My family and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving in Palm Springs in 1973. We had arrived in Los Angeles from Casablanca, Morocco, just after the Yom Kippur war. We were hosted by the American family of my Uncle Albert’s young, blond and beautiful wife.
Although I was only seven years old, I distinctly remember their huge, stunning ranch style house. There were lots of family members and friends and there was a large, sumptuous buffet. There were a lot of firsts. It was the first time I can recall eating turkey. It was the first time I ever tasted bread stuffing. (Moroccans make stuffing with ground meat and sautéed onion.) It was the first time I ever ate pumpkin pie. (In Morocco, pumpkin was served with couscous or in a soup, definitely not in desserts.) It was the first time I ever tasted deliciously sweet, sticky pecan pie. It was the first time I experienced eating sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.
Can you imagine how wonderful!?!
After that first Thanksgiving, my mother always hosted an American-style dinner, with all the traditional sides.
After that first Thanksgiving, my mother always hosted an American-style dinner, with all the traditional sides. In 1983, my mother’s two sisters moved to Los Angeles and we celebrated together. They also learned to love and appreciate Thanksgiving and it became our favorite holiday. When Neil and I married, we began to host everyone at a huge backyard gathering (one of the perks of Southern California weather).
Then my cousin Rachel took over the hosting duties. She takes her responsibility very seriously and puts a lot of love and effort into making it perfect. Lots of decorations, two turkeys, a huge buffet with all the sides, and lots of desserts. She even makes a batch of hot apple cider.
We all love this American tradition and every year, we look forward to this wonderful and meaningful day.
My family and I arrived in Los Angeles the week before Thanksgiving. I had just finished 10th grade at Sydney Girls High School. I went from the warmth of the Southern Hemisphere summer to Fall in America. The official language of both countries might be English, but there was a cultural world of difference. That first week at school included Thanksgiving feasts and funny impersonations of John Belushi skits from Saturday Night Live at the talent show. It was the height of prep fashion and all the kids were wearing polo shirts with the Ralph Lauren polo player and the Lacoste alligator. It felt like stepping into a Seventeen magazine photo shoot.
Despite that plunge into Americana, my first Thanksgiving was spent in a very Australian way with a picnic on a sunny day at Will Rogers State Park. My parents, my brothers and I celebrated with my uncle David and aunt Israela, my uncle Efrem, my aunt Sally and many first cousins.
I don’t remember what we ate, which is surprising because I have a memory that tends to spook people.
But I do remember my uncle David taking all the cousins to see the newly released blockbuster movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Of course, nowadays I always prepare a feast with a juicy bird, gravy, fresh cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, green beans, two kinds of stuffing and lots of homemade pies.
Thanksgiving will always be a special holiday for me — a day to gather with family and just enjoy the blessings of this glorious country, these Blessed United States of America.
Turkey Breast Roulade
3 pound boneless turkey breast
1 large garlic clove
½ cup chopped preserved lemon or grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tsp whole pepper corns
2 tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp whole fennel seeds
1 cup roasted and salted shelled pistachios
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh sage leaves
2 large carrots, sliced into half inch thick pieces
1 large onion, cut into quarters
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a food processor, combine the garlic, preserved lemon, salt, peppercorns, fennel seed, pistachios and oil. Pulse a few times to create a pesto paste.
Spread the boneless turkey breast, skin side down on a parchment paper lined workspace. Spread the pesto in a layer on top of the turkey, sprinkle sage leaves on top of the pesto.
Roll the turkey into a tight roll, with the skin on the outside.
Tie butchers twine across and lengthwise to secure the roll.
Place onion and carrots in a roasting pan and toss with olive oil.
Then place the turkey roll in the center, with vegetables on the sides of the roll.
In a bowl, combine the honey, water, oil and salt. Brush the liquid to baste the turkey roll, then pour the remaining liquid over the vegetables.
Place in preheated oven and roast for 60-75 minutes. If skin starts to burn, cover loosely with foil.
Remove from the oven when instant read thermometer registers 155°F, then let rest for 10 minutes.
Transfer to a cutting board, remove the twine, and cut the roll crosswise into ½ to 1-inch-thick slices.
Arrange slices on a platter and garnish.
Fassoulia (Green Beans)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds fresh string green beans or haricots vert
1 15 ounce can of cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped
Prepare the green beans by snapping off the stems and wash in cold water.
In a large pan, warm the olive oil and sauté the onion for about 8 minutes, until it is golden. Add the chopped garlic and saute for 2 minutes.
Dry the green beans and add to the pan. Slowly add the water to the pan and continue to cook the beans, allowing them to soften.
Add the cherry tomatoes with their liquid to the pan. Add the tomato paste, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and add parsley before serving.
Thawed frozen beans can be substituted in recipe.
The longer the beans simmer, the richer the flavor.
Sweet Potato and Delicata Squash Casserole
1/2 cup avocado or vegetable oil, divided
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled
2 delicata squash, washed and seeded
4 Tbsp brown sugar
3 tsp hawaiij spice
1 tsp kosher salt
Preheat oven to 420F.
Pour 1/4 cup oil into an oval baking dish.
Chop sweet potatoes and delicata squash into 1/4 inch half moons. Arrange sweet potatoes around the outer edge of the dish and pile the delicata squash in the middle.
In a bowl, combine remaining oil, brown sugar, hawaiij and salt. Then spoon paste over the sweet potatoes and squash.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and fork tender.
Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound shaved Brussels sprouts
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1 tsp white sugar
Salt and pepper
1 Honeycrisp apple, chopped into thin sticks
In a large pan, warm oil over medium heat and add brussels sprouts. Sauté for about 5 to 7 minutes, until they have softened.
Add the balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and continue to sauté for 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Add chopped apple.
Optional: Garnish with crispy fried onions or fresh pomegranate.
Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.