An Expat Thanksgiving in Israel
This will be my third Thanksgiving in Israel, marking yet another year that has slipped by. It’s the day when I miss America and my family most, but also the time when I realize the extent to which the foods of the Mediterranean and the Middle East have seeped into my cooking, making my life more flavorful.
The first year, I had been in Israel less than two months when Thanksgiving arrived and hadn’t found my sea legs at the grocery store yet. Tracking down all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving feast was daunting. Luckily, my in-laws came to the rescue by visiting just before the holiday, stocking us with essentials like canned pumpkin.
We had a huge potluck meal with close to 50 of my husband’s medical school classmates, all of whom brought their favorite Thanksgiving dishes to the table. It was a feast of epic proportions with traditions from every corner of my home-country represented. I contributed brisket and my mother-in-law’s famous pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, both favorites in my husband’s family.
By the second year I’d become a world wiser and knew where to find just about every specialty ingredient I could want. I learned that the big chunks of pumpkin they sell already cut in the markets make excellent homemade puree, but I also knew where I could find the canned stuff (oddly enough, at an Asian food market in Tel Aviv) should I feel lazy.
But I didn’t have to do much cooking, since a friend’s parents came and hosted a Thanksgiving meal in a rented apartment in Tel Aviv. They stocked their suitcases with American specialties like canned cranberries and instant stuffing. It felt as close to home as one can get so far away.
This year, as we plan our slightly more intimate gathering, I’m struck with the extent to which my friends here have become my family. Together, we’ve figured out how to navigate this crazy place, reminisced about home, suffered through rocket attacks and celebrated a birth.
And as I think about what to make to celebrate with them, the ingredients and flavors of my new home make themselves apparent. Instead of a sweet potato casserole, I’m thinking about harissa roasted butternut squash. Tabbouleh might replace a green salad, and no meal here is complete without a bowl of fresh hummus on the table. Pomegranates are at the market right now, so their seeds will likely garnish anything I can sprinkle them on. Fresh and dried herbs — parsley, mint, coriander, cumin, and more — will undoubtedly be in abundance. And, of course, there will be plenty of Israeli wine.
I suspect that when I return to the States I’ll go back to many of my old ways, roasting a whole turkey and serving it with all the trimmings. But I also have no doubt that more than a few Israeli flavors will show up on my holiday table, no matter where in the world I am.