When we think of Thanksgiving, we think of good food, good laughs, and the life-lasting memories we’re making at the dining table. Despite the tragic history attached to this tradition, Americans have found a way to turn this holiday into a positive occasion where families and friends can reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. Just like many other American families, our family celebrates Thanksgiving by preparing the staples, although with a Haitian twist. In my household, turkey, ham, and greens are guaranteed to be served, but there are a few more items that my brothers and sisters just can’t do without! I’ve listed below my five must-haves Haitian dishes for a complete and proper Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, and they all happen to be dishes that vegan and vegetarians can enjoy as well!
Fritay/fritaille is the perfect complement to any Haitian Thanksgiving dish. Fritay is essentially anything that is fried. The most common foods that you’ll find in a fritay assortment are turkey, goat, accra (malanga fritters), plantains, and yucca. Of course, vegans/vegetarians are limited to the plant-based options. Because fritay is deep fried it isn’t the healthiest item on the menu but I can’t imagine a Haitian Thanksgiving without it!
2) Macaroni au Gratin
Macaroni au gratin simply put is baked macaroni. In Haitian culture, it’s traditionally made with carnation milk, butter, and parmesan cheese. For vegans, there are many different items that you can use to veganize your Macaroni au gratin all while keeping that familiar cheesy taste. Some options include homemade cashew cheese, almond creamer, tofu cheese, Daiya (pea-based cheese) or Go Veggie’s vegan grated parmesan cheese. To add some flavor to these dairy substitutes, you can always use a dash of traditional Haitian seasoning such as Maggi and epis (Haitian marinade).
3) Diri ak Djon Djon
Diri ak djon djon is commonly known as Haitian black mushroom rice. This dish is not to be mistaken for Chinese forbidden rice as it’s actually white rice that’s been darkened by the broth of the djon djon (black mushroom). This mushroom is more commonly found in northern Haiti but can also be bought in a processed form as Maggi cubes which are sold in Caribbean markets. The djon djon has a very distinctive and intense smell and taste making this dish so popular. This rice is usually cooked with peas, shrimp, and even lard. Of course, if you’re plant-based, you should ensure that you ask how the rice is made.
Legume is a mix of different vegetables that are cooked down into a soft blend. It is a very versatile dish, yet so simple, that can be made in different ways. The main ingredients are eggplant, militon (chayote), and carrots. A more traditional version of this dish would also include beef or crab meat. You don’t need to be vegan or vegetarian to fall in love with this dish. It’s so tasty and filling and not to mention, nutritious. What more can you ask for?!
5) Pen Patate
Pen patate is the Haitian version of sweet potato pudding. It’s a special dessert that is enjoyed by Haitians during the holidays. This baked treat is mainly made of sweet potatoes, bananas, and raisins. This is a vegetarian dish but can be enjoyed by vegans by substituting some of the ingredients. The butter and evaporated milk can be substituted with almond or coconut creamer, and vegan butter (Earth Balance or Smart Balance). In my experience, adding brown rice flour can also help to work as a binder. These substitutes work perfectly and do not interfere with the traditional taste and texture that Haitians love about this dish!