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Thanksgiving Recipes

Need cooking inspiration for the big dinner day this year? Browse this collection of 20 Thanksgiving recipes that include mains, soup and appetizers, side dishes, and desserts. You find the classics, plus some unique options. And, as always, vegetarian recipes, too!

Turkey & Carbs

In my family, turkey is always served, but the real stars of the show are the carbs: potatoes and stuffing, with a smattering of other sides. Whether russet potatoes or sweet potatoes, sage dressing or chestnut stuffing, the carbs will always have my heart at Thanksgiving.

  • Over the years, as it became clear to my mom that turkey was more of a side to the sides at the celebration meal, she started choosing ever smaller turkeys. And one strange holiday season, when it was my turn to cook for an unexpectedly reduced crowd, I discovered the whole turkey breast, and blue skies opened wide and butterflies flitted and puppies scampered. The title of my recipe is Roasting a Turkey for Two: Turkey Breast with an Apple Cider Brine, but if you’re a “sides” family like mine, it will easily feed 4 to 6. The reduction in hassle alone — the bird actually fits in a standard fridge for thawing — is worth it.
  • Homemade mashed potatoes are a non-negotiable must-have at Thanksgiving dinner, and these decadent Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes are a marvelous choice. So fresh and creamy! (Vegetarian)
  • Please don’t run away when you read this: I’m just not a fan of the marshmallowy, dessert-like sweet potato thing that’s famous in some culinary corners. But I am all about the sweet potato, in all of its rich, earthy and savory forms. So, one year I did my own spin with a Savory Sweet Potato Casserole, and the peeps loved it. (Vegetarian)
  • Probably one of my favorite preparations of sweet potatoes is roasting them with select spices, and topping them at serving with a lovely, herby sauce. Spiced Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro Sauce is a unique and tasty option for guests who prefer sweet potatoes over russets. (Vegan)
  • We’re stuffing-cooked-separately-from-the-bird people, just to get that out of the way. We have two family favorites that rotate years, depending on the availability of fresh chestnuts (which are sublime, btw). Wild Mushroom, Chestnut & Sausage Stuffing is always a crowd-pleaser and can be made ahead (please ignore the primitive photos – this is one of the oldest Thanksgiving recipes on my site, long before we bloggers realized that recipe photography actually matters, lol). It’s much easier to to find prepared chestnuts now, so feel free to take that shortcut!
  • I’m sure that bread pudding sounds like an odd savory dish for Thanksgiving, but it’s actually quite a lovely substitute for stuffing/dressing. A little richer, a little more decadent, Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding with Sausage and Gruyère is a delightful alternative to more traditional stuffing. It’s also make-ahead easy, and a great option to make for a Thanksgiving leftovers meal, because there’s never any stuffing left after Thanksgiving, and we always have to make more!

Sides & Salads

I love me some carbs, but I do appreciate a good veggie-strong Thanksgiving side, if for no other reason than to cut the heavy carb load now and then. A few bites of something lighter and brighter is very welcome!

  • This list had to begin with a good cranberry sauce. I know, it’s controversial, because some people love fresh cranberries and some love the jelly stuff shaped like the can it comes out of. But, in the spirit of knowing that you don’t really need a recipe for opening a can, my Instant Pot Spiced Cranberry Sauce takes the fresh fruit and cooks it up quickly with select spices for a zesty take on this famous side. It’s also make-ahead easy! (Vegan and gluten-free)
  • I was yesterday years old when I learned that it’s a tradition in some Southern households to serve a salad of some sort with Thanksgiving dinner. It’s brilliant. Despite my love of carbs, I could really get behind a green salad as a side option. I think my lightened up Seven Layer Salad is the perfect candidate. It’s a beautiful rainbow in the bowl, and features a creamy salsa vinaigrette instead of the classic goopy mayo dressing. (Vegetarian)
  • I have a complicated relationship with Brussels sprouts. It’s probably not hard to guess why. But what I’m not ambivalent about is raw Brussels sprouts leaves. They’re delicious, people! And they make very tasty salads (they’re in the cabbage family, so think coleslaw). This falling-leaning Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apple, Fennel, and Bacon features fall-harvested produce tossed in a tangy, scrumptious honey mustard vinaigrette.
  • If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary but still vaguely Thanksgiving-y, I’ll suggest this Cranberry Quinoa Kale Salad. It uses fresh cranberries to great effect, without dumping a load of sugar on it. Plus it features heart-healthy ingredients like kale, pomegranates, and pistachios, for a delicious, guilt-free option. (Vegan and gluten-free)
  • I’m not sure if grits are actually a traditional Thanksgiving side dish in any region of the U.S., but if you have nightshade avoiders (and that include russet and Yukon gold potatoes), these Cheesy Grits would make an excellent stand-in. (Vegetarian)

Soups & Appetizers

I didn’t think much about it until I sat down to write this post, but I’m realizing now that soup on Thanksgiving is a yearly tradition for me. Not for the big meal, but earlier in the day, when you need a bite that’s semi-substantial but also not nap-inducing. But with the smaller celebrations of 2020 (and possibly 2021), soup makes perfect sense to me on the actual Thanksgiving menu. A bowl of any of the following would be very welcome next to my carby sides. I’ve also added a couple of delicious snack options, in case your family gathering is an all-day event and you need to keep the peeps fueled.

  • Mushroom soup can be a challenge to get right, in terms of depth of flavor. Restaurants often cheat with loads of heavy cream, cream cheese, and salt, which does work (especially texture-wise), but also ends up leaning more towards cream cheese soup than mushroom soup. My Hungarian Mushroom Soup is a bit of a project (it’s make-ahead-able!), but delivers big-time on flavor and rich decadence. It’s definitely special-guest soup!
  • If you love winter squash soups, then you have to check-out the version made famous by Panera. Autumn Squash Soup is rich, creamy, and savory all in one bowl. When fall hits, my cravings dive headlong right for this soup. It would be the perfect accompaniment to your Thanksgiving feast! (Vegetarian)
  • Here’s another pumpkin soup that’s holiday celebration-worthy: Creamy Pumpkin Soup. Don’t worry, the homemade pumpkin gnocchis are optional, as the soup stands quite deliciously on its own, but they’re super fun as a cooking project. (Vegetarian)
  • I’ve always been curious what goes on at other people’s houses on a big holiday, especially food-wise. We’re nibblers at Casa SoupAddict—snacking throughout the day because it feels like eating a meal takes away from the big event. These Honey Sriracha Roasted Pumpkin Seeds are a tasty, healthy snack (and they’re also a great soup topping, as you can see on the Autumn Squash Soup above)! (Vegetarian)
  • This one is a little bit out there, but I first created the recipe because I love salsa so much, and it’s always a sad day when I wave goodbye to the last of my homegrown tomatoes and jalapeno peppers. Cranberry Avocado Salsa is not only a unique and festive replacement, it’s also seasonally appropriate, beautiful in the bowl, and a great way to use up leftover fresh cranberries from the sauce you made. (Vegan)

Desserts

As someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth, I never really leave room for dessert on Thanksgiving (carb-coma is already well underway by then; sugar is not necessary, lol), but I also realize that I’m pretty much alone on that one. Our family has no objections to frozen pumpkin and pecan pies (to ease the overall food prep), but I have a collection of pumpkin desserts that are different and holiday-friendly, if you’re looking for something unique.

  • If you’re having a small get-together, these individual Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars in Jars are adorable and make-aheadable.
  • One season some years ago, I went on a bread pudding kick (after realizing that it’s not what I thought it was (fortunately)), and turned lots of things in bread puddings (including the savory dressing above). Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Nutella Glaze is easy to make and, with its decadent Nutella glaze, is a delightful, sweet treat.
  • My Pumpkin Spice Crumb Cake with Chocolate Chips could go two ways, either as a coffee cake breakfast treat, or as a lighter option for dessert. Studded with chocolate chips, it’s light and flavorful — perfect for fall!
  • If your oven can’t take even one more thing, go the no-bake route. This No-Bake Chocolate Creme Pie with Swirly Meringue is a chocolate lover’s dream, topped with a super-fun and wavy meringue topping that’s a stunner on the holiday table.

I hope you find a few Thanksgiving recipes that will both ease your day and please the family. Here’s to gathering with family and friends over delicious food and good spirits!

Karen xo

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