A turkey breast is the most obvious option for those who enjoy the traditional feast but don’t necessarily need 10 pounds of meat for two or four people at the table. However, if the idea of not eating turkey doesn’t ruffle your feathers, let yourself off the hook. You just don’t have to serve it!
As a food professional who personally couldn’t care less about the bird, I have spent the past few years serving anything but an entire turkey at my Thanksgiving dinners.
It’s a highly adaptable dish that can serve a crowd or just a few people — and don’t feel as if you need to stick to turkey or even chicken. A vegetarian pot pie, stuffed with vegetables like potatoes, green beans, squash, corn and peppers, can be just as thrilling and filling.
Stuffed peppers are for weeknight dinners — stuffed squashes are showstoppers for Thanksgiving! Smaller squash varieties make for a gorgeous individual presentation that would eclipse a turkey even if it were on the table.
Slice off the tops of round squash such as carnival or acorn, or halve oblong squash like delicata lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds and stringy insides.
Main dish casseroles
As someone who believes that stuffing is the reason for the season, I’m here to say it’s not a stretch to translate this classic Thanksgiving sidekick into the main course.
Think of it more as a savory bread pudding instead of a regular side, with ingredient add-ins that boost its main-meal potential with even more flavor. Like stuffed squash, you can take a stuffing casserole in almost any direction.
In many Italian American families, a slab of lasagna is a traditional starter or side dish alongside the more widely accepted holiday dishes. But why not flip the script and turn lasagna into the main attraction with a Thanksgiving twist?
Happy Easter or Passover
If your favorite holiday meal is Easter or Passover, there is no food law that says you only need to eat it once a year. The traditional ham or brisket that takes center stage at those big feasts can easily make its way over to Thanksgiving.
Either of these big-deal roast cuts go well with the usual roster of Thanksgiving sides, from mashed potatoes to green bean casserole to roasted sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.
So if you’ve got a beloved family recipe for brisket or would just rather have a ham, by all means, make that meal for yourself.
Mac and cheese
Hear me out. When made from scratch, mac and cheese is a dish of indulgence even on a regular day. But if you have the option to make it more special, why not go all the way?
Bake a no-holds-barred mac-and-cheese casserole with real dairy and crunchy breadcrumbs, then top it with something even more decadent, like fried onions — hey, if they’re good enough for the green beans, rest assured they’re going to be great here. Or go Southern-style with barbecue pulled pork or brisket.
In fact, brisket mac and cheese is what my husband and I will be having at our two-person Thanksgiving this year. In a time when all bets are off, why not go in on the comfort food you love the most?
Casey Barber is a food writer, photographer and illustrator; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.