving in our house is now Kashmiri-Irish-American as my husband JD and his family have brought new traditions and foods to our joint table. So many of our most memorable dishes involve each of us crossing over into the other's world and making it our own. JD's Masala Chai Recipe is now our staple go-to along with his Sweet Masala apple pie. We still pair a traditional pulao and bread stuffing while I've explored a variety of east-west braised potato dishes. I even decided one year to make no compromises with the turkey and used a Garam Masala dry rub on the dark meat and an herb butter for the breast (it worked!). And JD's Late Aunt Marie's cranberry-walnut mold is now a permanent addition to the spread, with no recipe alterations allowed. As our Kashmir-Irish-American daughter blossoms in the kitchen with her own creative concoctions ("moji masala a la quin YO" anyone?), we are excited to see where her curiosity takes her as she eventually brings her own dishes and experiences to our ever-expanding family table.