Charles Edouard Edmond Delort (1841-1895), "The Harvest Festival"

I approached my first encounter with Thanksgiving dinner with a degree of wonder and anticipation. And I was mildly surprised to discover that it was a very close cousin to the British Christmas dinner, which also features roast turkey with gravy, stuffing, roast potatoes, winter veggies—and lots of all! Cranberry relish, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin were the only new items for me.

As with the harvest festivals of Europe, the menu for the original Thanksgiving was based on seasonal abundance. That is the core for any good, successful menu. Living among New Yorkers of many different nationalities, over the years I’ve enjoyed learning how newcomers adapt their traditional cuisines to the celebration. Recently arrived Chinese Americans, for example, may serve rice along with the potatoes and sweet potatoes—for many Asians, a meal is simply not complete without it.

Regional differences are wonderful to explore in a Thanksgiving menu: ham in the South, for instance, andouille in Louisiana, or chile, cilantro, and corn in New Mexico. Perhaps one of your guests has ties to another region, and this year’s menu could be built around it.

As I’ve mentioned, much of the drudgery and sometimes disappointment of Thanksgiving arises from repeating the usual, threadbare patterns. One spot for a shake-up is the menu. The strategy might be to feature the usual beloved ingredients but in a different—and importantly, more portion- and calorie-controlled—configuration. Introduce rich, high-calorie favorites as tiny bites before the meal and as small tastes at dessert. In between comes a selection of familiar foods served in fresh ways and given a colorful veggie tilt.

Here’s a menu that combines all of the above: regional variations, harvest-season abundance, touches of richness, and the lightness of vegetables prepared in new ways. It’s not necessarily a menu to re-create for your table—rather, it’s to inspire you and get you thinking about how you might shake up your own menu this year.

Recipes for many of these dishes may be found online. A recipe for the butternut squash soup appeared with the previous Thanksgiving Countdown. The gingered carrot-pumpkin bread pudding and cream cheese mousse appears with this one, and the sticky toffee banana bread pudding will arrive with Countdown Part 4.

I’d love to hear about the menu you’re planning for your Thanksgiving celebration, and the new dishes you’re planning to try this year.

Nibbles (for the hour or so before the feast)
Mini-seafood corn dogs with red pepper mayonnaise
Individual cauliflower mac and cheese with pimenton-powder crumbs
Pate de Campagne, roasted pear and pickle with Dijon-buttered toast
Saint-Marcellin cheese with maple-toasted pecans

Dinner
Butternut squash soup with whipped chevre and nutmeg-cocoa dust

Herb and pancetta marinated roast turkey with jalapeno-cheddar cornbread stuffing
Spinach frittata with pickled radish and arugula, apple vinaigrette

Minted white and green asparagus
Roasted beets with lemon thyme-infused extra virgin olive oil
Savory mushroom-potato-hazelnut-cranberry crumble
Roast sweet potatoes with gingered green beans

Arugula, mint, celery and fennel salad with toasted hazelnuts, rosemary-orange vinaigrette

Dessert
Gingered carrot-pumpkin bread pudding with orange marmalade cream cheese mousse
Apple-raisin crumble with peanut butter ice cream
Chocolate brownies
Sticky toffee banana bread pudding with Bourbon crème fraiche

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