The Ancient Greek Thanksgiving Celebration and a Recipe for Greek Turkey

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As Greeks living in the US and Canada, Thanksgiving is an easy celebration to adopt. Thanksgiving dinners are big, drawn out affairs. Greek dinners are always big, drawn out affairs with plenty of food for everybody. It’s only natural that the Greek Thanksgiving table offers a hybrid of Greek and American classics. Traditionally it has been a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, something that the ancient Greeks also did thousands of years ago.

First, build your menu around the centerpiece – the turkey. Buy an organic, local turkey and give it a Greek twist: a stuffing with ground meat, giblets, raisins, pine nuts, rice and herbs and spices of your choice. Allspice comes to mind.

Mashed potatoes and gravy from turkey drippings are the natural sides but why don’t you add some garlic and Greek yogurt in the mash? I make my cranberry sauce scented with cloves and orange zest. Roasted root vegetables are a favourite in our home and I love tossing them in fresh orange juice, olive oil, thyme, fennel and a splash of wine.

Waiting for the turkey to be ready causes one to think of appetizers or something to nibble on until the big meal is ready: Spanakopita (spinach pie) or Tiropites (cheese pie), offer some warm olives in citrus and spices, make some dips like Tyrokafteri or roasted red pepper dip with some pita bread wedges and an array of Greek cheeses. Dolmadakia with some Tzatziki for dipping will keep the family at bay until dinner’s ready.

With my family, we like soups now that the cold weather has arrived and a turkey Avgolemono soup is the perfect start to your sit down Thanksgiving dinner. Also, we always have one or two people who don’t like turkey so, being Greek means we have to have everyone participate and eat at the Thanksgiving table. Make a Pastitsio or Moussaka. It may seem like a lot of food but remember we are Greeks…portion control is a fantasy.

It’s Thanksgiving – decide on pumpkin or apple pie then round out your desserts with one of my favourites, a Galaktoboureko. It’s one of the best Greek desserts. Serve Greek coffee with dessert and have some fun with some coffee cup reading. Invite that “magissa” aunt over to tell our fortunes!

To complete the Greek Thanksgiving table, why not add some Greek wine to help wash down the feast? Think about it: we spend the whole winter thinking about summers in Greece so there’s nothing better than uncorking Greece. For your starters, open a bottle of Amalia Brut, a sparkling wine from Mantinia Tselepos or try a Kir Yanni sparkling rose.

You could then open an Agiorgitiko red to go with your turkey or try a Xinomavro/Syrah from northern Greece. If you’re the type that wants to stick to whites with your turkey, a Malagouzia or Assyrtiko will be a sure crowd pleaser.

For dessert, you may offer a Vinsanto from Santorini or a chilled glass of Muscat from Limnos or Samos.

We are Canadians and Americans but we are also proud Greeks and nothing says Greek pride like sharing our Greek heritage at the festive table. Have a delicious, safe and memorable Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends!

Recipe for Greek stuffed turkey (Γαλοπούλα-γεμιστή in Greek)

Brining Solution

  • 3 bay leaves
  • handful of peppercorns
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • a bunch of fresh thyme
  • small handful of parsley
  • 1/2 cup of Mosxato wine
  • handful of allspice berries
  • 1/2 cup of orange juice
  • 1 cup of salt
  • enough water to cover the turkey

Greek turkey Stuffing

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 pork sausages, casings removed
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground pork
  • 1 packet of turkey giblets, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf 1 tsp. dry oregano
  • 3/4 cup long grain rice
  • 1/4 cup wild rice
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup of Mosxato wine
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups of turkey/vegetable stock
  • 1 cup of chestnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove

Roasted Turkey

  • 1 large turkey (5.7kgs) feeds 10
  • melted butter
  • sea salt pepper
  • sweet paprika
  • black pepper
  • garlic powder
  • combination of dried thyme, oregano and rosemary

Pre-heated 325F oven

  1. To brine your turkey, you will need a large, clean pail or a large pot. Place your turkey inside and add enough water to cover the bird. Now remove the bird and add the wine, orange juice, aromatics and the salt. Now place the container on your stove and bring the brining solution to a boil. Allow to cool before placing the turkey inside the brine. Place the cover on and refrigerate or place outside (if cold enough for approx. 24 hours).
  2. Between now and roasting the turkey, you may pre-make your stuffing (recipe below).
  3. The next day, 1 hour before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well and pat dry. Preheat your oven to 325F. Discard the brine.
  4. Ensure your pre-made stuffing has also come to room temperature before spooning it into the cavity of the turkey. Have ready two containers of stuffing ready: one large portion with an approx. amount you think you’ll require to stuff the bird and a back-up portion to replenish it (this helps eliminate cross-contamination to any leftover stuffing that does not fit in the turkey).
  5. Spoon the stuffing into the main cavity and stitch with some wooden skewers to seal. Now place some stuffing in the neck area of the turkey as well (that’s what all that excess neck skin is for…stuffing). Again, stitch with some wooden skewers to seal in the stuffing.
  6. Place your turkey on a roasting rack and rub it all over with melted butter. Seasoning your turkey with a Mediterranean dried herb mix (I used oregano, thyme and rosemary, sea salt, black pepper, sweet paprika and garlic powder.
  7. Place the roasting rack & turkey onto a roasting pan and add an onion, carrot and celery stick in the bottom of the pan with some water and a splash of wine. Place your turkey on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 3 1/2 hours. Monitor your turkey after about 2 hours to check for its colour. When the desired browning has occurred, tent your turkey with aluminum foil and continue to roast until the thigh meat has reached 180F (using a thermometer) and 160F in the stuffing.

Peter Kalofagas – Pursuit of Delicious Foods

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