No matter what the television commercials show, a Thanksgiving meal doesn’t need to feature turkey. There are plenty of tasty, festive meat and vegetarian options.
Consider some of the best ones from top chefs, foodies and other clever cooks:
1. Intimate meal of pheasant
You may only think about it when you’re in a four-star restaurant, but pheasant – low in fat and cholesterol – has been a menu treat since ancient times, according to D’Artagnan, a gourmet food purveyor. A 2.5-pound pheasant serves two people, so it’s the perfect bird for an intimate Thanksgiving dinner. Cooking pheasant is almost as easy as cooking chicken or turkey, with some slicing and roasting and plenty of basting. Celebrity chef Emeril shared a simple, succulent recipe with Food Network.
2. Venison: Arguably as traditional as turkey
Venison is a popular game meat that has rich, red meat packed with iron, zinc and healthy vitamins. Like beef, it pairs well with seasonal vegetables, including squash, turnips and potatoes, and looks beautiful on a platter. Unlike some beef, venison is very lean, according to D’Artagnan. Here’s another interesting tidbit from Smithsonian.com: Venison was on the menu of the first Thanksgiving. And basic cooking techniques, such as the one on Livestrong.com, are still the best ways to cook it.
3. Stuffed pork chops
“The other white meat” is even more flavorful when it’s filled with cranberry-pecan stuffing. Yes, the recipe takes a bit more work than simple roasting, but the result is an entrée full of seasonal flavors. The chef on The Corner Kitchen offers a recipe for an apple-parsnip mash that completes the meal.
4. Pork roast with bacon
Yes, this honey-mustard pork roast with bacon is a decadent delight for the holiday. Even better, it’s easy to make – basically arrange a pork loin roast in a pan with bacon and bake, according to Food Network. Bonus: The Food Network also offers a great recipe for a side salad and a suggestion for a wine, pinot noir.
5. Minus-the-meat: Stuffed shells
Slammed for time and want to skip any meat? Martha Stewart has a recipe for tasty jumbo pasta shells filled with cheese, including ricotta. Serve with a salad and rolls, and you’re ready for guests. Still fretting about time? The recipe can be made ahead and frozen. It’ll be ready for the oven when you’re ready for it.
6. Filled butternut squash
This seasonal favorite makes a tasty main dish when filled with caramelized leeks, sausage and cous cous. Brooklyn Supper has the recipe that is very straightforward – basically clean, rinse, slice and sauté the leeks in butter, cook the cous cous, fry the sausage. Move on to prepare and fill the squash and bake. Bonus: The recipe can easily be modified to make it vegetarian.
7. Cedar plank salmon
One of the juiciest, healthiest, meatiest fish – salmon – is deliciously buttery when you fire up the grill and cook it on a cedar plank. Many people love it plain, but Food Network has a tasty alternative with Dijon mustard and brown sugar. Don’t forget: The cedar planks, available in many food stores and on several online sites including Amazon, need to be soaked before you put them on the grill.
8. Classic cheese lasagna
This might seem simple, but how many times do you serve it and have leftovers? Hardly ever because it’s so delicious. Martha Stewart offers a recipe for a ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella-filled dish that’s perfect for vegetarians and hearty enough for meat lovers. Bonus: You can create and freeze a month in advance before serving.
9. Rack of lamb, with flair
Want to replace the traditional turkey with something a bit more elegant? Try Sichuan Racks of Lamb with Cumin and Chile Peppers. A Food and Wine recipe proves it’s fairly straightforward, although you will need to stock up on a host of spices, including black cardamom pods and Sichuan peppercorns. Suggestion: If you want to serve wine with it, consider champagne.
10. Here’s the beef
Martha Stewart suggests a luscious roast beef with horseradish sauce as your non-turkey Thanksgiving entrée. Place onions on the side of the beef while it’s baking to make it extra flavorful – and fill the house with a mouth-watering aroma. Tip: Beef continues to cook after you remove it from the oven. Let it stand at least 10 minutes before carving.
11. Holiday ham
There’s a reason the lines for gourmet hams often stretch around the stores just before Thanksgiving. Ham is one of those succulent foods that smells – and tastes – like home, family and holiday. But there’s no reason to stand in line waiting for a prepared ham (though there is no shame in it either). Paula Deen shared an easy, gourmet recipe on The Food Network. Hint: Sure you can skip the glaze that Deen recommends, but you may want to give it a try. It’s simple and tasty.
Sometimes you just want a one-dish meal – or close to it – to feed a crowd. That’s jambalaya, which can be made in myriad ways, using different proteins. Smoked sausage jambalaya relies on the heavily spiced and smoked sausage served in many Cajun dishes. Epicurious’ recipe will have guests thinking they are dining in New Orleans. Tip: Worried the dish is too spicy for some? Try the gravy suggestion from Epicurious.
Do you have a good alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.