A Brooklyn Thanksgiving with the Flavors of Senegal

Pierre Thiam adapts West African flavors for his festive American Thanksgiving feast

Portrait of Chef Pierre Thiam
Chef Pierre ThiamWalter Smith

Eat as much as you possibly can. Gorge. Help yourself to another plate of turkey. Pack in that extra slice of pie.

Sounds like Thanksgiving, right?

That way, you'll weigh so much, the Angel of Death won't be able to lift you away at the end of the night!

Wait, what!? Can you imagine telling that to a kid? Well, we do, on Tamxarit, the Muslim New Year: Of all the holidays in my native Senegal, it's the one that reminds me the most of Thanksgiving. As a kid, I remember thanking God that my mom's food was delicious, otherwise I'd have had to force it down anyway.

Every Senegalese holiday has its signature dish, and special moments are linked to special food starting at birth. When you get your name, people celebrate at the ceremony by eating a lakh, a dish of millet that is perfumed with orange water and vanilla. At Tamxarit, we eat an elaborate millet couscous with bean and lamb stew. At my Thanksgiving now, I use American dishes as jumping-off points to pack in African flavor, creating new signature dishes for my family's table.

You have to share food with whoever visits, because then your bowl will always be full.

For example, instead of a plain butternut squash soup, I add Scotch bonnet peppers for heat to make a riff on a popular West African chile chowder called pepe (or pepper) soup. There are as many pepe soup recipes as there are regions in West Africa, but wherever you go, the soup is believed to prevent hangovers. You'll see people selling steaming bowls on the streets in West Africa at nighttime near nightclubs and bars. It's nice to have a little bowl at Thanksgiving, just in case. I make a raw collard green salad topped with roasted sweet potato, and a light stuffing made of fonio, an ancient grain that used to be considered fit only for royalty. We have a saying in Senegal, "Fonio never embarrasses the cook." That's how easy it is to make.

And the centerpiece is a tamarind-glazed turkey, similar to the ones my mother, who inspired much of my cooking, used to cook for us around Christmas. Dakar, the name of the city where I grew up, is the Wolof word for tamarind, so it feels appropriate to serve such a bird for our Senegalese Thanksgiving. While my mother is no longer with us, I like to think that having the bird on our table is a little mark of her presence.

Right before people come over—there's usually 25 in all, family and friends from Africa, Europe, the States, many of whom don't have family here in New York—I pop the pumpkin-mango cake in the oven, so that they are greeted with that scent of cinnamon and ginger, everything warm and fresh.

We have this belief in Senegal that you have to share food with whoever visits, because then your bowl will always be full. By sharing our food, we say, you bring a blessing.

I live in Brooklyn. If you find yourself near, stop by. We'll eat until we burst—even though there's no angel lurking, waiting to snatch us away at the end of the night.

The Menu

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus with West African Chile Paste

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus with West African Chile Paste
A sweet, hot, and aromatic chile paste is the garnish for this spread of black-eyed peas blended with palm oil and topped with roasted red peppers. Get the recipe for Black-Eyed Pea Hummus with West African Chile PasteRyan Liebe

Butternut Squash Pepe Soup

Butternut Squash Pepe Soup
Flaming Scotch bonnet chiles lend an invigorating jolt to this African version of the ubiquitous fall soup. Get the recipe for Butternut Squash Pepe SoupRyan Liebe

Shredded Collard Green Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Cashews

Shredded Collard Green Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Cashews
The flavor of raw collard greens combines perfectly with tender roasted sweet potatoes and tangy, rich goat cheese in this hearty salad. Get the recipe for Shredded Collard Green Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and CashewsRyan Liebe

Tamarind-Glazed Roast Turkey

Tamarind-Glazed Roast Turkey Recipe, Thanksgiving turkey recipe, african turkey recipe
The flavors of Senegal—sour tamarind, fiery scotch bonnets, and pungent fish sauce—add umami-rich depth to this unexpected Thanksgiving bird. Get the recipe for Tamarind-Glazed Roast TurkeyRyan Liebe

Fonio Pilaf with Dates, Carrots, and Peanuts

Fonio Pilaf
This gluten-free grain, a type of millet, provides a wonderfully nutty backbone to a salad of sweet dates and carrots, and crunchy roasted peanuts. Get the recipe for Fonio Pilaf with Dates, Carrots, and Peanuts »Ryan Liebe

"Creamed" Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chile

"Creamed" Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and Chile
Freshly ground or natural peanut butter adds a vegan creaminess and earthy, warm nuttiness to this African side dish. Get the recipe for "Creamed" Collard Greens with Peanut Butter and ChileRyan Liebe

Mango and Pumpkin Spice Cake

Mango and Pumpkin Spice Cake
Fresh mango, mixed into the base and fanned on top of this Senegalese pumpkin dessert adds a tropical brightness. Get the recipe for Mango and Pumpkin Spice CakeRyan Liebe