Don’t know what to do with all those potato peels? Running out of room in your oven for stuffing? Gravy tasting a little flat? Head to our holiday hub, How to Thanksgiving Smarter, Not Harder, for everything you need to know—and nothing you don’t—to make this year’s holiday easier, speedier, and tastier.
There are few traditions more ingrained within American gastronomic culture than Thanksgiving. The canons of this holiday—turkey, stuffing, sides, pies—feel untouchable. To challenge the bird as the main event feels risky. But for my family, it was liberating.
As I wrote years back, it can feel alienating to celebrate a holiday in an adopted home, with traditional foods that have no personal context. For our first few Thanksgivings, after my family moved to America from Australia in 2015, we attempted culinary assimilation. My husband cooked a dry turkey, which was only enjoyed when I turned it into a pot pie the next day. And I threw myself into the sides, which honestly, as a former salad maker, was a role I relished.
I tried versions of green bean casseroles but landed on a dish that is more like salad, swirled with tahini. I attempted stuffing but ended up with an Australian-leaning, cheesy bread-and-butter pudding. I did succeed at a very good sweet potato pie with a walnut crust, though it’s since made way for a dessert we universally prefer: pavlova.
We eat what we eat for different reasons, not just for deliciousness, but also for nostalgia and sentimentality. And I get it. Eating to satiate a memory is completely within my wheelhouse. But what we came to realize as a family is that we need to find traditions and rituals which feel true to who we are. My loved ones are not all vegetarian—just me—but we eat vegetable-centric, globally inspired food every day of the week. So it feels natural to bring this ethos to our Thanksgiving.
Nowadays, I like to cook a vegetarian feast paying tribute to the holiday, but without any strict adherence to tradition. Around my table, there is no reason for green beans to be covered in cream of mushroom, brussels sprouts to be dotted with bacon, or sweet potatoes to be topped with marshmallows. I can make them my own.
The menu below offers big comforting moments, alongside lighter fresh bites. This sets vegetables free. No longer dubbed sides, they can gather in the center of the table, and shine all on their own.
Playing on the holiday classic of fried alliums, this recipe offers thick rings of onions and delicate shards of sweet potato coated in a light tempura batter, served with a lively lemon-chive mayo. A great dish to graze on with guests while the rest of the meal comes together.
For a bright, textural dish, green beans are charred until smoky and sweet, then finished with a silky brown butter vinaigrette, and topped with crispy hazelnut-sage crumbs. Mop up the brown butter vinaigrette with soft dinner rolls.
Brussels sprouts get the royal treatment thanks to an oozy, deeply umami maple and soy caramel. The big-flavored sauce both tempers and amplifies the earthy, mustardy undertones of the sprouts. Make double—it will go in a flash.
As with all feasts, a prep-ahead dish is key, and this cheesy strata meets that requirement. But this is not just any bread pudding. Inspired by the warming notes of pumpkin pie, bread gets soaked and then baked in a cheesy, herbaceous pumpkin custard. It’s a comforting dish, reminiscent of stuffing, but more complex. If you have leftovers, fry it up the next day and serve with an egg.
We round out this meal with a not-your-everyday leafy salad. The bitter tones of radicchio are tempered with lots of sweetness from crisp apple and aromatic leeks, while the mustardy croutons add texture and crunch. This is a salad that pops.