Thanksgiving, at its core, is about gratitude, spending time with loved ones, and enjoying delicious food. A traditional roasted turkey is the centerpiece at most American dinners, but it is far from the only option. Whether the aim is to explore a different culture's dishes or to include non-carnivores in the meal, there are more options than ever for an inexpensive star on the Thanksgiving table besides the usual roast bird.
Squash is one of the season's cheapest and most plentiful ingredients. This recipe turns it into a festive main dish by stuffing it with a medley of wild rice, vegetables, and cranberries. The dish looks like a roasted and stuffed piece of meat, which lets everyone know that this is the star of the meal.
Recipe: It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken
Lasagna is always an inexpensive crowd pleaser, so why not make it the centerpiece at Thanksgiving? This recipe features different layers of seasonal flavors like pumpkin, butternut squash, sage, and nutmeg. Quick and easy to prepare, it could become an instant tradition, especially for vegetarians.
Recipe: The Kitchn
PUMPKIN POT PIE
Cornish hens are small broiler chickens that always evoke a sense of festivity. They are often small enough that they can be served one per person. This recipe calls for stuffing the birds as a nod to the traditional stuffed turkey. In addition to being less expensive than a large turkey, they also take much less time to prepare.
Recipe: Taste of Home
Peking duck is a common dish at Chinese Thanksgiving celebrations. Many people choose to preorder their birds from a local restaurant that specializes in the dish. If you'd like to make your own duck, consider this simplified version.
Those who love to add spice and flair to their dinner tables will want to make this recipe at least once for their Thanksgiving meal. Intense spices like ginger, garlic, cumin, and chili powder give the marinade loads of flavor while tenderizing the meat. A quick cooking time also means less time spent in the kitchen. Between its big flavors and supple texture, this is an easy and inexpensive recipe that always impresses.
Recipe: BBC's Good Food
Tamales are a popular dish for celebrations. One of the best aspects of tamales is that you can flavor them however you like, including with turkey and cranberry sauce for a fusion menu. This recipe for green chile chicken tamales could absolutely use turkey instead, or be served as-is for an authentic Mexican-style taste of the holidays
Mole is a rich sauce from Mexico that can be made in many different styles. In Oaxaca, one of the most traditional ways to enjoy mole is with turkey. A Thanksgiving table set with a big pot of turkey mole is a fragrant way to make a statement. This mole is made from a long list of ingredients, but many of them are pantry staples and easy to find at any store, such as allspice, raisins, almonds, and dried chiles.
Recipe: Food Network
Portobello mushrooms have been a favorite among vegetarians forever thanks to their naturally meaty texture that can stand in for anything from chicken to steak. This recipe for stuffed portobellos is easy to put together from inexpensive ingredients and elegant enough for any festive meal. Make it your own by customizing the vegetables and herbs that go into the stuffing.
Recipe: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
For holiday meals, fish is not as uncommon as you may think. Make the meal feel celebratory by doing something special with a nice cut of salmon. This recipe pairs the fish with an herbed cranberry-mustard sauce. This preparation gives an unmistakable Thanksgiving flavor profile to a very healthy protein.
Recipe: Genius Kitchen
LAMB MEATLOAF PUMPKINS
This sophisticated dish allows you to have pumpkins on the table, and what could be more appropriate for Thanksgiving? The whimsical presentation alone is enough to make this recipe worth it, but the warm spice layers throughout the dish also provide a festive flavor. While this dish takes a bit of effort, it's definitely a show stopper.
Recipe: The Tomato Tart
Honey-glazed ham is synonymous with celebrations during the holidays. This alternative meets all the requirements of maintaining tradition and having a meat-based protein as the focus. Ham often goes on sale this time of the year, making it an economical choice.
Brisket can easily be swapped in for turkey without changing a thing about the meal otherwise. This classic recipe for sweet glazed brisket creates a meaty, tender main dish with hints of seasonal sweetness that will pair well with creamy sweet potatoes and earthy Brussels sprouts. It even yields its own gravy for all the sides, just as a turkey would.
Recipe: Chicago Tribune
STUFFED PORK TENDERLOIN
Pork tenderloin is a lean, inexpensive, and flavorful meat that can be made fancy and festive with stuffing. This recipe echoes traditional Thanksgiving flavors by incorporating thyme, sage, and smoky bacon that contrasts with sweet-tart apple and riesling sauce. Serve this with some of the same riesling used to make the sauce, and it's a guaranteed success.
Recipe: Food & Wine
A simple roast chicken is inexpensive, easy, and a winner every time. It may not be the most creative or unique main dish, but it does offer a true comfort factor that can keep the focus on the occasion while still providing a hearty and tasty bird. Stuffing the chicken is also a way to mark the occasion with something special.
PORK AND KUMQUATS
For pork lovers, there are many ways to give dishes a seasonal flavor beyond using sage and cranberries. This recipe uses sweet and tart kumquats, which provide a citrusy pop. The layers of different flavors make this dish exciting to eat.
Recipe: Martha Stewart
DUCK BREAST WITH CRANBERRIES
Using only duck breasts, as opposed to an entire bird, this recipe creates a sweet-and-savory interplay between the duck and the cranberries. Sliced and plated, it gives the feel of a restaurant entree at home, or it can be plated family style for a more casual feast.
Recipe: Denver Post
SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI
Eating gnocchi always feels like a treat, and can easily be infused with classic Thanksgiving flavors like brown butter and sage. These little pasta pillows rely on sweet potato with ricotta cheese for texture and creaminess. The subtle hint of nutmeg also helps bring out the sweet and savory spice notes, making it a seasonal home run.
Pumpkin ravioli is a must-have for many folks during the fall and winter months. This recipe is surprisingly easy and cheap to make, though it does take some time to prepare. The texture and flavor of fresh pumpkin is a welcome change of pace amid heavier dishes on the Thanksgiving table.
Recipe: Taste of Home
SALT BAKED WHOLE FISH
Salt baking a whole fish is a very Italian way of preparing a celebratory meal. Aside from being inexpensive and easy, the salt crust ensures the texture of the fish remains juicy and tender while getting gently cooked and seasoned. This technique is fool proof, taking the pressure off the host when cooking for a large crowd.
Recipe: Food & Wine
Biryani is an Indian and Pakistani dish that layers tender meat with aromatized rice to create a one pot meal that is full of subtle and tantalizing spices. Often made for special occasions, it is ideal for an alternate thanksgiving main. This recipe uses turkey as a nod to American traditions, but a typical chicken, lamb, or vegetable biryani would be just as good.
Recipe: New York Times
If you live close to the sea, lobster may already be a holiday tradition already. Often available for great low prices, lobster always feels fancy and can pair surprisingly well with the intense flavors of a Thanksgiving spread. This recipe stuffs the lobster tails for a complex final dish.
Recipe: Cooking Light
As pastas go, bucatini, a hefty straw-like noodle, makes the heartiest meals. This recipe loads up the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts to capture the flavors of the harvest season in every bite. The anchovies get hidden in the dish to add the extra layers of richness without being overtly part of the flavor profile. No need to even mention it to your guests!
Recipe: Food & Wine
For vegans, Thanksgiving can be difficult. This "celebration roast" mimics a piece of roasted meat with a traditional bread stuffing and mushroom gravy for those who want a nostalgic taste of the holiday. These turkey alternatives can be found easily during the holiday season at health food stores and markets that regularly stock vegan and vegetarian foods.