Thanksgiving dinner is full of time-honoured traditions, many involving family recipes that have been passed down for generations and food that only makes a single appearance each year. Acknowledging these customs is important and gives us something concrete to look forward to, but Thanksgiving dinner is also a great excuse for shaking things up with unfamiliar ingredients and healthier choices. It’s time to get inspired with these Thanksgiving dinner shake-ups and begin making some of your own culinary traditions.
Play with protein
For some families, Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the real deal unless there’s turkey on the table. However, if you’re serving a small number of people or you aren’t attached to the idea of roasting a whole turkey, there are many more options to choose from in terms of a main protein (including plant-based options!).
If you love the idea of roasting a turkey but are only serving two to six people, consider buying a single breast instead of a whole bird. Turkey breasts can be stuffed as usual and rolled up into a roulade. All you’ll need is some handy kitchen twine and a few skewers to secure.
Roasting a whole chicken or two is also an easy idea that’s less expensive than buying a whole turkey and it also decreases your chances of accidentally overcooking poultry. Quail and Cornish game hen can also be individually prepared for each guest. This is a particularly elegant option if you’re hosting a more intimate get-together.
If you come from a family of seafood lovers, consider roasting a whole fish (weather permitting, this can even be prepared on the grill.) This showstopper can be adorned with your favourite fresh herbs, capers, olives, small tomatoes, and a zippy salsa verde or romesco sauce.
While some vegetarians and vegans love Tofufurky, there are many who feel slightly cheated by this tofu version of turkey. Instead of trying to replicate the flavour of a savoury roasted bird, it can be a more worthwhile idea to experiment with meat analogs in their natural element. Tofu can be thinly sliced and baked until crispy and a few drops of liquid smoke instantly ups the umami flavour. Tempeh has a nuttier, more pronounced flavour and stands up particularly well to intensely seasoned marinades; make it kid-friendly by slicing it into rectangles and providing a few simple dip options.
Rethink root vegetables
Tragically, root vegetables are often more afterthought than a legitimate side in their own right when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. Consider the humble turnip; usually mashed into oblivion with butter and a few generic seasoning, this spicy-sweet vegetable has so much more to offer when you give it a chance to shine with other brightly flavoured ingredients. Use a mandoline, food processor with grating attachment, or sharp chef’s knife to slice the turnip into coleslaw-sized matchsticks and top with a soy sauce, maple syrup, and sesame oil dressing; finish with plenty of chopped cilantro and a few tablespoons of black sesame oil.
Bored with the usual glazed carrots? Buy the prettiest, most colourful heirloom carrots you can find and roast them halved lengthwise (keeping an inch or two of their green tops intact for appearance’s sake) in a mixture of honey, olive oil, and kosher or Maldon salt. Serve the sticky roasted carrots with a generous sprinkling of dried chillies, grated lemon zest and a generous sprinkling of finely sliced fresh basil.
October is the perfect time of year to explore your local grocery store and fall farmers markets for unusual root vegetables to add to your Thanksgiving Day menu. Keep an eye out for beets (baby candy cane and golden beets are beautiful and have a milder flavour than traditional red beets), kohlrabi (its warming mustard-y taste makes it ideal for slaws), and celeriac (also known as celery root, this funny-looking root vegetable is delicious when mashed with regular potatoes.)
Make an inspired fruit-forward dessert
Pumpkin pie is THE go-to dessert for Thanksgiving dinner and for many people there’s no arguing with this fact, it’s pumpkin pie or nothing! For those who aren’t as keen on pumpkin pie or who have less of an attachment to this classic dessert, you’re in luck. The produce available in October offers a veritable goldmine of inspiration for heavenly autumn dessert-making.
Roasting or sautéing apples and pears is a fantastic way to bring out all of the natural sweetness without having to add an excessive amount of added sugar. Dice the fruit or cut into thin slices and toss with a few tablespoons of melted butter and sugar, cinnamon or nutmeg and a few whole cloves; roast in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes or over the stove in a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet until soft and just beginning to brown. Serve with a scoop of frozen vanilla yogourt and a sprinkling of oat-based granola.