My recipes for pumpkin-and-coconut soup and cheesecake infuse traditional American holiday dishes with the flavors of my childhood in Brazil.
Pumpkin-Coconut Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche Glaze
Credit: Lisa Cassell-Arms

I was born and raised in Brazil, and after 20 years of living in the U.S., I've gotten my extended American family quite used to my yearly novelty campaign at the Thanksgiving table. As a Latin chef, I'm eager to add tropicália into everything I cook—especially when it brings back memories of the foods I used to eat in Brazil.

I can close my eyes and remember the taste of a pumpkin-coconut jam my mom used to buy at the farmers' market. The subtle sweetness of this jam has stayed with me and sealed an appreciation for all things pumpkin, especially when combined with coconut. Some ingredients were simply made for each other, like peas and carrots, mushrooms and thyme—and pumpkin and coconut. Although not quite opposite in textures, they certainly attract. In South America, this combination is seen in soups, breads, sweets, pastries, jams and beyond. And since pumpkin is a go-to for Thanksgiving, it's only natural that this combo is one I'd look to when I want to enliven the Thanksgiving table.

Pumpkin & Coconut Soup
Credit: Lisa Cassell-Arms

Pictured recipe: Pumpkin & Coconut Soup

A full menu makeover misses the point of the iconic meal, but a little shake-up of some of the classics can freshen the whole event. My Thanksgiving campaign comes with different messages, and this year, it's all about pumpkin and coconut. The epitome of a gentle contrast, this match offers a thoughtful balance of earthy flavors and silky textures. And if pumpkin is a flavor we can't get enough of, why banish it to dessert only? The two recipients of this combo this year are soup and dessert.

My pumpkin and coconut soup makes an elegant appetizer. In terms of technique, this soup is similar to the classic pumpkin soup, but the addition of coconut milk adds a creamy texture that elevates the flavor and texture. I love this soup because it wakes up the palate yet it's not too filling, leaving you plenty of space for the big meal ahead. As for dessert, this year instead of pumpkin pie I'm serving a pumpkin-coconut cheesecake with a delicious dulce de leche sauce. Borders are blurring. Is this Latin or American cuisine?

These recipes reflect my own evolution as a Brazilian-American chef, with flavors and textures borrowed from the south of our continent. It doesn't just fit a tradition—it creates a tradition! Both my kids, now teenagers, became huge advocates of their mom's cooking, and defenders of my yearly Thanksgiving campaign as well. They like to sit down with me a week before Turkey Day to together spend hours looking at recipes and contemplating new creations—a tradition that I like even better than the meal itself!