For Arab Americans, it's not Thanksgiving without hashweh - The Denver Post | MCU Times

For Arab Americans, it’s not Thanksgiving without hashweh – The Denver Post

Rasha AlMahroos thinks of her Thanksgiving table and chuckles: A large turkey is sitting in the middle, and right next to it, as if hiding under its wings, a very small chicken.

“My mother-in-law can’t get used to turkey, so she always fills a little chicken with hashweh,” said AlMahroos, a lawyer who was born in Bahrain and now lives in the Washington, DC area.

Rarely is the Arabic Thanksgiving table in America that does not include some version of hashweh, which means “filling” in Arabic.

In the Arab world, the rice-based dish is used to stuff a whole lamb or chicken – meat that is often the center of festive meals. For more casual occasions, hashweh is also served to itself, generously topped with fried nuts. The fragrant rice, flavored with hot spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, is combined with tender meat and crispy nuts for a dish with comforting contrasts.

Fadi Khayyat, a Palestinian American who immigrated to the United States from the West Bank city of Ramallah as an 8-year-old in 2003, remembers the first Thanksgiving his family celebrated. “My mom thought she could stuff turkey like we make chicken,” said Khayyat, who lives in New York City. “Then she heard it’s not safe due to temperature issues, so now she’s just making hashve next to it.”

Over the years, Khayyat’s family has begun to include more American dishes, but “hashweh is always the real star,” he said. Eating a large piece of meat without rice is confusing to him.

“The turkey should always be next to hashweh topped with pine nuts and yogurt,” he said. “If someone ends up with dry turkey, just serve it with hashweh and yogurt, then no one will complain about it.”

Similarly, AlMahroos, 39, can not fathom having a zoom – a party or gathering of people over food – without rice. AlMahroos’ hashweh rice is based in her home country, Bahrain, and is flavored with cinnamon, cumin and turmeric and has raisins along with the nuts. “A large piece of meat must come with rice to be presentable to the guests,” she said.

Hospitality is the foundation of Arab culture, most often manifested through food. Rice-based dishes happen to be the ones that are most sufficient to feed a large crowd, making them the perfect choice for an Arabic Thanksgiving table. Just as Arabs mix these traditions with American, local and seasonal ingredients are also on their way to classic Arabic hashweh.

Omaya Atassi, 35, a Syrian-American food writer and photographer in Dubai who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, makes hashweh or riz mtabal (spicy rice), as Syrians sometimes refer to it, year-round. For Thanksgiving, though, her hashweh gets a facelift: “We use chestnuts instead of the fried nuts because of the holiday season,” she said. “Their sweetness stands in perfect contrast to the hot spices of hashweh.”

For Marguerite Lian-Hajjar, hashweh is a symbol of continuity and connection to the past. A third-generation descendant of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, Lian-Hajjar, 60, still makes hashveh, as her “sitti” or grandmother did, from her 2 x 4-foot kitchen in Brooklyn.

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