For several years now, I’ve gathered with a large group of friends for Thanksgiving. While the same couple hosts each year, the guest list may change with the addition of a few new names or the absence of others. One thing rarely changes, however: the hosts provide the turkey and the venue, the guests bring along a feast of additional dishes and wines.
Tradition, of course, is a hallmark of Thanksgiving but sometimes even the prospect of facing yet another 20-pound bird is just too much to bear. Last year we served lamb; it was wonderful, but this year we’re having turkey again. Whether it’s because we’re tired of turkey, or we’re only planning dinner for two, there’s absolutely no reason to be bound to the same menu year after year.
For many Americans, Thanksgiving means other dishes entirely and there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t feel free to borrow from them, regardless of our ethnic heritage. For many Mexican-Americans, tamales are an important part of the holiday. As a dish going back some 5,000 years and rooted firmly in the Americas, there’s little room for debate as to how traditional they may or may not be. They can be sweet or savory, stuffed with meat or vegetarian (although purists will scoff at the idea of tamales made with anything but lard).
Italian-Americans look forward to ravioli, often served right alongside the bird. Another advantage to these stuffed pastas: they can easily be made vegan or vegetarian, or you can make your life even easier and buy them already made. If you choose to make the ravioli or tamales yourself, however, you can pull your friends and family in to help; you’ll definitely want help if you make the tamales. Isn’t preparing the meal together part of the appeal?
Instead of traditional stuffing, some Chinese-Americans draw on an equally rich dish: glutinous rice with turkey giblets, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and lop cheung, or dried sausages made from duck liver or pork.
If you’re cooking for just a few people, perhaps just two, and want to stick with tradition, turkey breasts are easy to prepare and still provide generous servings. Of course, there’s no reason you have to stick with turkey: a roast chicken is a perfectly lovely alternative, as is duck.
Of course, some simply can’t let go of tradition, although their take on what’s traditional might seem a bit askew.
“Cranberry sauce,” said Sarah Kelley, a screenwriter in Sierra Madre, Calif. “And yams with sherry and melted marshmallow. And peas. And mashed potatoes. And white meat. I could seriously drink a milkshake of all these things, pureed, and be happy.”