Thanksgiving: Before, during and after
Photo: Dave Carlin
Lamb, meatballs and rice

By Tina Wasserman

Although our minds and hearts might be in Israel, the reality is that Thanksgiving is soon approaching and we will be able to be surrounded by those we love from near and far. Whether you are cooking for two or 23, like my friend who will be surrounded by children and grandchildren for five days, the actual Thanksgiving meal is not the most pressing question. How to feed your guests for other meals without spending hours away from them in the kitchen is the question. After BBQ, Tex-Mex and possibly pizza, there are many other meals to be considered. So, this and next week’s article will be a few suggestions for dishes to make in advance for all of the non-takeout meals in your week.

Meatballs are generally a hit with most people. They can be served with or without sauce, made from lamb, beef or ground poultry and can easily stretch a food dollar to feed a horde of guests. You know I will introduce our culinary heritage into the mix so none of these recipes are standard fare.

But I haven’t forgotten the Thanksgiving meal. Start out with Pumpkin Bourekas that don’t taste anything like pumpkin pie but use that fall favorite…and they can be made this week and frozen ready to pop in the oven and bake when company arrives.

Friends still tell me they have made my mother’s recipe for turkey each year since I wrote about it in my book and published it five years ago in the TJP. It is moist, creates its own vegetable side and can be made a day or two in advance. Sliced, covered with its own clear gravy and then reheated in the microwave, this turkey doesn’t allow for that Norman Rockwell experience, but you won’t be slaving in the kitchen and making a mess right before the meal!

And how about some caramelized kabocha squash that doesn’t need to be peeled? The rind is edible and the maple syrup makes the edges crispy. But don’t leave out your sweet potato casserole with marshmallows if your family is expecting it; just sneak in a few recipes to tantalize them.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t give you my Mixed Fruit Relish recipe again. Yes, this is the recipe that has circulated around Dallas for decades and yes, it is my recipe. Make a batch or two because it lasts in your refrigerator for many weeks (unless you eat it out of the jar and double-dip!). Perfect on sandwiches or even as holiday gifts in pretty jars in December. The relish requires no canning, just refrigeration, so consider making a double batch.

Thanksgiving was a New World interpretation of the Sukkot celebration so when you serve your personal Ushpizim, allow yourself time to be thankful for what you do have.

Indian Spiced Meatballs

Many of the Jewish people of India can trace their ancestry back over 2000 years! Bene Israel Jews are descendants of the Kohanim, high priests who were shipwrecked on the southwestern coast of India at the time of the Maccabees. They were discovered in the jungles of India in the 1600s by Portuguese explorers. Living before the times of rabbis and organized religious services, they were identified as descendants of Jews because they recited the Shema.

This recipe uses some of the spices found in India but the use of lamb, cumin and mint in a meatball speaks volumes about its links to the Jews of the Middle East and Spain. Obviously, my inclusion of matzo meal is a modern touch. Enjoy!


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced, or 4 cubes Dorot frozen garlic (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 20 grindings of black pepper (½ teaspoon)
  • 28-ounce can recipe-ready crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala


  • 1/3 cup matzo meal
  • ½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 2 large cloves of garlic or 3 cubes Dorot frozen garlic
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
  • 10 grindings of pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, as needed
  • Honey, as needed
  1. To make the sauce, heat a heavy 6-quart soup pot over medium-high heat for 15 seconds. Add the oil and heat for another 10 seconds. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 3 minutes until lightly golden.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the minced garlic, salt and pepper and sauté for 1 minute until you can smell the garlic but it hasn’t browned.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes, chicken broth, honey and 1 teaspoon garam masala. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered with a lid, for ½ hour or until you are ready to add the meatballs. Stir occasionally, while you prepare the meatballs.
  4. To make the meatballs, combine the matzo meal, mint, garlic and spices in a small food processor work bowl and pulse the machine on and off until a coarse paste is formed. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the paste into a 4-quart mixing bowl.
  5. Add the egg to the bowl and mix into the mint mixture with a fork. Add the lamb and gently combine with the other ingredients using a fork or your fingertips. Don’t squeeze the meat or the meatballs will be tough. Scoop up a heaping tablespoon of meat and shape into 1½-inch meatballs. Place on a plate while you make the rest.
  6. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 15 seconds in a 10-inch frying pan or 4-quart pot. Add the meatballs 10 or 12 at a time until the pan is covered but not crowded. Fry the meatballs, turning occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the meatballs are brown. This should take about 10 minutes.
  7. As meatballs are done, lift them out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the sauce. Quickly finish frying the rest of the meatballs and place them in the sauce as well.
  8. Cook the meatballs in the sauce over low heat. After 15 minutes, add a little lemon juice and more honey, if needed, to give a sweet-and-sour taste.
  9. Serve over cooked rice, preferably basmati.

Yield : 6 servings

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • To make your own garam masala for this recipe, combine ½ teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon cumin, ¼ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon cloves.
  • Dorot is an Israeli company that sells little red trays of 20 cubes of frozen, freshly minced garlic that makes life really easy for making sauces and stir-fries.
  • You can substitute 3-4 tablespoons of Cream of Wheat cereal for the matzo meal. The cereal absorbs the moisture in the meat and expands to create a moist, less heavy meatball.

Meatballs with Nuts

Albondigas de Carne con Nueces (Spanish)
Kyeftes de Karne Kon Muezes (Ladino)

Ladino is a language spoken by Sephardic Jews. It is a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish. I have listed the name of this dish in all three languages. It is interesting to see that in Ladino, the Persian rather than Arabic name is the basis for the word for meatballs.

This is my adaptation of a Spanish recipe in “Los Placeres de Mi Cocina Judia” by A. Rivka Cohen. The recipe hints of its Turkish Sephardi roots because of its use of breadcrumbs. I, in turn, added a little spice typical of that region’s cuisine. Serve with any sauce you like or plain with rice.

  • 1 large onion
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted pine nuts or almonds
  • 1 pound ground veal or beef
  • Finely chop one large onion. Heat a 10-inch frying pan over high heat for 15 seconds. Add the olive oil and heat for another 10 seconds. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes or until onion is soft and lightly golden. Transfer onions to a 3-quart mixing bowl using a slotted spoon. Leave oil in the pan for later use.
  1. Combine the breadcrumbs and water to make a paste. Add to the onions. Add the egg, chopped parsley, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly with a fork.
  2. Add the toasted nuts to the bowl along with the meat and mix with a fork and then your fingertips until all ingredients are well blended. Shape meat into balls the size of a walnut.
  3. Reheat pan with the oil from the onion for 15 seconds. Add half of the meatballs or enough to cover the bottom of the pan with room. Cook the meatballs for 10-15 minutes until done, turning often with tongs or a slotted spoon to brown on all sides. Remove meatballs to a platter covered with crumpled paper towels to absorb extra grease. Cook the rest of the meatballs the same way.
  4. Serve the meatballs over rice plain, or place drained meatballs in a pot of sauce of your choice and reheat before serving.

Yield: 6 servings

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • When cutting or chopping a vegetable, it is easiest to use a chef’s knife. This knife is the best choice because you have the most leverage for cutting; the blade is thick enough that there is a distance between the little hands on top and the cutting edge below; and it is the only knife in the repertoire of knives where the blade comes in contact with the cutting board before your hand on the handle. This means that you can rock the knife back and forth to finely mince herbs as well as chop.
  • When albondigas are room temperature, freeze on parchment-lined cookie sheets and then carefully remove them to a freezer bag.
  • Insert a straw into the mostly closed bag and suck the air out of the bag, finishing with quickly sealing the bag as you remove the straw.
  • Removing the air prevents water crystals from forming which would alter the taste and consistency of the food.
  • Make these meatballs a little smaller and then serve them as banderillas tapas placing among little pieces of sweet pepper, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, small green olives and even little pieces of melon.

Polpette Potentina

Many years ago, I taught junior high home economics in Mineola, New York. At the end of each semester, I would ask students to give a report about one family dish. There was a large Italian community in Mineola and a student named Carolyn Brienza brought in this recipe. Upon researching the origins of this dish, I learned that Brienza was a town in the Basilicata district that was in the Potenza province of south central Italy. Potentina means from Potenza and polpette means meatball. Carolyn probably didn’t see the connection of her name to the region and ultimately to the name of the dish.

My excitement came when I found there were many Jewish communities that dated back over 2,000 years in this region! Catacombs, underground tunnels often used as burial grounds, were discovered in Venosa containing artifacts and inscriptions in Latin or Greek about Jewish people and with Jewish artifacts drawn on the tombs. One tomb declared the deceased was a 25-year-old Jewish woman brought to Italy from Jerusalem by King Titus to be a slave. Once the Jews were freed, they often remained in that region because it was close to the Mediterranean trade routes. They prospered until the 1600s, when they were temporarily expelled from that region.

Jewish cooks in this region often used fennel in their cooking. Except for the fact that the original recipe contained Parmesan cheese, this recipe could have been Jewish. Serve this recipe over pasta with a good-quality store-bought marinara sauce for a classic Italian dish.

  • 1 cup seasoned, nondairy Italian panko or dried breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 15 grindings black pepper (¼ teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup light red wine
  • 1 pound ground beef
  1. Place all of the ingredients, except the beef, in a 3-quart mixing bowl. Mix together using a fork or a spatula.
  2. Add the meat and mix well to combine all ingredients. Shape the meat into 1-inch balls.
  3. Heat a 4-quart pot on high for 20 seconds. Add olive oil and heat for another 15 seconds. Lower temperature and then add just enough meatballs so that there is plenty of room not to stick together. Drain on crumpled paper towels and cook the remaining meatballs.
  4. Return the drained meatballs to the pot, add a quart of your favorite spaghetti sauce and heat on low until sauce is hot and meatballs are done. Serve over spaghetti.

Yield: 6 servings

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Garlic powder is used in this recipe because it is easier to distribute its flavor throughout the dish than fresh minced garlic. But you could use 1 cube of Dorot frozen garlic, which is a new option on the market.
  • You can freeze these in sauce and just defrost and heat in a microwave while you cook up your favorite pasta.
  • If serving this dish to young people, you might want to consider using rigatoni or penne, which are easier to spear with a fork and might save your tablecloth for another meal’s use!

Roasted Turkey with Vegetables

Cooking the turkey over a bed of vegetables keeps the meat very moist and gives you a fantastic side vegetable and clear gravy.

  • 1 large turkey, 13-18 pounds
  • 5 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 3-4 large onions, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
  • ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ pound chicken livers, chopped (see Tina’s Tidbit)
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed peeled tomatoes
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chicken fat
  1. Salt the cavity of the turkey and set aside.
  2. Place the carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, livers and tomatoes in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Season to taste with the seasonings and the fresh garlic, being lighthanded with the salt if using a kosher turkey.
  3. Place the turkey on top of the vegetables, breast side up. Season the turkey all over with the salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder.
  4. Rub the tablespoon of fat all over the turkey skin with your hand. Use a little more fat if necessary to cover the wings and legs well. Cover with a tent of aluminum foil, being sure that the SHINY SIDE is facing out.
  5. Roast the turkey at 325 degrees for 15-18 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature of the breast meat is about 170 degrees and thigh meat 180 degrees. Baste often with the juices in the pan. If necessary, you can add some boiling water to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Allow turkey to rest outside of oven for 15 minutes before carving.
  7. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a serving dish. Pour remaining liquid into a gravy boat and serve.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • If you are kosher, first broil the chicken livers until almost done before dicing and adding to the vegetable mixture.
  • Turkey cooked this way can be made a day or two in advance. Just slice the meat and place it in a large Pyrex dish.
  • Store the gravy and vegetables separately in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, pour some of the clear gravy over the sliced meat and reheat in the microwave. Reheat the vegetables and remaining gravy in the same way and serve. Your turkey will be moist and flavorful and you won’t have any last-minute mess in your kitchen!

Mixed Fruit Cranberry Relish

Upon their arrival in North America, the Pilgrims discovered the American Indians eating cranberries twice the size of those found in Europe. Today, these berries are grown on low, trailing vines in bogs of peat, sand and clay that are flooded in the winter for protection from the cold. Also called bounce berries (because the ripe ones do) and crane berries (the vine’s blossoms resemble the heads of the cranes often found wading through the bogs), this holiday favorite is cultivated mainly in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon.

  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries
  • 2 apples, pared, cored and cut into chunks
  • 2 pears, pared, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup dark raisins
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1¼ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur
  1. Put all of the ingredients EXCEPT the liqueur into a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.
  2. Cook uncovered for 25-40 minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat.
  3. Add the liqueur and stir until thoroughly blended.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. This mixture lasts for months in the refrigerator and freezes well.
  5. Serve chilled as an accompaniment to a poultry dinner or on a sandwich.

Tina’s Tidbits:

The alcohol and sugar in this recipe act like preservatives and allow the sauce to last for months in the refrigerator. Make a double batch so the leftovers from Thanksgiving can be given as gifts over the holidays and even served with sandwiches while watching the Super Bowl!

Pumpkin Phyllo Bourekas

  • 1 can of pumpkin purée or about 1½ cups cooked pie pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 ounces grated Manchego cheese, about 1 cup
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon dried sumac, optional
  • Salt to taste, about ½ teaspoon or more depending on saltiness of cheeses
  • 1 package of phyllo dough, defrosted according to package directions
  • 1 or more sticks of unsalted butter, melted
  • Combine the pumpkin, egg, cheeses and spices in a 2-quart bowl.
  1. Open the box of phyllo dough and, cutting right through the wax paper, cut off a 2½- to 3-inch cylinder of dough. Cover the exposed end of the remaining phyllo with plastic wrap and then a damp paper towel. Set this aside.
  2. Open up the cut piece of dough and lay 4 strips horizontally in front of you on your counter or large cutting board.
  3. Liberally brush each strip of dough with some melted butter and then place a teaspoon of filling at the right end of the dough.
  4. Fold the dough over the filling to make a triangle. The left edge should be vertical. Now fold the dough on the vertical line, matching the top edge to make a triangle. Following the diagonal line, fold the dough over again, matching the bottom edge and creating a triangle with a vertical edge on your left. Continue folding and using the left-hand edge of your triangle as a guide. This is the same technique that you would use to fold a flag.
  5. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place the filled triangles on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush with melted butter and bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.
  6. Serve hot out of the oven or at room temperature.

Yield: 4-6 dozen

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • If you work slowly, then cover any strips of dough that haven’t been buttered with some plastic wrap. Some phyllo dough is so thin that it dries very quickly.
  • This is not pumpkin pie despite the spices added. This is a savory filling. However, you can add whatever you like to make it saltier (feta cheese) or sweeter (more cinnamon and a touch of sugar).
  • If you want to make these to bake at a later date, do not butter the tops; line them up on a sheet of foil and cover them with a strip of foil to make more than one layer. Fold the edges up around the triangles with a butcher fold and fold the ends in like wrapping a package. Freeze these packets until ready to bake. When ready to bake, do not defrost. Place the triangles on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and brush liberally with melted butter. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and hot. Watch carefully so that dough doesn’t burn.
  • Baked bourekas can be refrigerated or frozen and then reheated but the dough might flake off easily, so I recommend freezing unbaked.

Roasted Caramelized Kabocha Squash

This recipe is very easy. The hardest part is cutting the squash into wedges or chunks. That said, see my Tidbits for additional suggestions.

  • 1 kabocha squash, seeded and cut into wedges or 1-inch chunks
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons amber-colored pure maple syrup
  • 1½ teaspoons Ras Al Hanout spice mix
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 sprigs of fresh thyme
  1. Place the squash in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Set aside.
  2. In a 4-quart bowl, combine the olive oil, maple syrup, Ras Al Hanout and salt.
  3. Place the drained squash in the bowl and toss to coat the pieces.
  4. Preheat a convection oven to 400 degrees or a regular oven to 425 degrees.
  5. Line an 18×13-inch rimmed baking sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the coated squash pieces in a single layer on the pan and drizzle with any remaining syrup mixture. Spread the thyme sprigs over the top.
  6. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove the pan, turn over the individual pieces of squash and then return the pan to the oven.
  7. Roast the squash for an additional 10 minutes or until the syrup has caramelized and the squash is a dark golden brown. (See Tidbits.)
  8. Remove from the oven and discard the thyme sprigs. Place squash on a platter and serve immediately or at room temperature.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • Although kabocha squash often has knobby protrusions on its rind, the cooked rind is edible, provides extra fiber and it beats having to peel it!
  • This recipe can be made with acorn squash, delicata squash or butternut squash cubes. However, the acorn and delicata varieties are softer and might need less time to bake. Try turning the pieces over after 10 minutes and then continue roasting until the syrup has caramelized.
  • This reheats well but will not have crispy edges.

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