7 tips for adding multicultural flair to your holiday table

Typical swedish scandinavian christmas food smörgåsbord

America is a melting pot of many cultures. The holidays give people a chance to infuse their celebrations with a little flair that’s unique to their culture or to try something from another culture that’s new to them.

“Trying new dishes and spices is a great way to culturally expand traditional American holiday meals,” says Melissa Perry, a registered dietitian with BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee.

How to add multicultural flair to your holiday dining table

Melissa Perry: The holidays are a great chance to pay homage to your heritage. For example, one family’s Italian heritage may inspire them to serve stuffed olives or Italian wedding soup as part of their big holiday meal. Meanwhile, a family with Mexican roots may enjoy their stuffing with chorizo or corn pudding with spicy poblano chiles.

1. Serve dishes that you love.

Despite what you might have heard, you don’t have to serve only a menu of traditional foods for the holidays. If you love those dishes, serve them. But if you love a more ethnic dish that your grandmother always served, serve that. Create whatever dishes and meals that make you and your family happy.

2. Try something from another culture.

You don’t have to limit yourself to dishes from your own cultural background if you don’t want to.

3. Try seasoning a dish differently.

If you can’t imagine forsaking a particular dish, consider preparing it a little differently. For example, try different spices and rubs or marinades on your meat dishes, such as chipotle, jerk rub, or others. If you always have plain turkey, how about trying tandoori turkey? Use Indian seasonings such as coriander, fenugreek, cardamom, and garam masala. Or use harissa, a spicy condiment with roots in Tunisia and northern Africa, to brighten up the flavor of roasted vegetables.

4. Opt for protein alternatives.

This might get controversial in some families if you have turkey or ham lovers. But you could skip them altogether and opt for other protein dishes, such as duck, paella, roasted chicken, or chicken tamales. You could also round out the meal with some different side dishes like pumpkin empanadas, mofongo, or Southern-style collard greens.

5. Add dips and sauces.

Another easy way to incorporate culinary elements from another culture is by adding dips and sauces to the table. And let guests choose what they want to sample. This might include curries, chimichurri sauce, hummus, baba ghanoush, and chutney.

6. Ask a guest to bring a dish that celebrates their heritage.

Rather than assigning dishes, consider asking your guests if they’d like to bring a dish that represents their cultural heritage. You might discover something delicious that you can incorporate into your future holiday dinners.

7. Don’t forget about dessert.

Your family may have its favorite desserts, but who’s to say you can’t add another kind of pie or cake to the table? How about a panna cotta or tiramisu, to add an Italian element to your dessert offerings? Asian offerings such as mango pudding, deep-fried sesame balls, and yuzu pie can make a nice contrast to your more traditional American desserts.

3 recipes to try

You might be ready to expand your palate and try something new. If you’re interested in branching out this holidays season, try one of these recipes!

miso pumpkin soup

Middle East:
green beans with pomegranate molasses

Latin America
tamales and turkey

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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