Once a year, on Thanksgiving Day, the dining room table of my childhood would be set to its edges with a cornucopia of dishes, each platter representing our large extended family, their culinary specialties, and the melting pot of flavors that my Filipino-American background adopted.…


Once a year, on Thanksgiving Day, the dining room table of my childhood would be set to its edges with a cornucopia of dishes, each platter representing our large extended family, their culinary specialties, and the melting pot of flavors that my Filipino-American background adopted. Over time, the table would be graced by various specialties such as Pancit (noodles), Escabeche (a whole fried fish with a sweet and sour sauce), Lumpia Sariwa (fresh vegetable rolls made with a crèpe wrapper), Braso de Mercedes (a light meringue roll, filled with custard), and Sapin-sapin (a colorful dessert consisting of layered glutinous rice and coconut), to name just a few, alongside Mashed Potatoes, Chestnut Stuffing, and Turkey Gravy.

The concept of a cohesive Thanksgiving dinner menu never crossed anyone’s minds – this was a celebration of food, more so than flavor profiles or rigid tradition. Instead, “American” Thanksgiving standards would be seen alongside the cravings of the aunts and uncles, and was the perfect excuse to enjoy the complicated party dishes they missed most from the Philippines.

However, in the center of the table, there was one thing that we could all count on. A bronze-colored stuffed and roasted turkey. For all the fabulous dishes that would be presented, this was, afterall, Thanksgiving, and a turkey was requisite.

It was also the one time in the year when we would consume a turkey.

One day. Just once in that cycle of 365 days would we eat turkey. This infrequency made me associate the turkey with special importance – I grew up believing that the roast turkey, or any turkey in general, was a special occassion meat, to be enjoyed just once a year. Otherwise, it was chicken, beef, pork, and seafood.

Years later, I met friends whose families prepared turkey on days other than Thanksgiving (gasp!). And when my husband and I were newly married and building a cooking repertoire together, he would often ask for various turkey dishes that his own family would serve throughout his childhood. I was intrigued and slowly incorporated this protein into my diet.

Thankfully, I have learned to enjoy turkey in more ways than one, and one of my favorite dishes is a Turkey Roulade with Pilaf, Pancetta and Spinach. The first time I made this, my husband loved it so much, he declared that next Thanksgiving, we would forgo the large turkey and have this instead. I could see why he might appallingly suggest this, since it is like having a full turkey dinner in a neat roll, but I could never imagine a Thanksgiving without the traditional roast turkey. You see, I have become rather rigid with my traditions. But on any other day, I can give thanks with this.

Turkey Roulade with Pilaf, Pancetta and Spinach

Serves 4.

  • 4 boneless, skinless turkey breast tenders
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • poultry seasoning
  • 4 oz pancetta, cubed
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ⅓ cup frozen chopped spinach
  • rice pilaf, prepared (see recipe below)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • ¼ cup wine, such as a good Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Olive Oil
  • Flat-leaf Italian parsley for garnnish

Pound turkey fillets to ¼ inch thickness between two pieces of plastic wrap. Season both sides with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Set aside in refrigerator.

In a nonstick skillet, brown pancetta. Add and saute onion and garlic. When onions are translucent, add spinach. Season with salt and pepper. When cooked, set aside. Wipe out skillet.

Take fillets and divide the filling, spreading evenly. Place a tablespoon of rice on each fillet and spread. Roll and tie with kitchen twine. Drizzle with olive oil.

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in the skillet. Place turkey roulades seam side down. Brown for 6 minutes per side. Set aside.

Melt butter in pan. Add wine and cook off the alcohol. Prepare a slurry with cornstarch. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in slurry until reach desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Return turkey to the pan, cover and simmer on low heat till fully cooked.

Serve over remaining rice pilaf. Garnish with parsley.

Rice Pilaf

This is a simple pilaf, however if pressed for time, go ahead an substitute with a boxed rice pilaf (I won’t tell anyone).

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 1/3 cup orzo
  • 2 cups chicken stock

In a sauce pan, melt butter in a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until transparent. Add rice to pan and stir until coated and the rice begins to lightly brown. Stir in orzo and chicken stock, bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Fluff before serving.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Jean

    Liren, your childhood dining room table sounds remarkably like mine, and since I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the last 10 years, I can completely relate to the Filipino-American style menu. I don’t think I can forgo a whole turkey for the holiday either but your turkey roulade looks wonderful. I love simple pilafs like you presented here, too. This is a perfect option for those who aren’t as rigid with their traditions as we apparently are. :-)

    • Liren

      I figured our childhood Thanksgivings would be similar :) I miss the big gatherings since the bulk of my family is back in NY, so when I host now, there’s no way I can possibly recreate the spread I grew up on. Doing the big turkey is work enough for me! But I do miss it, and always love when I can enjoy these holidays with the big family!

    • Liren

      Hi Nancy, thank you! Hard to believe that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, you’ll be having turkey before you know it :) I love that this recipe works pretty much all year round, though!

  2. Joan Nova

    Nice to get a peek at your childhood Thanksgivings. In our family it was always heavy pasta and Italian dishes before we got to the turkey and all the American sides. Waaaaay too much food!

    Personally, I prefer something like you prepared.

    Have a wonderful holiday.

    • Liren

      A happy early Thanksgiving to you, Joan :) I would love a peak at your Thanksgiving table! My best friend from home grew up in an Italian family, and I always remember she had fish at Christmas. Do you do the same?

    • Liren

      Aww, that would be lovely! Someone needs to organize a Thanksiving friendsgiving party of some sort! Hmm…

    • Liren

      Angela, yes, this would work well with chicken, too! I just like how turkey breast is bigger, so it’s a wee easier to roll :) But, this would be great with any poultry!

  3. A Canadian Foodie

    What a lovely story… after having it for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter – I only use ground turkey in recipes at other times of the year. There are usually enough leftovers during those three times to do me for the year! Your recipe looks excellent. I am loving rolled meats!

    • Liren

      Hi Valerie! Isn’t it funny how we rarely cook with turkey? Other than the big holidays and ground up? I’m trying to use it more since it is such a wonderful, lean meat!

    • Liren

      Hey Greg, glad you liked it. A happy early Thanksgiving to you and yours :)

    • Liren

      I hope you do! Let me know how it turns out.

  4. Monet

    So we are having a small Thanksgiving this year (just my husband and my sister and me). I’m trying to convince my sister to do away with the big bird, but like you, she’s a stickler for that one! Who knows though…I’m sending her this post and hoping that your delicious pictures will tempt her as much as they tempted me!

    • Liren

      Monet, this is PERFECT for small Thanksgiving celebrations. Maybe your sister will change her mind, but I can absolutely understand being a stickler for the big bird. I’m trying to convince myself that this year, a smaller turkey will be just fine (one year, my husband and I did an 18 pounder – and it was just the two of us that Thanksgiving!). I never seem to learn, though.

  5. Anna's Table

    I enjoyed reading about your childhood Thanksgiving dinners. Your recipe looks delicious.
    I would also like to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving from north of the border.

    • Liren

      Anna, thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed this post – and a happy belated Canadian Thanksgiving to you!

  6. Becky

    My childhood Thanksgiving table had all of the traditional “American” dishes, and a lot of the, However, we only had turkey at Thanksgiving, too.. Now, my husband and I do a small turkey on the roitsserie, so good. Your turkey roulade looks very good though.

    • Liren

      Ah yes, the rotisserie! I’ve done it this way, too, and LOVE IT. In fact, that’s my plan for this year! Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving next week :)

  7. Peggy

    Your Thanksgiving tradition is quite similar to my own. My mother would always make sure there was Pancit and Lumpia on the table during Thanksgiving, regardless of how it’s flavor profiles “clashed” with everything else. It’s funny that those things were always the first to be cleared!

    This roulade looks absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to try it throughout the year when I’m hankering for some turkey!

    • Liren

      I love these Thanksgiving tables, so much more to give thanks for :) And I’m not surprised that the pancit and lumpia are the first to go — they’re just so good!

  8. Polly Motzko

    Congrats on being number one!! Good for you and your roulades look amazing! You make me want to try my hand at these. I have never seen Turkey Tenders in the store in CA…usually always Chicken Tenders. Who makes the ones you used?

    Would love to see this one on my blog!

    Polly Motzko

    • Liren

      Hi Polly – thank you! If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, they have turkey breast tenders – great size and work really well in this recipe. Also, check with your butcher. Ask them for a turkey breast cutlet, sometimes they are even happy to pound them thin for you (though I find this step in the recipe fun). Good luck!

  9. Nancy@acommunaltable

    I really enjoyed your story and love the fact that your family embraced the holiday by making it their own with many of their own special dishes. That is what I love so much about this holiday!!

    The roulade looks and sounds wonderful and would be a great choice for small Thanksgiving celebrations!!!

    • Liren

      I agree! I would love to learn more about the Thanksgiving tables across the country – I’m sure it would be so fascinating to see the myriad of dishes :) That is what I love about our country and this holiday so much!

  10. norma

    Your Thanksgiving sounds like ours…having one Phlipino-German daughter-in-law and the other Yugoslavian oh and I forgot the Cuban-Portuguese..then our side Puerto can just imagine.

    I like this dish you prepared and I do so enjoy your posts. I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very Happy T day.

    • Liren

      Ah Norma, I knew you would understand! I can just imagine how amazing your table will be next week! A happy early Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    • Liren

      Thank you, Lindsay! It’s also perfect for entertaining, and equally wonderful for a cozy family dinner :)

    • Liren

      Yes, we should! Such a good protein, it tends to get ignored!

  11. She's Cookin'

    I usually buy two turkeys at Thanksgiving because I love it so much I don’t want to have it just once a year! Your turkey roulades are a perfect solution to that AND with pancetta and spinach = delicious!

  12. Maria

    I too still tend to eat roast turkey only on Thanksgiving … and I really don’t know why! The roulade sounds quite good! The pancetta is a must to add some extra flavor and the cut rolls make such an elegant presentation.

  13. vidare till sidan

    I got searching the online world checking out some goods and found your site. I desired to tell you i think your site has its good written content and that I use currently favorited this page in order to take a look at again soon good-job!

Kitchen Confidante®

Kitchen Confidante uses cookies to serve you the best possible experience. By using our website, we understand that you accept their use and agree to our cookie policy.

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.