Here are some dishes that make me feel like it’s Thanksgiving: My mom’s mac and cheese. My in-laws’ Jewish brisket simmered with onions and ketchup. Bengali shrimp curry. Southern spoonbread. Lamb samosas. Lasagna. Some combination of these, and more, are always on the table, representing the mix of ethnicities, backgrounds, experiences, and tastes in my family, and everyone has always enjoyed the variety. A few years ago I made the besan green beans from Indian-ish. Once I attempted to make a hundred Ukrainian pierogies like the ones from my neighborhood staple, Veselka, which was admittedly more effort than I planned. This year, I’m thinking we’ll end the meal with the port my family brought back from our vacation to Portugal.
Thanksgiving is usually hailed as a time to lean into comfort food. In the public imagination, “comfort food” is pretty narrowly defined, but it becomes even more so around a holiday with such colonialist roots. The dishes that are supposed to bring you comfort around Thanksgiving are things like mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and turkey with gravy — regional Northeastern cooking that’s shed any connection to Indigenous American cuisine in favor of a pretty white history.
This Thanksgiving, I will still be going to town on a bowl of stuffing. But it’s so easy to think only about what should bring us comfort, and forget what actually does. Comfort food looks like congee, pasta, paella, and dumplings. It’s both elaborate meals whose prep takes multiple days, and instant noodles. It’s recipes passed down from generations, taken off the backs of soup cans, or found online the week before. And during any holiday, it should all be on the table.
There is of course the overwhelming pressure of Tradition to contend with. In my own family, there would be riots if I suggested that maybe we don’t need both mashed and scalloped potatoes. But the most joyful Thanksgivings, to me, have been the ones where the spread didn’t “match,” and everyone came with the most expansive ideas of what comfort food can look like. I want my plate piled with everything, from everywhere, all at once. This year’s Eater at Home for the Holidays lineup will ensure yours will be, too. — Jaya Saxena