“Hate is a very strong word,” my mother used to say to me across the dinner table. “You should be grateful for the food on your plate.”
“But I hate it!” I’d squeak back to her in the most pitiful whine I could muster.
“Penelope Ann,” she’d say in that voice, tilting her head ever so slightly. I knew the fight was over. I ate it—whatever IT was.
Now that I’m an adult, I get to choose the foods that go on my plate. Every day, that is, except for Thanksgiving, when roast turkey has tenure as the main attraction for no other reason that I can see except for tradition. And if you know about my tofu turkey, you know I am not one for tradition. It’s not that I hate turkeys (I stopped using the word “hate” in reference to food around the age of 10); I just prefer not to eat them.
And I don’t think I’m alone. With at least one vegetarian or picky eater in most families these days, it’s becoming more common to serve an alternate to the Thanksgiving bird. And I am all for it (even though, I can feel you turkey traditionalists sending me daggers with your eyes through the computer screen).
Here are 5 turkey-free Thanksgiving main dishes that I would be so excited to eat alongside my stuffing and green bean casserole this year. (Find 13 more ideas for turkey-free Thanksgiving main dishes here.)
Apple-&-Leek-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
I absolutely love apples and their tangy sweetness is the perfect complement to briny pork. Our easy method of tying the roast together keeps the filling inside while you brown and roast it. We use applejack, brandy made from apple cider, for depth of flavor in the pan sauce, but you can use 1/2 cup cider if you prefer.
Salmon with Red Wine-Morel Sauce
This elegant dish is a great last-minute option—it’s ready in 45 minutes and doesn’t require use of precious oven space. Dried mushrooms give this rich red-wine sauce an almost meaty flavor. Look for them in the produce department of well-stocked supermarkets or specialty grocers. If you’re not a fan of salmon, try the recipe with halibut instead. Serve with barley tossed with parsley and steamed broccolini. To double: Prepare a double batch of sauce in the large skillet, increasing reduction time as needed. Cook 2 1/2 pounds of salmon in two batches, adding oil as necessary.
Sweet Potato, Red Onion & Fontina Tart
This roasted-vegetable free-form tart is a beautiful and delicious meatless main dish option for the Thanksgiving feast. The pastry dough is very forgiving and quite easy to roll out on parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. The walnut-studded crust is crisper served warm, but you can enjoy the tart at room temperature or cold too.
My mother is English and this rich, flavorful roast duck appeals to the Brit in me. The orange marmalade and soy sauce glaze accentuates its gamy taste. It’s an irresistible treat for company.
Squash & Leek Lasagna
The beauty of this vegetarian Thanksgiving dish is that it can be made ahead of time. Grated butternut squash, pine nuts and sautéed leeks in a creamy white sauce are layered with sheets of whole-wheat pasta for this wintery variation on a vegetable lasagna. Any Parmesan cheese can be used in this casserole, but we recommend Parmigiano-Reggiano for its superior flavor.