I was 11 years old when our family celebrated our first Thanksgiving in America. I distinctly remember what it was like to observe a new holiday in a new country. I was old enough to understand the purpose behind the holiday, needless to say, my family was very thankful to have had the opportunity to emigrate from Lebanon before the mid 70’s civil war broke out there. As this was our first Thanksgiving, I had never tasted Turkey before and really did not care for the taste. My brothers and Father however did enjoy it. By the time our second Thanksgiving came around my mother decide to expand our menu to what became our family tradition of “Djaj Mihshe”. Around this time of year, people are always curious and ask me, “How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?” My answer is always, “With two birds, one traditional American and one Lebanese style”. Anyone who knew my Mom, Mariette Bitar, knew how incredibly talented and creative she was in the kitchen. Although Thanksgiving is an American tradition, my mother always found ways to incorporate traditional Lebanese foods and culture to American traditions, which is typical of most immigrant families. Her usual Thanksgiving menu was comprised of a traditional American style turkey with all the trimmings. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, and of course cranberry sauce just to name a few. In addition to this Mom prepared a traditional Lebanese holiday meal of “Djaj Mihshe”. Translated to English means stuffed chicken. From our family to yours, we hope you have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.
Mom’s recipe and technique for stuffing a small turkey or a large plump chicken: Mixture for rubbing the bird: ½ cup vinegar 1 tablespoon salt 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds ½ teaspoon cinnamon ½ teaspoon nutmeg For the stuffing: 2 tablespoons oil 1 onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, grated ½ teaspoon turmeric ½ cup each of frozen peas, diced carrots, and chopped mushrooms 1 cup diced potatoes browned in 1 tablespoon oil ½ cup raisins ½ cup toasted slivered almonds 2 teaspoons baharat (Lebanese mixed spice) 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon cardamom ½ teaspoon of each cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and chili pepper (or more chili) 2 cups uncooked rice Preheat oven 425°F Chicken before stuffing To prepare the bird: Wash it and rub it with vinegar and salt inside and out and let it stand for 30 minutes. Drain and dry. Then rub it with lemon juice. Mix the spices and rub them onto the bird inside and out, and then place it, bottom down, in a colander fitted on a bowl, at room temperature, until ready for stuffing. In a large skillet, sauté onion in the oil until transparent, approximately 5 minutes, add garlic and turmeric in the last minute then add peas, carrots, and mushrooms. Pour in about ¾ cup hot water and simmer on medium heat about 10 minutes, or until liquid evaporates. Mix in browned potatoes, raisins, almonds, (baharat) Mixed Spices, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and chili pepper. Cook plain white rice until just done, the grains should still be firm and separated. Gently fold it with the vegetable mixture. To stuff the bird: Hold the bird with one hand and with the fingers of the other, starting with the neck part, separate skin from flesh, going down slowly all the way to the thighs, taking care not to pierce the skin with your nails. This will create a pocket to hold the stuffing. Pat the cavities dry with white paper towels and fill the regular belly cavity very well with the stuffing (the rice is already cooked and would not expand). Sew the cavity closed. Then fill the pocket you have created with as much filling as it can hold, pushing the filling down to the thighs, the breast area, the wings, and the back. Sew the neck opening closed to prevent filling from coming out. Discard any filling that came into contact with the uncooked bird while filling it. Place the prepared bird on a greased broiler pan. Bake in the preheated oven for the first 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F, and continue baking (allow 30 minutes for each pound). While the bird is roasting, baste it occasionally with the dripping juices until it is nicely browned. Let it rest for about 15 minutes before carving. Remove threads and serve on a platter surrounded with any remaining stuffing.