Thanksgiving Dishes for An Untraditional Celebration

We’re as curious as you are when it comes to how Thanksgiving will look this year. Long-haul travel is less doable than in Thanksgivings past, which is good in some respects––no airport security-line drama, no annoying layovers, no exorbitant plane fares to eat away your savings––but in all likelihood, it also means fewer loved ones around the Thanksgiving table. But before you shed any tears, we’d like to suggest taking this as an opportunity to do things differently. And different can be good, especially when it comes to adapting your Thanksgiving menu.

While this certainly means cutting down portion sizes to suit your equally slimmed-down guest list, this is also the perfect time to lean into the weirdness that is 2020 with recipes completely unlike anything mom usually makes. There is infinitely less chance of someone losing their cool because you added a new ingredient to the cranberry sauce or failed to mash the potatoes into a lump-free cloud. Bring on the unique twists and unexpected updates, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new favorite to make over and over again in the years to come! So, without further ado, here’s our round-up of ideas to add to your Thanksgiving menu plan ASAP.

Traditional Drink: Beer, Re-Gifted Wine

This Year’s Drink: Maple Ginger Hot Toddy

In a normal year, you’d probably wander over to the kitchen and grab a beer while watching a game or whatever holiday classic happens to be airing on TV before everyone sits down to tuck into the turkey. Your gang might even hazard to open the wine you brought, which was doubtless repurposed after languishing for months in your cupboard after a guest brought it to your last house party in February. Needless to say, this Thanksgiving’s general ambiance calls for a stronger drink. Pick one with major autumnal vibes that isn’t too hard to prepare, like this aromatic take on a Hot Toddy from Feasting at Home, a veggie-forward and seasonal-focused recipe blog. If you’re missing a few of the ever-so-slightly esoteric ingredients it calls for, don’t sweat it. You can always substitute you have on hand (hello, whole cloves!) or just make it without those spices for a more maple-forward cocktail.

Traditional Appetizer: Cheese & Crackers

This Year’s Appetizer: Chili-Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

There are cheese plates that could inspire poetry, like anything on the @thatcheeseplate IG feed, complete with its glorious salami rivers and artfully sculpted brie. Let’s get real though. That’s probably not what’s happening at your usual Thanksgiving dinner. We know all about those sad little slabs of pepper jack and unintentionally crumbly (read: stale) crackers prepackaged at the supermarket, which are the usual suspects for pregaming on Turkey Day. Skip the too-filling and somewhat-depressing cheese and cracker spread in favor of lighter, more flavorful noshes like spicy olive oil-roasted pumpkin seeds. This version from the blog Healthy Recipes features garlic and chili powders plus a touch of cayenne pepper for kick, but you can use the same method and do simple sea salt roasted pumpkin seeds if your roommate/sister/significant other is one of those people that’s afraid of toothpaste being too spicy.

Traditional Green Side: Green Bean Casserole

Question: does anyone actually like green bean casserole? Yeah, it’s tradish and whatnot, but it’s also aggressively mushy and involves a ton of none-too-healthy canned goods. The best part of it is the fried onion topping, which defeats the whole point of serving a green side––the bright, light flavor to contrasts the richer elements of the meal. Heaven knows we’ve all eaten enough pantry staples to last us for a while––surely you remember Spring’s pasta and bean-hoarding phase, yes? That’s why we know you’ll second our vote to break out the fresh veggies. Enter a seasonal shaved Brussels sprout salad, sweetened with crisp apples and mellowed with avocados, from the food blog LittleBroken.com. Though we advise you to add in the parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds the recipe calls for (and, yes, you can repurpose the ones you made for the starter we mentioned above), it’s still tasty without them. After one bite, you’ll be wondering why green bean casserole didn’t make its permanent exit years ago.

Traditional Stuffing: Probably From A Box

This Year’s Stuffing: Pomegranate Za’atar Stuffing

Some things don’t need to be messed with, like the perfection that is mashed potatoes. Devotees of canned cranberry sauce––you know who you are––would argue that point as well, even if the rest of us will never understand why. Stuffing, also known in some circles as dressing, is another story. Often one-note in its flavor profile (top note: salt, middle note: salt, bottom note: bread), stuffing is ripe for a dramatic makeover worthy of an HGTV show. Our big reveal involves Levantine inflections like earthy Za’atar, a mix of dried herbs including wild thyme and sesame seeds, and tart pomegranate arils to make this vegetarian and vegan-adaptable dish feel like a revelation. Don’t worry. The old standbys that make stuffing so good...like um, bread...ok, ok, and mushrooms, too...are still present in this recipe from the Hummusapien blog, so you won’t be forgoing tradition altogether; you’re just making tradition more delicious.

Traditional Turkey: Dry, Notably Bland

This Year’s Turkey: Indian-Spiced Turkey Breast

Admit it. You’ve wondered if the main event of Thanksgiving dinner is really worth all of the fuss. The days of defrosting and the many hours of careful roasting usually end with a whimper, not a bang on the tastebuds. Truthfully, turkey is not the most flavorful of meats, and even the smallest bird is a real a beast to cook. Don’t throw in the (dish)towel yet, though. There’s a way to make this centerpiece dish less cumbersome using a method that you might have overlooked previously, when you had a longer guest list. A turkey breast, not a whole bird, is the solution. And it’s an especially yummy solution when it’s spiced tandoori-style with ingredients like turmeric, cumin, and ginger.

The time is right to switch from a whole turkey to bone-in breast for a few reasons: turkey breasts are easier to cook and you can size it right for this year’s smaller feast––a bone-in breast (aka: both sides with a bone in the middle) feeds around six to eight people, while half of a bone-in breast is perfect for three to four diners. Marinated in yogurt, lemon, and fragrant spices of the subcontinent, this Indian-inspired recipe from Food & Wine results in juicy turkey with memorably complex flavor...the perfect antidote to a day of checking the oven with only meh results.

If this all seems a step too far away from the familiar tastes you’re accustomed to and you want, nay need, a truly hassle-free T-giving, try a honey Buffalo turkey breast popped in the slow cooker instead. No special aromatics called for here––you won’t need to add much more to your shopping list beyond honey, hot sauce, and butter. This winner of a recipe from The Magical Slow Cooker blog makes an ideal choice for a group that loves this holiday for its football games as much as they do for everything else.

Traditional Dessert: Pumpkin Pie

This Year’s Dessert: White Chocolate Pumpkin Cups

You didn’t think we were going to skip dessert, did you? No way––the Thanksgiving meal isn’t complete without it! We do plan to skip the multi-pie spread this year, though. A whole shebang with pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies seems OTT with a smaller group, and no one really has much room left anyway. Also, who feels like rolling out a zillion pie crusts when you have so many other tasks to check off the list? Treat your crew to a sweet grab-and-go ending with white chocolate pumpkin cups, a Thanksgiving-appropriate version of classic chocolate-peanut butter cups. This clever recipe courtesy of the Oh My Goodness Chocolate Desserts blog swaps dark chocolate and PB for creamy white chocolate and spiced pumpkin filling, giving a nod to convention but creating a new tradition that’s worth repeating next year...or the next day at snack time.

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