There's a lot to love about Thanksgiving—the sense of community, the hearty food, the delicious pies. But turkey? Not so much. To be clear, it's not that I actively dislike turkey. I think turkey is a totally adequate source of protein—you know, the kind of protein I'll spend most of the meal listlessly pushing around my plate.
So, while I may not be a vegetarian, it just so happens that I'm a firm believer in the idea that a meat-free Thanksgiving can ultimately be a tastier Thanksgiving; one in which your precious stomach real estate is wholly devoted to the real stars of the show. Here's the side-heavy, cheesy, creamy, rich, but totally turkey-and-all-other-meats-free Thanksgiving of my dreams.
The Best Squash Lasagna
Roasted squash is pretty freakin' delicious. But you know what's even better? Roasted squash puréed with cream cheese and butter; spread on top of lasagna noodles; covered with sautéed, sage-seasoned cubes of apples and more squash; doused in a Gruyère-based white sauce; layered with all that stuff over and over again; and then topped with more cheese and sauce. Yeah. You'll like this one. See ya, turkey.
Creamy Roasted Broccoli Soup With Buttermilk and Spiced Pepitas
If the word "broccoli" tends to conjure a hellscape of limp, bland stalks, it's time to revisit the classic brassica. Rather than blanching or steaming our broccoli, we start by roasting it until it's tender and brown, for a deeper, more complex flavor. A pour of tangy buttermilk adds brightness and acidity, not to mention a creamy texture, to the mix. Puréed with sautéed onions and a seasoning blend of coriander, red pepper flakes, cumin, mustard seed, and turmeric, the resulting soup packs a powerful punch. But hey, if it's not quite over-the-top enough for you, you can always give our broccoli and cheddar cheese soup a shot instead.
Ultra-Crispy New Potatoes With Garlic, Herbs, and Lemon
Plenty of potato recipes claim that they'll turn out crisp, but I can't count the number of times a so-called crisp potato has turned to soft, squishy mush within minutes of emerging from the oven. A few tricks help these new potatoes break the mold—boiling them in acidic water eliminates papery crusts, while using plenty of fat keeps those skins from veering into leathery territory. But one of my favorite elements of this method is that you get to beat the crap out of your potatoes. Bashing parboiled potatoes around a bowl with a bit of oil will cover their surfaces in starchy potato bits that crisp up far more efficiently when they head into the oven. The result is a bowl of creamy-on-the-inside and stunningly, durably crunchy-on-the-outside potatoes, which we finish with a bright, citrusy dressing of chopped herbs, garlic, and lemon.
Roasted Cauliflower With Pine Nut, Raisin, and Caper Vinaigrette
Some vegetables are just made for roasting, and cauliflower is one of them for sure. It does the brown-and-crispy-edges, tender-and-delicious-interior bit like a pro, and its mildly sweet, vegetal flavor partners well with most other ingredients. Like, for instance, a sweet-briny-nutty-grassy mix of olive oil, vinegar, honey, capers, pine nuts, raisins, and parsley.
Easy Roasted Mushrooms
Whether you're roasting or sautéing, the greatest challenge of cooking mushrooms is dealing with their spongy texture and high moisture content—they have a tendency to steam in their own liquids, rather than getting the rich, browned flavors we associate with roasted vegetables. Happily, the solution is straightforward, easy, and fast (I'm talking five minutes of active labor and an hour in the oven). We start by quartering the mushrooms and tossing them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then we roast them with sprigs of thyme or rosemary for about 15 minutes, until they've released all their liquid. Pouring off that liquid is key (but do save it—it doubles as a great vegan seasoning sauce), since it allows the mushrooms to continue roasting in a lower-moisture environment. Instead of steaming in their own juices, they'll crisp and brown and intensify in flavor. Toss them with some freshly chopped herbs, like parsley, chives, or tarragon, and you're good to go!
Extra-Smooth Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin isn't a universally beloved flavor—I should know, because 99% of the time, I hate it. This pie is my one major exception. With ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, it's spiced, sweet, and autumnal enough to satisfy lovers of all things pumpkin, but bright, acidic, and tangy enough to retain a broader appeal. Its superior flavor and remarkably velvety texture come thanks to a generous dose of cream cheese, which keeps the dessert just shy of cloying territory.
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