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Serving turkey for Thanksgiving? Chef Marcus Samuelsson says to add side dishes as 'diverse as the country we live in.'

Chef Marcus Samuelsson says he didn't celebrate Thanksgiving until he moved to the U.S. in his 20s. (Photo: Getty; designed by Areta Gjicali)
Chef Marcus Samuelsson says he didn't celebrate Thanksgiving until he moved to the U.S. in his 20s. (Photo: Getty; designed by Areta Gjicali)

Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what's on their menu in Deglazed, a series about food.

Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Sweden, so Thanksgiving is his "adopted holiday," having come to the U.S. as a young chef in his 20s. Now, he loves the traditional meal, seeing it as an opportunity to make it the "most inclusive" meal of the holiday season by melding cooking traditions from all over the globe.

"This might be the first Thanksgiving a lot of families are able to sit down together in a few years, so it's really special," he says of this year's Turkey Day. "We are a nation of immigrants, and it's in the side dishes that we can really showcase the foods and ingredients of other cultures as we celebrate all that we are blessed with."

Samuelsson remembers one of his first Thanksgivings in the U.S. being a "Friendsgiving" celebration with new connections made in his first few months in New York. He hosted friends from Spain, Mexico, the Netherlands and other countries. What they brought to the table — quite literally — weren't traditional Thanksgiving side dishes like green bean casserole and candied yams, but it was all delicious and said something about their background. "Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate new family and new friends, no matter where they come from," Samuelsson tells Yahoo Life.

A judge on Food Network's Chopped for years, Samuelsson says if he was asked to create a Thanksgiving dish for a cooking competition, he'd start with leg and thigh meat from the turkey (the best part, he says), and include sides like Brussels sprouts with berbere spices and Ethiopian honey with a sweet potato puree and gravy.

For his own Thanksgiving, Samuelsson will be at the stove, per usual, but he won't be the only one. "My son is 6 and a half," he says. "So he's always involved in what we're doing, whether that's stirring or stirring up trouble."

"My wife cooks traditional Ethiopian food," he adds, "so that will be at our table as well. We always have friends over, so there's usually more than a dozen people over to celebrate. Coming together and celebrating each other is really important to us."

Samuelsson recently partnered with Ritz Crackers to contribute to a limited-edition cookbook with cultural recipes that make for a great Friendsgiving spread. "The Ritz Cracker is something so uniquely American," says Samuelsson. "It's also a great vehicle for those easy appetizers that are just full of flavor."

Samuelsson also created a limited-edition Friendsgiving dinner kit which includes a recipe he contributed to the Ritz cookbook: Chicken Meatballs and Berbere Honey Brussels with Ritz Cracker Crumble.

The limited-edition cookbook Taste of Welcome: A Celebration of Food and Culture features immigrant families and their stories and recipes for celebrating the season. It spotlights a diverse range of essential family holiday recipes, including snacks, main dishes, sides and desserts. Samuelsson recently hosted a Friendsgiving feast for 10 lucky winners at his new Swedish-Ethiopian fusion restaurant, Hav and Mar, in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

But what goes in to hosting the perfect Friendsgiving? Samuelsson says "the perfect playlist is key." He suggests a diverse, eclectic mix so when everyone comes in the door "the vibes are up." He also suggests starting with a traditional Swedish mulled wine called glogg, served warm with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

"Having something ready to eat right away is also essential," says Samuelsson. He suggests the recipe for Avocado Hummus with Crushed Ritz from the cookbook. "It's simple. It's crave-able. It's easy so you don't have to be stuck in the kitchen and you can be out mingling with your guests and introducing them to one another," he says.

The holiday's roots might be problematic — did Native Americans and pilgrims sit down together amicably, or didn't they? — but Samuelsson says the evolution of Thanksgiving doesn't have to be. "You can have a diverse menu that represents the melting pot and diversity that makes the U.S. so great," he says. "The turkey is always going to be the star, but the side dishes around the turkey can be as exciting and diverse as the country we live in."

Still looking for Thanksgiving recipes? Samuelsson shares two from his partnership with Ritz Crackers below.

Avocado Hummus with Crushed Ritz

Courtesy of Marcus Samuelsson and Ritz Crackers

(Photo: Marcus Samuelsson/Ritz Crackers)
(Photo: Marcus Samuelsson/Ritz Crackers)

Serves 6


  • 1 jalapeño, sliced in half lengthwise with seeds removed

  • 1 clove of garlic

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 ripe avocado

  • juice from 1 lime

  • 1/4 cup peas

  • 2 tablespoons hummus

  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped

  • 1/2 teaspoon berbere

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds

  • 1 teaspoon crushed almonds

  • 26 Ritz Crackers


  1. In a pan on medium-low heat, sauté the garlic, salt and jalapeño with half of the olive oil for 10 minutes.

  2. Remove from heat, and put in a blender with the lime juice, peas, hummus, avocado, berbere and dill. Blend until smooth.

  3. In a separate bowl, crush 2 Ritz Crackers until fine, and toss with almonds and sesame seeds.

  4. To serve, line up remaining 24 Ritz Crackers and put 1 tablespoon of avocado hummus on each cracker. Garnish with the crushed Ritz Crackers, almond and sesame seed mix.

Chicken Meatballs and Berbere Honey Brussels with Ritz Cracker Crumble

Courtesy of Marcus Samuelsson and Ritz Crackers

(Photo: Marcus Samuelsson/Ritz Crackers)
(Photo: Marcus Samuelsson/Ritz Crackers)



  • 1 pound ground dark meat chicken

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

  • 6 Ritz Crackers, finely crushed

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon berbere or smoked paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

  • 1 egg

  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1 cup tomato juice from jar, or tomato sauce

Ritz Crumble:

  • 8 Ritz Crackers, crushed

  • 1 teaspoon berbere or smoked paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin

Brussels Sprouts:

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts

  • 1/2 large shallot, thinly sliced

  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon honey

  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

  • 1 pinch cumin

  • ½ teaspoon berbere

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Crush the Ritz Crackers into a bowl and whisk with heavy cream and half of the olive oil. Then add the egg, Parmesan cheese and spices; whisk well. Once blended, add in the ground chicken and blend well.

  2. Roll the mixture into golf-ball-size meatballs and place on a tray (approximately 8 meatballs). Put in the fridge to chill for 20 minutes.

  3. Then, sear the meatballs in a nonstick, ovenproof pan in remaining ¼ cup of oil for 4 minutes until evenly browned. Add in the tomato juice, then put the pan in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Making the Ritz Crumble:

Combine all crumble ingredients in a bowl and toss until blended.

Making the Brussels Sprouts:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut off the ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any loose outer leaves; cut into halves.

Toss Brussels sprouts with the remainder of the ingredients.

Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the sprouts are well caramelized.

To assemble:

Remove from the oven and plate, sprinkling the Ritz crumble on top. Serve with meatballs.

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