Three ways to feast without a turkey in sight

Taco party.
Taco party.
Image: AP Photo/Matthew Mead
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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because it’s an invitation to spend a couple of days cooking, eating, and relaxing with my favorite people. To be honest though, there are a lot of dishes I’d rather cook and eat than a turkey.

Here are a few ways to celebrate without the weight of tradition dictating what goes on your table.

Make, or eat, whatever feels fancy to you

This works best if you’re having a small Thanksgiving, with six or fewer people. Skip the bird and go straight for the scallops, or risotto with white truffles (they’re in season!), or beautiful steaks. Make a luscious pasta. Bake a super fancy cake or go absolutely bonkers and make a croquembouche. Put together an incredible cheese plate and buy some special bottles of wine. Spend your Thanksgiving dollars on a tighter, more refined menu that makes you happy.

If you’ve decided to eat out, skip the special Thanksgiving-themed tasting menus. Go to a steakhouse or the dim sum place that usually has an hour wait—any restaurant that isn’t serving some kind of turkey roulade with a side of pureed parsnips. Treat Thanksgiving like it’s your birthday dinner, not like an obligation.

Project cooking that isn’t Thanksgiving dinner

“I’ve never actually made a beef Wellington,” my husband said to me in a wistful voice the other day. If there’s an item that inspires a similar feeling for you, make it. At my house, that includes Sunday gravy, the famous lamb shoulder from Za’hav, and that Wellington—a pastry wrapped and paté-stuffed filet mignon.

If you want a meaty main dish that can feed a crowd, but you also want it to be easy, pork shoulder is your new best friend. Momofuku-style bo ssam works really well if you like Korean flavors. Or, do a low, slow overnight cook to serve with hearty vegetable sides, or with coleslaw and buns for a pulled pork barbecue feast. All of these take a little bit of prep in terms of gathering ingredients and making sauces, but they’re simple recipes that can be done mostly in advance.

Taco party

Tacos are the best food. Everyone knows this. They’re fun, they’re festive, they’re season-less and they can accommodate meat, fish, vegetables, beans, or eggs to suit almost any dietary preference. Corn tortillas are even gluten-free!

If you’re hosting and cooking it all, choose three fillings to prepare. Al pastor, a pork and pineapple combination, can be made on the grill or in the Instant Pot. More of the internet than you might imagine is devoted to creating copycat recipes of Chipotle taco fillings. Potatoes and sweet potatoes both make super satisfying vegetarian options. Soyrizo cooked with potatoes and onions is legitimately delicious fake meat. Nod to Thanksgiving by making turkey carnitas. Personally, I love shrimp tacos topped with a crunchy cabbage slaw.

Make your fillings, get the freshest tortillas you can find, or make them (five per person is a generous feast that will leave you with leftovers). Make a pot of black or pinto beans, and a pot of rice. You’ll also want sour cream, cilantro, avocado, shredded cheddar cheese, and maybe some cotija, a fresh cheese, as well. Add pico de gallo, and red and green salsas (buy them if this list is stressing you out!) to the mix and you have a party.

This makes a fantastic potluck, too. Provide the beans, rice, tortillas and one filling, and then ask your guests to bring a filling and salsa of their choice, or an appetizer like chips and guacamole. Make a Google doc or keep a list so that you don’t end up with five bowls of carnitas. Or leave it to chance. It’s your party.