Your turkey doesn’t have to be boring. These DC-area chefs can help you spice it up

Thanksgiving turkey is a staple. It’s an American tradition. And it’s delicious — if you do it right. The problem is a lot of people make a mediocre turkey. These D.C.-area restaurants make turkey with a more international flair in the hopes of finding new and different flavors that will help you make a better bird.

There really isn’t a Thanksgiving holiday in Lebanon, but turkey is often served for Christmas and Easter. Executive chef Satinder Vij had a big tray of spices ready to go as he demonstrated how he cooked turkey.

“Caraway, coriander, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and bay leaves are used for brining the turkey,” Vij said during an interview at ilili, a restaurant at The Wharf. “The Turkey itself it sits in the brine for a good 48 hours.

“Caraway and allspice are the spices which are most used in the Lebanese cooking, along with Aleppo pepper and sumac,” he added. He described caraway as something more spicy than cumin, which is another commonly used spice in Middle Eastern dishes.

Shamim Popal, is the executive chef and co-owner of Lapis in Adams Morgan. (WTOP/John Domen)
Chef Satinder Vij, of Ilili restaurant. (WTOP/John Domen)
The spices for the turkey prepared by chef Satinder Vij, of Ilili restaurant. (WTOP/John Domen)

For a further twist, he spatchcocked the turkey and removed all the bones. Vij then took the meat, stuffed it with mushrooms and stuffing, pressed it together and baked it in the oven before finishing it with a sear on the stove. Admittedly, that’s a bit more effort than sticking the bird in the oven and basting it every half-hour.

For side dishes, well, they don’t really do cranberries in Lebanon either. For something different, you can sub those out for tart cherries.

“We make the stuffing with tart cherries. We make our sauce,” said Vij. “Instead of cranberry sauce, we do a tart cherry sauce, which scores really, really well and it’s a perfect accompaniment for the turkey.”

Vij also provided a recipe for another side dish too.

Hindbeh (Dandelion greens)


  • Dandelion greens (de-stemmed) — 170 grams
  • Yellow onions — 170 grams
  • Garlic, sliced — 10 grams
  • EVOO — 20 trams
  • Lemon juice — 1 each.
  • Pine nuts — 1 tablespoon
  • Salt — 1/2 teaspoon
  • Cilantro, chopped — 15 grams
  • Crispy shallots — 20 grams


  1. In a sautee pan, add extra virgin olive oil and bring up to low heat.
  2. Sweat onions on a low heat and add in sliced garlic.
  3. In another pot, bring 4 cups water to a boil add dandelion greens and cook it for couple of seconds.
  4. Shock the greens in ice-cold water to avoid carry-over cooking and squeeze the excess water.
  5. Add the green to the onions, which are now caramelized, and sautee.
  6. Add cilantro and lemon juice. Mix well.
  7. Place in a side dish and garnish with crispy onions and pine nuts sprinkled evenly.

They don’t really do traditional Thanksgiving in Afghanistan either, but they do cook turkey, just “not the traditional way that it’s done here,” Shamim Popal, the executive chef and co-owner of Lapis in Adams Morgan, told WTOP.

“We make a stew out of it. We make kufta out of that and we grill it,” she said.

Kufta is ground turkey that’s seasoned and cooked almost like a turkey burger slider, topped with a tomato and onion sauce.

“For chicken or for turkey, cumin brings wonderful taste to the meat. A little bit of ginger and some cilantro and green onions,” also go well with turkey.

“All Afghan food (is) cooked with some spices to bring out the flavor. So that’s why cumin is part of my recipes in my foods,” said Popal. “Coriander and black pepper, salt, is of course, definitely.

“Cumin has a very strong scent and taste to it, so you don’t overwhelm your meats,” she added. “It has this sharp taste to it. So especially if your meat is not much flavor … add that to bring the flavor up.”

Popal also offered WTOP a side dish recipe for cranberry chatnee. It’s similar to cranberry sauce, but it has a spicier flavor to it that works with the tartness of the cranberry.

Cranberry Chatnee recipe


  • 4 cups fresh cranberry
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper 🌶️
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups water


In a sauce pan, put the water and once water is hot, add cranberries. Stir, and then add sugar and pepper. Stir some more, then cover the pot and let it simmer in low heat until it’s almost like a paste, adding more water if needed. Use a whisk to help break the berries down, too. Add the vinegar, and if it’s still too thick, add more water.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up