By: Mikey Rox*/Special to TRT—
Turkey is the unequivocal king of the Thanksgiving dinner table, but if you’re tired of bowing down to a Butterball every fourth Thursday of November, there are alternatives. From Southern-style cuisine to a succulent Coastal feast—and even a vegetarian-based menu thrown in for all you PETA card carriers—here are five non-traditional ways you can celebrate for what you’re thankful while still stuffing your face. [pullquote]From Southern-style cuisine to a succulent Coastal feast—and even a vegetarian-based menu thrown in for all you PETA card carriers—here are five non-traditional ways you can celebrate for what you’re thankful while still stuffing your face.[/pullquote]
Southern-style BBQ—or Soul Food as it’s otherwise affectionately known—includes many meaty staples like brisket, pulled pork and slow-smoked ribs. To feed a crowd, however, finger-lickin’ fried chicken is a wise option to keep the meal affordable – and to ensure that everyone can partake. (Even among carnivores there may be those who have sworn off red meat or pork for various reasons, but chicken is generally foolproof.)
There are a million and one recipes for amazing fried chicken that you can find on the Internet, but Southern Living’s Best Fried Chicken says it all. This New York Times-approved recipe is simple in its preparation, and it includes a secret, indulgent ingredient that takes it to the next level – bacon grease. (If this is your first time frying chicken, it’s not a bad idea to take a crash course before heading to the kitchen; Bon Appetit magazine has a great article on “7 Common Fried Chicken Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.”)
For a complete meal, prepare a generous portion of greens (collard are the southern essential); melty macaroni and cheese (Martha Stewart has a few “wow!” recipes), honey-glazed carrots; candied yams (don’t forget the mini marshmallows on top); and, if you can, homemade cornbread baked in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.
You don’t have to live on the Cape to enjoy the bounty of the sea at Thanksgiving. Thanks to the increased popularity of farm-raised seafood, shellfish—like buttery lobster—is available year round at reasonable prices. Nothing can replace New England lobster, of course, but for an easier-on-the-wallet substitute, this may be the way to go. You’ll save even more money by purchasing lobster tails instead of whole lobster—which you really don’t need unless you’re a lobster purist or making a stock from the carcasses—and there are innumerable ways you can prepare it. Since this is a special occasion, I recommend a broiled lobster tail with brown butter sauce – like the preparation from Simply Recipes.
For your sides, mix in a few Low Country boil elements like corn on the cob; black-eyed pea salad; apple-cabbage slaw; baked potatoes; and Cheddar Bay Biscuits, the Red Lobster-branded box mix you can find at your local grocer.
If you have the good fortune to dine al fresco this Thanksgiving, take advantage of the pleasant weather and plan your meal to complement Mother Nature’s good grace. Sunset magazine has a wealth of South of the Border-style recipes to help you get your fiesta on, which begins with a cool ceviche made with fresh seafood like shrimp or fish. For your mains, prepare a selection of Mexican favorites likes enchiladas, tamales and tacos. To make these dishes decidedly more Thanksgiving-y, replace the traditional protein in these dishes—usually chicken, beef or pork—with chile-and-spice-grilled turkey. To add a little color to your plate, Sunset has recipes for roasted chile-lime broccolini, a fall salad with nuts and pomegranates, and chorizo and apple stuffing. Finish on a sweet note with Mexican chocolate cakes with cinnamon ice cream.
It’s not easy being a vegetarian on Thanksgiving, but there are plenty of ways you can skip the meat in favor of fruits and veggies. For a hearty main dish, try Baked Acorn Squash with Chestnuts, Apples and Leeks or Ricotta-and-Fontina-Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Raddicchio, both courtesy of Food & Wine magazine. Load up your plate with other earthy additions, like creamed spinach, spice-roasted cauliflower, whipped sweet potatoes with bananas and honey, and green bean casserole with crispy shallots, the recipes for which you can find on FoodNetwork.com.
Members of true Italian family treat every Sunday like it’s a proper banquet, which makes it all the easier to create a Thanksgiving menu filled with Old World flair.
Better Homes and Gardens has done the legwork for you with its flavorful Italian meal that doesn’t rely on a main dish as a centerpiece but rather several small, standalone dishes to create an abundant supper. Pop in a DVD of The Godfather while you nosh on an antipasto platter, seafood bruschetta, bouillabaisse, mini crab cakes, fennel and orange salad, and sautéed spinach. If your family demands dishes with more substance, show off your culinary chops with roast lamb, pumpkin ravioli, or a spinach and four-cheese manicotti. And after the kids clear the plates, relax with an energy-boosting espresso and light-and-tasty Tiramisu.
*Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and blogger whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He lives in Manhattan with his husband and their cuddle-buddy furbaby. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.