Three Raleigh Chefs Share Favorite Spring Holiday Dish Traditions

Food is the spice of life, it flavors our most special family gatherings and holiday traditions. Here, three local chefs share their family customs and the traditional dishes and drinks that always make the menu.
by Melissa Howsam

Cheetie Kumar

2020 James Beard semifinalist, chef/co-owner Garland

Spring celebration: Holi

History: “The arrival of spring in India, especially Northern India (where I’m from) is marked by the celebration of Holi. The morning/afternoon after the first full moon of the season, everyone spills out into the street and the festivities begin. And when I say festivities, I mean a scene like no other—people throwing colored powder, spraying each other with water guns, all the while dancing for hours while music blares in the middle of the road.  

Fave Factor: “It was my favorite day as a kid. We all wore shabby white clothes and had permission to be ‘bad’—run around in the street chasing each other with fists full of colored powder and water guns. It’s like our version of Mardi Gras. Holi isn’t really anchored by a feast, but rather an assortment of snacks to fuel this rowdy day and, most notably, a delicious beverage that still triggers a flood of memories.  

Beverage: Thandai

Ingredients: Thandai is made by infusing sweetened milk with nuts and sweet spices like pistachios, almonds, cardamom, saffron, rosewater and poppy seeds, among others.  It’s served ice cold (Thandai means cooling).  “The most interesting part is that the adult version isn’t traditionally spiked with alcohol, but rather with marijuana leaves and buds, most likely because that’s also harvest time for that crop. And, yes, it’s potent, while also being one of the most delicious drinks you’ve ever had—think a cross between a milkshake and horchata, but with layers of fragrant spices, and a very mellow kick! 

Bonus: “We started making an (unspiked) Thandai ice cream at Garland last year and I’m sure some version of it will be on special March 10!”

Oscar Diaz, chef-owner Jose & Sons

Spring celebration: Easter

Dish: Chiles rellenos de queso capeados 

Ingredients: Egg Battered chile relleno filled with melted queso fresco, topped with a light tomato salsa and sliced cactus paddle 

History: Coming from Catholic parents, it is customary to not eat meat certain days of Lent and on Easter. 

Fave Factor: “This dish still feels hearty and satisfying. The poblano pepper gets a nice pan-fried crust from the egg batter while keeping a gooey center. The cactus garnish adds another layer of flavor and texture to the dish.”

Coleen Speaks, chef-owner Hummingbird

Spring celebration: Easter

Dish One: Spring pea and bibb lettuce salad 

Ingredients: With blanched green beans, toasted pine nuts, fried shallots, basil, roasted red peppers and lemon vinaigrette 

Fave Factor: “It just screams spring to me!”

Dish Two: Grilled lamb chops with mint chutney 

Fave Factor: “It is a delicious special treat that is reserved for rare occasions. The chutney is bright green like springtime grass. There may be some subconscious connection to Jesus/lamb, but it is for sure subconscious.”