10 International Dishes for Your Thanksgiving Spread

By: Alia Hoyt  | 

Curried goat with sides of coconut rice and peas and coleslaw is displayed in the window of Street Shak restaurant in Toronto. Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Thanksgiving is a holiday any food lover, regardless of national origin, can enjoy. Originally a celebration of colonists' first successful harvest in the New World, the holiday has become a major part of American culture and an excellent excuse to gain several pounds in a single sitting.

A typical modern-day Thanksgiving feast usually includes the requisite turkey, ham, corn (on or off the cob), potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce and a pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Of course, the Pilgrims were more limited in their menu options. They most likely dined on locally available seafood, wild turkey, swans and other fowl, seal, peas, beans, radishes, grapes, plums and nuts. Sadly, there was nary a pumpkin pie in sight -- and certainly no whipped cream! Since the U.S. is a country largely inhabited by immigrants from all over the world, it makes sense that international dishes also have a place on our Thanksgiving tables.


Continue reading for our list of 10 delicious and diverse international foods that your guests are sure to enjoy come Turkey Day.

10: Jamaican Curried Goat

It may not be the most traditional Thanksgiving dish, but curried goat is a delicious Jamaican option for revelers who are sick of turkey or want to provide their guests with a unique red meat. Plus, goat is surprisingly healthy. It contains much less fat than beef and even skinless chicken. It needs to be cooked at a low temperature to help the flesh retain its natural flavor and tenderness, so be sure to reserve plenty of cooking time.

This dish isn't ideal for diners with delicate taste buds, as Jamaican cuisine is known for its spicy flair. If you decide to live semi-dangerously, however, you'll need locate some cubed goat leg meat. Other ingredients for this dish include peppers, shredded coconut, curry powder, sour cream, arrowroot, clarified butter and red currant jelly. When you add all these items together, you create a curry sauce for the goat to be marinated or cooked in, depending on the recipe you're using.


9: Baklava

Baklava is sweet, sticky and delicious!
Baklava is sweet, sticky and delicious!

Baklava is a Mediterranean treat that will complement anything on your Thanksgiving dessert menu. Its flavor is enjoyable but not too overpowering. It's made with layers of phyllo pastry soaked in butter, chopped nuts and mouth-watering spices. The sticky concoction is baked and drenched in sweet syrup, which permeates every layer of the pastry.

Generally, a recipe for baklava includes nuts, butter, phyllo pastry, sugar and honey. However, it's not an easy dessert to make, so it's wise to create a few trial servings well ahead of Thanksgiving to ensure you get it right. Of course, you can also pick some up from a specialty bakery. Trust us -- no one is going to care where it came from. They're just going to eat it up.


8: Salata de Varza

If your taste buds long for something other than a regular green salad, coleslaw done Romanian-style -- known as salata de varza -- might be the variation you've been looking for. It's similar enough to American slaw not to offend guests with less adventurous palates, yet light enough to complement your meal without overwhelming it. It's the perfect fit for Thanksgiving feasts looking for an international kick. It's easy to make and doesn't have to go in the oven, like so many other Turkey Day dishes.

Salata de varza consists of cabbage, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Notice there's no mayonnaise or sugar, which are common ingredients in American slaws. This is because the Romanian version promotes cabbage's flavor instead of trying to hide it. Of course, this also means that salata de varza is a healthier slaw, but it doesn't include raisins or carrots.


7: Tacos and Burritos

More people of Latino heritage are making their homes in the U.S. than ever before. As a result, many Thanksgiving tables are piled high with tacos, burritos and other related foods. Using authentic flour and corn tortillas, you can incorporate standard ingredients such as cheese, beans, ground beef, shredded chicken, pork and tomatoes into a burrito station. Or, you and your fellow diners can fill tortillas with traditional Thanksgiving offerings, such as turkey and stuffing.

If an excess of turkey has left you scratching your head for creative leftover ideas, perhaps Thanksgiving-style turkey empanadas are in order! All you need for this delectable dish is a puff pastry, gravy, turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and stuffing to put a twist on this classic dinnertime treat.


6: Beans and Rice

Cuban-style beans and rice makes a perfect addition to any Thanksgiving spread.
Cuban-style beans and rice makes a perfect addition to any Thanksgiving spread.

Cuban-style beans and rice are as versatile as they are delicious. Plus, they're not nearly as unhealthy as the rest of your Turkey Day meal is likely to be! For many Cubans and Cuban-Americans, a celebration simply isn't up to par without the inclusion of beans (black or red) and rice.

As an added bonus to weary Thanksgiving chefs, this dish is a cinch to make and goes with pretty much any type of meal. Cuban red beans and rice is known as congri, and is similar to the Cajun-style version found throughout Louisiana, but it includes cilantro, oregano and cumin.


5: Tandoori Chicken

If you really want to break out of the traditional Thanksgiving mold, cook your tandoori chicken on the grill!
If you really want to break out of the traditional Thanksgiving mold, cook your tandoori chicken on the grill!

Wildly popular in India and parts of Asia, tandoori chicken is a great way to add some extra zing to your meal. Plus, you don't have to constantly baste it like those pesky turkeys. In comparison with Jamaican curry goat, Tandoori chicken is equally spicy but less saucy, and its flavor comes from a light marinade applied to the meat's surface.

To turn out top-notch tender, spicy tandoori chicken, you'll need plain yogurt, onions, garlic and a smattering of herbs and spices typically used in Indian cuisine, such as cilantro, turmeric, cumin and ginger. If you're interested in shaving calories and fat from the meal, you can always use non-fat yogurt. Serve with curry sauce on the side and enjoy!


4: Couscous

Couscous is more than just a dish with a name that's fun to say. It's easy to prepare, and it can be adapted about a million different ways and for as many different purposes. Technically, couscous is a grain by nature, though many people confuse it with pasta thanks to its similar consistency and taste. The distinction is pretty minimal, since both pasta and couscous are made from semolina (a granular form of durum wheat). The only difference is that couscous' grains are crushed and pasta's are ground.

Like rice, couscous is often a side item that larger meals are served with or even on top of. For Thanksgiving, couscous can take the place of stuffing, rice or potatoes, and can be enhanced with dried cranberries and nuts to give it a more seasonal flavor.


3: Lo Mein

You can add just about any meat to your Thanksgiving lo mein, from beef to turkey!
You can add just about any meat to your Thanksgiving lo mein, from beef to turkey!

Chicken and noodles go beautifully together in soup, so it makes sense that turkey and lo mein would complement each other on the Thanksgiving table. Recipes for lo mein vary, but they typically include fresh Chinese noodles, light and dark soy sauce, sesame oil, bamboo shoots, cabbage, chicken broth and bean sprouts. Of course, all these ingredients offer unexpected but complementary tastes to traditional Turkey Day flavors.


2: Doro Watt

Spelled many different ways, doro watt is a chicken stew that will warm up even the coldest Thanksgiving days. Although it's a traditional Ethiopian dish, this particular stew is a great way to ease people into African cooking because it closely resembles many Americanized stews in texture and appearance. However, it's spicier and includes whole hard-boiled eggs.

Generally, a recipe for doro watt requires chicken, lime juice, hard-boiled eggs, chicken stock, dry red wine, ginger, cardamom, spiced or unsalted butter and berbere or chili powder. It's often served on top of injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread, which soaks up a lot of the stew's juices.


1: Lasagna

It's no secret that Italian cooking is hugely popular all over the world. This is particularly true in the U.S., where there seems to be an Italian eatery on every corner, and the pizza business is thriving. Better still, lasagna -- one Italy's most famous dishes -- is a perfect addition to any Thanksgiving table, regardless of the eaters' national origin. Even people who are picky when it comes to ethnic cuisine aren't likely to turn down a pan of fresh lasagna!

Be sure to pick up lasagna noodles, ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, Italian sausage or ground beef, the makings for homemade tomato sauce and a truly authentic recipe to turn out the best lasagna possible.

America is a country of immigrants, so it's only fitting that we include international dishes in our national day of thanks. Doing so will not only enhance the standard Thanksgiving menu, it'll help you learn about other cultures. Or just give you an excuse to eat pasta on Turkey Day. Either way, you win!

Originally Published: Nov 2, 2011

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