Public Insight Network

A ‘Traditional’ Thanksgiving Meal With Ethnic Dishes On The Side

In some ways, celebrating Thanksgiving is a story of assimilation into American culture. KUHF's Shomial Ahmad talked to some immigrants and Americans from different ethnicities on how they've made the Thanksgiving meal unique for them.


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Let’s go back to Thanksgiving Day in 1979. It’s when Geraldina Interiano Wise was an architecture student at Rice University. She had just pulled an all-nighter, didn’t have any Thanksgiving plans, and the radio show that she was listening to was looking for the saddest Thanksgiving Day stories.

“So I called in. I thought I qualified for being a nerd, for staying up all night, and not even knowing what I was going to eat that day. And so I called them in, and sure enough after many stories all morning long, they awarded me the biggest turkey story of the day.”

Wise says getting that award was a game-changer for her. She decided then that she’d never be the biggest “turkey” ever again. And for Wise, who love to cook, she embraced the holiday and made the food her own. With her turkey, she serves a special Mayan sauce on the side.

“That is not unlike mole but much lighter and more tomato based.”

And another dish with a Latin American — or what Wise calls a tropical twist — would be her special cranberry sauce.

“I put cinnamon sticks into that combination of citrus and the cranberries, and voila there is a really, nicely complex and very happy cranberry sauce.”

For Wise, who has her own home garden, Thanksgiving is one of her favorite holidays. It’s about bounty, it’s about being with family. 

Hungarian cookie
Gwenn Lasswell, from Spring, is the only one in her extended family that can make her grandmother’s signature dessert, kiefli. The typewritten page is the recipe that Lasswell’s mother made. Click to enlarge

And for Gwenn Lasswell, from Spring, the holiday isn’t about the “traditional” meal.  Lasswell, who has Hungarian roots, says growing up they would still have the staples with some adaptations.

“They would often include in the big holiday meal Hungarian sausage, which my father would make at home, and my grandmother would make very special Hungarian pastries.”

Lasswell is the only one in her extended family that can make one of her grandmother’s signature desserts. So she says when she musters up the energy to make it, she’s got a lot of relatives to send kiefli to.

“Think of pie crust but made with cream cheese and flour and butter, nothing else, and we make a filling of ground walnuts, white raisins and a meringue mixture.”

Lasswell says making that special Hungarian cookie means that she’s bringing her own grandmother to the Thanksgiving table.


Geraldina’s cranberry recipe

1 bag cranberries-washed
1/2 cup kumquats cut in rounds, seeded
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup Orange juice-fresh preferable. If from concentrate use 1/2 cup only
2 cinnamon sticks-don’t use powder
zest of two oranges cut into small bits

Bring water and cinnamon sticks to a boil in a medium pot. Boil for 3 minutes. Add in this order: cranberries, kumquats, orange juice and zest, and sugar. Bring to a boil in medium heat, lower the heat and cook, stirring every 2 minutes, allowing the cranberries to pop and the kumquats to caramelize some, for approx. 12 minutes. Allow to cool in the pot, and transfer to a glass container with tight lid. Keep refrigerated. It will keep for months.

Take out the cinnamon sticks before serving.


This story was informed by sources in KUHF’s Public Insight Network ®. To become a news source go to


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