Face it: When it comes to holiday dinner, “tradition” can just be another word for “predictable.” Mom’s good ol’ roasted bird, Grandma’s funeral potatoes and Uncle Earl’s pumpkin pie, delightful though they may be, have you hankering for something new to add to a familiar menu. Whether it’s a satisfying vegetarian option, gluten-free comfort food or a new twist on an old favorite, here are a few recipes to give that big gathering a spark.
For vegetarians everywhere, the idea of sitting down to yet another meal centered around a carcass on a platter grows older and more challenging each year. Back in the day, it was a nut loaf to counter the Christmas ham, or a tofurkey meekly being led to table to sit next to an actual stuffing-bloated bird, or a sad potato latke sitting flat and idle against a beefy brisket. But no more. Vegetarians have finally risen to the challenge of a centerpiece dish with the VeggieLeerken, inspired in part by the hellishly indulgent TurDuckEn (think giant meat ball of death). It’s a dish that’s not only delicious, but can boldly hold the center of a holiday-trimmed table.
The recipe for this meatless masterpiece is simple—basically, two sweet potatoes inside leeks inside a banana squash with your favorite stuffing acting as mortar between each layer. Split a banana squash in half and pile in some stuffing, layer in the leeks, more stuffing, potatoes in the middle (peeled and microwaved for best results) and then back yourself out with more stuffing, more leeks, more stuffing and the top half of the squash. Bake the behemoth at 350 degrees in the oven for about 2 hours. When it’s soft and warm all the way through, it’s done. —Jacob Stringer
Vegan & Gluten-free Mac & “Cheese”
Mac & cheese is a favorite winter comfort food and can be enjoyed regardless of dietary restrictions. This recipe is simple but can be dressed up by adding veggies or proteins. I love adding sauteed mushrooms and garlic.
First, cook 1 pound of gluten-free pasta, like Ancient Harvest’s Quinoa Pasta, according to box instructions; drain and set aside. Melt 3 tablespoons of vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper and 1 teaspoon garlic salt to butter. Slowly add 2 cups unsweetened nondairy milk (coconut milk works well) to butter mixture. Sprinkle 3 cups nondairy Daiya Cheese shreds on butter-milk mixture. Whisk and reduce heat to medium-low; it’s important to keep stirring so the Daiya shreds don’t stick to the bottom. Once the sauce is smooth, pour onto pasta. —Nicole McDonald
Make-Ahead Pumpkin Cheesecake
Though the Thanksgiving table archetype always has a pumpkin pie (or two), it’s never been one of my favorite desserts. But since I don’t want to get run out of town on a rail by bringing a non-pumpkin dessert to a family gathering, I mix it up with a light pumpkin cheesecake—it’s still got that comforting flavor, but is airy and almost mousse-like, with that nice cheesecake bite to end your feast with a bang rather than a mushy mouthful of pumpkin-pie filling. The cheesecake will need to be refrigerated for at least two hours (overnight is better), so treat yourself to some alone time in the kitchen the day before Thanksgiving craziness.
Grab an 8-ounce brick of cream cheese from your fridge and set it out on the counter. Break up about 14 graham crackers into crumbs and place in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1/2 cup melted butter and mix. Transfer to a 9-inch springform pan and use a clean measuring cup with flat sides to press the graham-cracker mix into the bottom of the pan and about 2 inches up the side. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes and set aside. Now, to make the filling, boil 1/4 cup water and add a pouch of unflavored gelatin. Stir occasionally until it’s dissolved. In a new bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer till it’s smooth. Add in 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, 1 cup sour cream, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract; continue to mix, then add the gelatin and mix until smooth. Pour into your graham-cracker crust and refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours. —Rachel Piper
Tom Cook’s Famous Stuffing
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday by far. Being a member of a foodie family makes every holiday, birthday and Wednesday a feast day, but nothing matches the spread we put out for Thanksgiving. My dad is in charge of the turkey and the stuffing, and although his stuffing isn’t fancy—no fruit or nuts here—it’s pure awesomeness. We love it so much that my dad is required to make an additional 9-inch-by-13-inch sidecar of the breaded goodness so we can eat it until we are sick, literally.
Toast and pull apart 4 loaves of white bread. Cut up and brown 2 pounds of link sausage and add to bread. Dice 1 large onion and 2 celery stalks, saute them in butter and add to bread. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning and 1 tablespoon sage onto bread mixture. Pour enough chicken stock on the bread mixture to moisten it. Then, stuff into the bird, or bake separately for 30 minutes. —Aimee Cook O’Brien
No-Marshmallow Sweet Potato Casserole
A few years ago, it came to the attention of my family that I was capable of providing more than a sack of store-bought rolls and a bottle of wine to the holiday feast. I was asked to make sweet potatoes. Against my family’s wishes, I do not top them with marshmallows. I do this:
Peel 3 to 4 sweet potatoes (Don’t call them yams. Their mothers don’t appreciate it) and cut crosswise into disk shapes about 1/2 inch thick. Parboil in 3 quarts of water until they are easily pierced with a fork, but not soft. Drain and set aside. Peel, core and slice 3 or 4 tart baking apples. Heat 2 tablespoons butter on medium heat in large saucepan and fry apples until soft and brown. Add 2 teaspoons cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg to apples while cooking and think of your grandmother. Layer sweet potatoes and apples in a greased 9-inch-by-9-inch casserole dish and top with 1/4 cup chopped pecans. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan and add 4 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Whisk well, and pour mixture over sweet potatoes and apples. Bake for 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft and well-glazed. —Rob Tennant
Real Tasty, Real Easy Cranberry Sauce
If you don’t like your cranberry sauce shaped like a tin can, this recipe makes zingy, impressive-looking sauce that is killer on Thanksgiving-leftovers sandwiches.
Simmer together 1 package of fresh cranberries, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup orange juice and 1 teaspoon cinnamon until the berries start to pop and the mixture starts to get nice and thick. It will thicken more as it cools, so don’t stress if it seems runny. Slather it on turkey and everything else on the Thanksgiving table. —Kolbie Stonehocker