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Thanksgiving Tamales? Biryani Stuffing? Immigrant Cooks Say 'Why Not?'

The Thanksgiving menu might seem static, but it's changed a lot over the years. The Pilgrims brought eel. The Wampanoag brought venison. Caribbean cooks introduced sweet potatoes. And the French brought us pie crust. 

So what might this most American feast look like in the future? The Record invited two cooks to the studio to propose some ways Seattle might mix up the Thanksgiving menu. They're both graduates of Project Feast, a program at the Tukwila Community Center that teaches refugee and immigrant cooks the skills they need to work in commercial kitchens. 

Angelica Hernandez came to America from Mexico nearly two decades ago. Taghreed Ibrahim came from Iraq last October. They both recently graduated from Project Feast's 6-week Commercial Kitchen Basics program, and they each brought a favorite dish which they suggest we might add to the Thanksgiving Table.

Hernandez suggested we might add a sweet tamale to our dessert buffet. Ibrahim brought a recipe for her mother's cardamom cookies, and a platter of rice and noodle biryani to try as a side dish or even as a stuffing. As Ibrahim put it, "why not? It would be amazing. Something different." 

Sweet Pineapple and Raisin Tamales

Recipe from Mexico

By: Angelica Hernandez

Portions:  20 to 30    


  • 5 cups maseca for tamales
  • 2 tbsp of baking powder
  • 4 cups of warm water
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 4 cups of shortening melted
  • 2 cans of crushed pineapple (20 oz)
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2 pounds of corn husks


  1. Soak the corn husks in hot water, set aside.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients, add the cans of pineapple and warm water, add the melted shortening mix and mix well until it makes a soft dough, set aside.
  3. Rinse the corn husks and let them drain, with a regular spoon add the amount you want to corn husks and roll it, set it and once done with all the dough or tamales pot is full, cover it with a plastic bag and the lid, let them cook until 1hr and 20mins. Or until cook done.

Chicken Biryani

By: Taghreed Ibrahim

Recipe from Iraq

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 70 minutes

Serves 4


  • 2 chicken breast (or Turkey) cut into cubes 1.5 in
  • 1 1/2 cup water+ chicken broth about 5 cups
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 2 medium size potatoes, cubed and deep fried
  • 2 carrots, cubed
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 medium onion, peeled cut small cubes
  • 1 cup vermicelli
  • 1/4 tsp of turmeric and cardamoms and cinnamon (ground)
  • 1 teaspoon, grounded, of each: cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom,
  • 5 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup halved almonds fried
  • Salt to taste


  1. In a deep pan, sauté the onion and chicken in 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the bay leaves, cardamom, and salt, and then add 1/2 cups of water for 5 minutes. Add the carrots and peas and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
  2. In a separate pan, stir fry the vermicelli in 3 tablespoons of oil. When it turns golden brown, pour in 1 cup of water, bring it to a boil, and then let it simmer over low heat until all the water is gone and the vermicelli is soft.
  3. When the chicken and vegetables finish cooking, remove them from the heat
  4. Add the rice to the broth and add 1/2 tsp of turmeric and cardamom and cinnamon and cook over high heat until the rice absorbs most of the broth. Then lower the heat and allow it to simmer until well done.
  5. Add the strained vegetables (peas and carrots), potatoes, and raisins to the vermicelli, and then season with the ground spices and mix well. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Pour the rice into the serving platter. Put the vermicelli mixture on top and then Garnish with almonds.

Shakar Lama

By: Taghreed Ibrahim

Recipe from Iraq

Number of Servings: 25


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon whole cardamom, ground
  • pinch of salt
  • Almonds or hazelnuts for garnish (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Mix the sugar and butter in a small bowl
  3. Fluff the mixture with an electric mixer for 2 minutes
  4. Blend in the dry ingredients
  5. Make 25 or so small walnut size balls
  6. Flatten them into round cookies and place a single nut as garnish in the middle if desired
  7. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes
  8. Allow them to cool completely before placing on a plate.