What Five First-Generation DC Chefs Are Cooking on Thanksgiving
From kao fu to hummus, everything goes with turkey
For chefs, Thanksgiving can either be a welcome respite from the daily grind or just another day at the office. For first-generation American chefs, it’s also an inroad into deeply held American culinary traditions.
Here, we’ve asked first-gen chefs in our nation’s capital what they think about Thanksgiving and what they’re serving. Here are their favorite holiday sides, with influences ranging from ultra traditional to fusion flair.
Chef Will Fung of China Chilcano
Born in Hong Kong, Will Fung oversees China Chilcano, a modern Peruvian restaurant from José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup that celebrates the diverse Criollo, Chinese Chifa, and Japanese Nikkei cuisines of Peru.
“We moved to America in 1991, so that was the first year we celebrated Thanksgiving,” Fung says. “We went to a family friend’s house for a pretty traditional meal, turkey, sides, the whole experience.” But even after over 20 years in the country, there’s still one bit of Thanksgiving he can’t quite get behind: “Waiting in line for stores to open on Black Friday.”
His recipe may seem an unlikely candidate for Thanksgiving tables: a Shangainese recipe that hails from his mom’s side of the family marrying seitan and shiitake mushrooms. For Fung, it’s a welcome addition for more than one reason.
“It’s a vegetarian option that can be prepped ahead of time, [which] gives us more time for mahjong the day of Thanksgiving,” he says.
This, he says, is the real appeal of Thanksgiving for him. “As we get older, life gets more complicated so we have to make the time to spend with each other,” he says.
While this Thanksgiving message is certainly heart-warming, Fung also cultivates no small amount of affection for his other favorite holiday tradition: “Having an early first dinner, passing out, then waking up at a reasonable time for leftovers.”
8 ounces dried seitan
4 ounces dried shiitake mushroom
1 ounce minced ginger
4 ounces sliced bamboo shoots
2 ounces kombu strips
1 cup shaoxing wine
1 cups low sodium soy sauce
1½ ounces brown sugar
1 cup dashi
Canola oil, as needed
Soak the seitan in warm water until soft. Rinse with cold water, then cut into cubes. Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water until soft. Rinse with cold water, then cut into slices.
Heat oil in a large pot or wok, then add the ginger and cook until slightly browned. Add the wheat gluten and brown slightly. Add the mushrooms, bamboo, and kombu and mix well to combine. Cook for 4 minutes.
Add the light soy sauce, shaoxing wine, brown sugar, and dashi. Stir well to combine, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed. Cool, then chill until ready to serve.
Chef Mile Montezuma of Immigrant Food
Born in Venezuela, Mile Montezuma first arrived in Baltimore on an asylum visa, and for the past five years, she has been chef Enrique Limardo’s right-hand woman at Immigrant Food, a “gastro-advocacy” restaurant group that offers both a food and engagement menu to help diners easily opt into outreach. Alongside Limardo, Montezuma recently spearheaded the group’s third address in the Planet Word Museum, Immigrant Food+.
“In my country, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving,” says Montezuma. “I remember visiting my American friends’ home for Thanksgiving a few years ago, and it was a very traditional feast – turkey, stuffings, yams, and of course, cranberry sauce. Delicious!”
She loves not just the food but the fact that Thanksgiving “is a day for family and friends to come together, and as we always say at Immigrant Food, be ‘united at the table.’”
While Montezuma delights in the feast, the omnipresence of the most common centerpiece remains a bit puzzling.
“I don’t really understand why you eat turkey on this day,” she says. “You can’t really find it on a lot of menus during the rest of the year!”
To wit, her gravy recipe is one that she developed, not to serve with turkey, but with one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes: Chicken Milanesa. Complete with mozzarella cheese, ketchup, and white truffle, it’s certainly a novel play on traditional gravy, but it’s one that Montezuma loves.
“Life is better with white truffle!” she says. “It’s not ‘Thanksgiving tradition,’ but I couldn’t help it.“
10 grams (2 teaspoons) butter
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon cornstarch
300 grams (1¼ cups) chicken stock
50 grams (scant ½ cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
10 grams (2 teaspoons) ketchup
6 grams (1 teaspoon) Worcestershire sauce\
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
Black pepper, to taste
Truffle oil, to taste
Melt the butter and flour together in a saucepan, whisking to create a roux. Dilute the cornstarch in a bit of chicken stock and set aside. Add the remaining chicken stock and the mozzarella to the pot, and whisk until thick. Whisk in the diluted cornstarch. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper, and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer, and, off the heat, whisk in the truffle oil to taste.
Corn Purée with Herbed Cheese
Chef Cristian Granada of El Secreto de Rosita
Colombian native Chef Cristian Granada’s first American Thanksgiving was spent with relatives less than a month after his arrival Stateside.
“In return for how nice my family had been with me, I cooked for them,” he recalls. “I cooked roasted pork leg with some sides.”
These days, Granada’s Thanksgiving menu always features this corn dish – not just because “corn is a typical food of all Latin America,” but also because his wife loves corn.
“I am always trying to find different ways that I can serve corn for her,” he says. “I think I cooked corn more than 15 different ways just for her!”
This year, Granada will be spending Thanksgiving at work, preparing a special Latin American-inspired meal for clients at El Secreto de Rosita, the Peruvian restaurant he helms on U Street. “It impressed me how seriously this day is taken,” says the chef of the holiday. “In my opinion, for Americans, Thanksgiving is more important than Christmas or even New Year’s.”
4-5 ears fresh corn
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted, divided
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon dried basil
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
¼ cup almond milk
Season the corn with salt and butter, and grill them on low heat until they are cooked and lightly roasted. Carefully cut kernels from cob. Set aside ½ cup of kernels for garnish.
In a food processor, combine remainder of the corn kernels with the remaining butter, cheeses, herbs, broth, and almond milk. Blend until thoroughly combined into a smooth puree. Transfer to a bowl and top with the reserved corn kernels.
Chef Rose Previte of Maydan and Compass Rose
Alongside traditional Thanksgiving offerings, Rose Previte’s family would serve a special occasion kibeeh neyah — a Lebanese lamb tartare — as well as dishes like toum, tabbouleh, and hummus.
“The hummus would be part of our traditional Lebanese mezze table that we always have before big, celebratory meals,” she says. “Guests and family members will stand or sit around catching up and just snacking on dips and spreads and olives and things like that.”
Today, as then, “more than anything Thanksgiving really means an excuse for family to get together and remember what we are grateful for in our lives,” says Previte. “I think that’s important, as there is so much noise in the busy world we live in.”
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 6 lemons)
½ cup Lebanese olive oil
6 garlic cloves
4 cups cooked, drained chickpeas (page 000)
¼ cup reserved cooking liquid from chickpeas, or as needed
8 ounces tahini, preferably Beirut brand
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
In a blender, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic, and blend to combine. Add the chickpeas and blend until very smooth. Add the tahini and process until well combined. Season with salt and process to combine. Add up to 1/4 cup of the reserved chickpea cooking liquid and process. (This can add some nice air bubbles and lightens the texture of the hummus.)
Note: If using chunky/tight tahini, it might be better to transfer to a food processor before adding the tahini. But if using Beirut or another nice, smooth, pourable tahini, doing it all in the blender is fine.
Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Roasted Beetroot and Goat Cheese Salad
Chef Danny Lledó of Xiquet
Chef Danny Lledó of Michelin-starred Xiquet spent most of his childhood in Valencia, Spain. Raised by a Portuguese mother and Valencian father, he sees Thanksgiving as the perfect time “to completely shut my brain off from everything work, and really focus on being thankful for all I have with my close friends and family.”
His first memory of the holiday comes from the tender age of five. “I remember holding this turkey drumstick that was as big as my head and just loved eating it down to the bone,” he recalls.
For Lledó, however, there are some bits of Thanksgiving that remain a bit … puzzling.
“The tradition of getting a plate and filling it to the brim with food and overindulging is something that I still don’t understand,” he says, noting that he prefers plated portions over an overwrought buffet. “A dish that is beautiful to look at tastes that much better for me.”
That’s why he always features dishes with a lighter touch, like this seasonal beetroot salad. It doesn’t just boast a Spanish flair through its use of Caña de Cabra goat cheese; it’s also evocative of his homeland’s more even-handed culinary approach.
“Spanish cuisine is all about having a balance,” he says, “and that’s why having a light and bright salad like this works with all the usual Thanksgiving accoutrements.”
In this salad, seasonal, jewel-toned beets are roasted to bring out all of their naturally caramelized flavors — an essential selling point for Lledó, who actually grew up hating the root veggie.
“As an adult,” he says, “I made it a goal to find a way to use the ingredient in a way that I would enjoy eating.”
8 baby red beets
8 baby golden beets
Drizzle of olive oil
2 oranges, segmented
200 grams (7 ounces) Caña de Cabra goat cheese
200 grams (7 ounces) walnuts
For the dressing
100 grams (about ¾ cup) fresh orange juice
50 grams (3¾ tablespoons) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Toss the whole beets in olive oil and salt, and roast for 1 hour, or until tender. Set aside to cool, then peel and quarter.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a bowl.
In a serving bowl, combine the beets, orange segments, and lettuce. Drizzle with dressing and toss to combine.
Top the salad with crumbled goat cheese and chopped walnuts, and serve.
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