This year, it will be different. This year, I will decline all invitations that gracious friends extend to me in an effort to include me in this holiday. This year, I will set my own Thanksgiving table, complete with vegetarian dishes, and invite all my Hindu friends and relatives to share in the celebration.
I have already decided on the menu, which needs to satisfy the finicky appetites of all my Hindu relatives: my invalid granduncle; my gourmand cousin with his elastic waistline; my aunt, a gourmet chef; my always-ravenous teenage nephew.
It is a motley, unforgiving crowd. My meal has the potential of going down in family legend as the worst feast in the history of Hinduism. I tell them that I plan to cook a Hindu Thanksgiving dinner. "No such thing," they say. "What is Thanksgiving without turkey?" "How about rice, curries, raita, sweets and tea?" I reply. "Ah, an Indian meal," they exclaim with dawning realization. Refusals turn into acceptances. If nothing else, it will be entertaining to watch her fall on her face, they think.
But I am determined not to make a turkey of myself. Here's the menu I've outlined, which may prove useful to non-Hindu vegetarians, too:
1. Eggplant with Sesame
Begin with tender green eggplant (check an Indian grocery store), cut it into long strips, season with coriander seeds and cumin, and fry in mustard oil. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and voila! Eggplant in a sesame sauce.
Chop cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions for the raita, sprinkle some salt and pepper and douse them with thick white yogurt. Arrange fresh green cilantro in concentric swirls. Under the yogurt-white landscape, the red onions appear like blue veins. Red tomatoes, white cucumbers and blue onions. Red, white and blue: the colors of the American flag. Raita is a perfect Thanksgiving dish. Why didn't somebody think of it before?
Try out the complete Raita recipe.
3. Alu Methi
Tease some fenugreek leaves over a low flame till they blossom into a deep, bright emerald green. Mix fenugreek with chopped potato, and pepper it with cumin seeds. My Alu Methi is ready.
4. Onion Sambaar
Brew pearl onions in tamarind water with turmeric and salt, while cooking red lentils and blending them into the sambaar. Garnish with cilantro, mustard seeds and roasted cumin.
Try out this Onion Sambaar recipe.
5. Golden Halwa
Dessert is a simple golden halwa with almonds, cashews and strands of saffron strewn on top.
The feast ends with masala chai, made popular by Starbucks. I steep the tea bag in boiled water, add nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, and finally a dash of milk and honey.
My guests will arrive for their first-ever Hindu Thanksgiving dinner and survey the table cautiously. Insidious images of turkey attack them from all sides: newspaper advertisements, the radio, chattering talk-show hosts on TV. America feasting on turkey and pie. But we'll have all the fun without the fowl: a vegetarian meal worthy of thanks.