An Alternative Thanksgiving

By Julia Maish

Picture in your mind a traditional “Norman Rockwell” Thanksgiving dinner: roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole*, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie. Next Thursday, if you’re like millions of other Americans, you will either be preparing, stressing out over (hello, Butterball hotline!), or happily consuming a sumptuous feast very much like this (stock up on those antacids now). But what if you’re not a fan of some of these dishes? Or a vegetarian? Or maybe you just like to march to the beat of a different culinary drum? Here are a few delicious options you could serve instead…

Meat – If turkey isn’t your thing (it’s a myth that it makes you sleepy…overloading on starchy carbohydrates is the culprit here), or if you don’t want to cook a huge bird, you might take a look at lamb chops, duck, a glazed ham, salmon, a rib roast, meatloaf, pork shoulder, stuffed flank steak, or even prime rib (hey, we didn’t say it would be cheaper!). Or, if you wouldn’t mind serving something with turkey, duck, and chicken in it, you can also dazzle your guests with a turducken! (Thanks, Paul Prudhomme!)

Not Meat – So, you’re vegetarian and are not big on the dreaded Tofurky (made with tofu and wheat gluten…yum). Instead, you might try a pasta dish such as manicotti, gnocchi (pumpkin and squash make great fillings) or a veggie lasagna; perhaps a vegetarian meatloaf or a lentil stew or chili; and trust us, there are many delicious things that can be done with mushrooms, veggies, and a little imagination. As far as stuffing goes, there are plenty of options that do not involve meat, including chestnuts and cornbread. (Hint: your vegetarian guests will be truly thankful if you refrain from adding chicken broth to the mashed potatoes.)

Stuffing/Dressing/Casserole – Okay, so not everyone likes the ubiquitous green bean casserole or has cream of mushroom soup stockpiled in their pantry and green beans in their freezer. The good news is that you can prepare one with almost anything else – scalloped potatoes, cheese, ham, spinach, broccoli, bread crumbs, cheese, sausage, mushroom, quinoa. Throw a bunch of disparate things that will bake well into a casserole dish and you might be in for a fun adventure! Or, you could let Julia Child show you how. (Hint: you don’t have to serve it with the dinner – with eggs and cheese, it can also make a great breakfast for a crowd.)

Cranberry sauce – Needless to say, there are plenty of alternatives to this Thanksgiving mainstay made with other fruits – chutneys, compotes, jams. But you could also go the savory route, with brown mustard, barbecue sauce, pesto, or salsa. There’s no rule that dictates that it must be sweet, and these all go nicely with various meats.

Pie – So many pies, too little time! If at this point in the season you or your guests are weary of pumpkin in everything, you might try something equally seasonal – pecan, apple cranberry, sweet potato, salted caramel – and few will complain about a chocolate or coconut cream pie, a lemon meringue pie, a pear tart, or…take a walk on the wild side and serve cake! Of course, if you can’t make up your mind, there’s always the fabulous cherpumple, which is a marriage three whole pies – cherry, apple, and pumpkin – baked inside three one-layer cakes – spice, yellow, and white. Warning: you may need a forklift to transport it to your table. Also, a lot of help eating it.

If you want to avoid cooking altogether, feel free to check out the many local restaurants who will be happy to do it for you. Or, if you are fine with turkey but want to go the super-convenient-and-economical route, bear in mind that the first TV dinners were Thanksgiving-themed, and they are still the most popular frozen meals on the market.

While you’re pondering all of this, or waiting for whatever main course you’ve chosen to come out of the oven, why not test your knowledge with WTTW's Thanksgiving food quiz?

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you have help doing the dishes.

*A moment of silence for Dorcas Reilly, inventor of the green bean casserole, who passed away last month at age 92. Sorry you didn’t get in just one more Thanksgiving, Dorcas. You may be gone, but your side dish will live on forever…whether we like it or not.