Giving Thanks

There’s a lot to be said for the traditional trappings at Thanksgiving: the goopy sweet potato casserole with tiny, burnt marshmallows on top; the sodium-soaked green bean casserole topped with tinny-tasting fried onions; gelatinous slices of canned cranberry “sauce”; boxed-broth flavored stuffing with the consistency of packing peanuts.

Wait, no… There isn’t.

Happy Turkey Day
Image courtesy of Flickr user jeffbalke.

Sure, everyone looks forward to the traditions at Thanksgiving each year — gathering with your close family or friends, stuffing your face, coming down off your food high in front of the Cowboys game or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, making turkey and cranberry sandwiches for breakfast the next morning, and eventually deciding that you don’t want to see another turkey until, well, next Thanksgiving — but no one said the food had to be traditional, i.e., boring and flavorless.

Why not start a new tradition for Thanksgiving? Why not prepare some easy yet amazing, simple yet delicious dishes that inspired by the season, not by the collective subconsious? Below are some of my favorite recipes; hopefully they’ll inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me.

Instead of bland, flavorless cornbread stuffing, give one of these phenomenal stuffings from Bon Appetit a try: Wild Mushroom & Spinach Stuffing or Bacon, Apple and Fennel Stuffing. The latter is particularly fitting for the season, with succulent little fennel bulbs and crisp apples. And the former can easily be adapted for vegetarian or vegan friends and family.

Instead of dumping out a can of cranberry sauce and listening to it slide sickeningly out of the tin with little belches before landing on the plate with a sound that can best be described as “giving up,” why not just make some cranberry sauce from scratch? It’s easier than it sounds, trust me. Try this: Cranberry, Pear and Ginger Chutney. Apple cider vinegar, ginger and onions give this sauce a tangy bite that gives way to the sweetness of the pear, cinnamon and orange zest. An extremely well-balanced recipe if I’ve ever seen one.

Instead of that godawful sweet potato casserole that only the folks sitting at the kids’ table enjoy, try this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers: Molasses Glazed Acorn Squash. My love for acorn squash is exceeded by very few other foods, and for good reason. It’s gorgeous to present, naturally sweet (even better when roasted), and extremely good for you. No tiny marshmallows needed here.

Instead of serving your family and friends a week’s worth of salt in one fell swoop with that soupy green bean casserole, give this amazing Brussels sprouts recipe a shot: Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion, Chili and Cumin Seeds. Unlike most Brussels sprouts recipes which call for heavy cream, bacon, butter or pork fat, this recipe calls only for olive oil and allows the sprouts to shine while allowing you to have a healthy yet hearty dish.

Of course, there are some Thanksgiving food traditions that aren’t to be meddled with: sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie and pecan pie, the triumverate of Thanksgiving desserts that should grace every sideboard or kitchen counter. But that’s just me.

What about you, sweet potatoes? What are your Thanksgiving traditions? Would Thanksgiving be meaningless and empty without a certain dish or two?