15 Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes

November 16, 2020 | |

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Overhead Shot of the Thanksgiving Quinoa Bake Casserole with two plated servings. Hello, friends!

I was about to say that Thanksgiving looms large on the horizon—but I think a more apt statement is…Thanksgiving looms small on the horizon?

Holiday celebrations are going to look different for many of us this year, but I think one silver lining is that smaller feasts may create an opportunity to experiment with some non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner recipes! If you’re considering forgoing the usual whole bird centerpiece and sides, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite celebratory recipe ideas that I’m hoping might inspire a special/memorable meal next Thursday.

From the famed Thanksgiving Quinoa Bake to Roasted Cauliflower Parmesan and a magical Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin, I’m hoping there’s a little something on this list to please every palate and lifestyle. I’ve also included a list of options from The Dude Diet and The Dude Diet Dinnertime at the bottom of this post for those who have the cookbook(s). Most recipes serve 2-4, so even if you’re cooking for one, leftovers will be manageable (and very delicious).

Sending extra love to you and yours—I’m thankful you’re here. And please don’t hesitate to hit your weird blog lady up with any Thanksgiving-related questions leading up to the big day.

p.s. For those who are sticking to the traditional meal, you can find turkey tips here, and all my best Thanksgiving recipes here.

15 Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas:

Partially covered casserole dish with three cheese pumpkin mac with pancetta and sage along with one plated serving of the pasta. Three Cheese Pumpkin Mac with Pancetta and Sage. This decadent pumpkin mac was originally created as a Thanksgiving side, but it is more than capable of holding its own as the main event. For an absolutely relaxing/stress-free Thanksgiving day, feel free to whip up the sauce the day before and then gently reheat it on the stovetop about 20 minutes before serving. Once it’s heated through, add the pasta, extra cheese and breadcrumbs (which you can also prep in the morning), and broil for a couple minutes. 

Overhead view of Thanksgiving Quinoa Bake in a casserole dish with a serving spoon breaking the surface of the casserole. Thanksgiving Quinoa Bake. Quinoa bakes are my specialty, and this one is the perfect homage to the traditional Thanksgiving meal minus the hours of prep. It’s endlessly customizable, but the building blocks are: turkey or chicken (feel free to use Idiotproof Chicken Breasts or a store-bought rotisserie bird), some sort of winter squash or sweet potatoes (either roasted or pureed), a green vegetable (Brussels! green beans! peas! spinach!), gravy, and cranberry sauce (both of the latter can be store-bought). All these glorious goods get folded together with fluffy quinoa and cheese, topped with garlicky breadcrumbs and baked until golden and bubbling to create a holiday flavor party that can’t be beat. 

Overhead closeup of two servings of spaghetti and meatballs with napkin, forks, and a small bowl of Parmesan cheese for garnish.Spaghetti and Meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs is the most comforting of comfort food meals, and this recipe won’t let you down. Round out the meal with a green salad and maybe some garlic bread if you’re feeling festive, pour a nice red, and go all in on warm fuzzy feelings. We need all the warm fuzzies we can get. 

Overhead view of ratatouille pot pie in an oval casserole dish with two partially visible glasses of white wine and a small bowl of crushed red pepper and basil in the background.Ratatouille Pot Pie with Potato Crust. This recipe is a supremely satisfying vegetarian meal—although I wouldn’t be against meat-lovers adding some sausage—especially if you’re looking to do some “meditative cooking” this Thanksgiving. (There’s a lot of slicing, dicing and simmering involved, which I happen to find very soothing.) Although it involves mostly summer veggies, they’re ones that you can easily source year-round, and the final dish is truly quite hearty. 

Overhead shot of three bowls of penne with arugula and goat cheese pesto, along with forks, glasses of red wine, crushed red pepper, and bowls of arugula and goat cheese. Sausage and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Arugula and Goat Cheese Pesto. This wildly delicious pasta feels special but is surprisingly simple to pull off. And I can’t say enough wonderful things about the pesto, which is one of my all-time favorite recipes and very much something to be thankful for! It’s bright and peppery, and the combo of buttery walnuts and tangy goat cheese gives it the perfect creaminess and depth. Highly recommend pairing this one with champagne…

Two plated servings of roasted cauliflower parmesan with side salads alongside a baking sheet with partially visible cauliflower steaks. Roasted Cauliflower Parmesan. Caramelized cauliflower “steaks” smothered in tomato sauce and melted mozzarella, and topped with plenty of whole wheat Panko and Parmesan is comforting, yet still shockingly light and nutritious, and I love to imagine it as the star of many vegetarian T-Day celebrations. Serve it with salad or over pasta!

Overhead view of a brown rice bake with sausage and apples in a skillet with two glasses of red wine in the background.Butternut Squash Brown Rice Bake with Sausage and Apples. The sweetness of apples and butternut squash with sausage is one of my favorite combos, especially when you get some fresh thyme and sage involved. Those foolproof fall flavors are just the thing to dress up hearty brown rice, especially when you get lots of nutty, melty fontina involved, and top the whole shebang with a crunchy Parmesan-Panko topping. It’s a food hug, and very much worthy of a 2020 Thanksgiving moment.

Overhead view of a whole slow-roasted chicken with some meat pulled from the bone surrounded by Mediterranean taco fixings. Slow-Roasted Chicken Tacos with Mediterranean Salsa. This. Chicken. This chicken is the most perfect, mind-blowingly tender, unapologetically MOIST chicken ever. The meat picks easily off the bone with your fingers and the skin is a beautiful combination of crisp and sticky. For any other occasion, I’d have to sell you on the 3-hour time commitment, but given that a turkey would take longer, I feel this is very much appropriate for a Thanksgiving feast. You can serve it taco-style as written (which is glorious), but you can also serve it with a few “traditional” sides. I’d personally go with mashed or roasted potatoes (regular or sweet!) and some simply roasted Brussels sprouts. 

Overhead view of a whole roasted chicken in milk with quinoa and asparagus on plates in the background.Roasted Chicken in Milk. If the faux-tisserie bird doesn’t do it for you, perhaps take Jamie Oliver’s “milk chicken” for a spin. It sounds odd, but this bird incredibly tender and flavorful, and the cooking liquid makes for an incredibly flavorful, non-traditional “gravy.” Serve it with some potatoes or your favorite grain and a green side for a simple but intensely comforting dinner. 

Two plated servings of Risotto with Sausage, Apple, and Goat Cheese.Sausage and Apple Risotto with Goat Cheese. For whatever reason, risotto always feels celebratory to me, and this recipe has a special kind of magic. Turkey sausage adds heft and savory flair, apples provide a lovely unexpected sweetness, and the subtle goat cheese tang is downright magical. 

Overhead view of Kabocha Squash Quinoa Bake with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta in a skillet. Kabocha Squash Quinoa Bake with Brussels Sprouts and PancettaYou knew I was going to sneak at least two quinoa bakes onto this list, right? This one is an oldie but a goodie and really delivers on the festive fall flavors. It’s also endlessly adaptable! Vegetarians can ditch the pancetta, gluten-free friends may swap in GF Panko or go sans breadcrumbs, and if you can’t get your hands on kabocha squash, butternut will obviously do. Garnishing the bake with tart-sweet pomegranate arils is optional but highly recommended. (Note: This also makes a great side for meat or fish!)

Overhead view of Brown Rice Casserole with Mushrooms, White Beans and Bacon in a casserole dish. Mushroom, White Bean and Brown Rice Casserole with Bacon and Gruyère. Few things are more beautiful than bubbling cheese and crispy bacon, and setting this dish on your table is guaranteed to deliver some serious joy and gratitude. Hot tip: You can prep this entire recipe a day in advance and then pop it in the oven a half hour before serving!

Overhead view of sliced beef tenderloin with rosemary on a plater and one plated serving. Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary. Not feeling turkey, but still want a meaty centerpiece? Beef tenderloin is an unparalleled holiday showstopper, and this one is unlike any other you’ve tasted. (Like, slap yourself in the face amazing.) I stumbled across the low-heat method in Ina’s Foolproof many years ago, and I haven’t cooked a tenderloin in any other way since. Try it with cauliflower purée, or a potato gratin! (This Sweet Potato Gratin with Pancetta, Parmesan and Sage is unreal, as is this Two-Potato Gratin with Herbs and Goat Cheese.)

Two plated bowls of Baked Orzo with Broccolini, Sausage and Fontina.Baked Orzo with Broccolini, Sausage and Fontina. Each bite of this decadent orzo casserole is a textural home run, and the comforting flavor profile was built for holiday feasting. The true magic lies in the Fontina sauce, which is creamy, yet light, and kicked up with subtly fruity extra virgin olive oil, crushed red pepper, and bright lemon zest. 

Brown Rice Jambalaya with Shrimp and Chicken Sausage in a pot.Brown Rice Jambalaya with Shrimp and Chicken Sausage. I saved the best for last, friends! This one-pot wonder remains one of the most beloved recipes on this site, and it’s also in my personal top 10 favorite recipes of all time. It’s definitely non-traditional (both for a jambalaya and for a Thanksgiving dinner), but I guarantee it would make for a very special and memorable holiday meal.

Fantastic Ideas From The Dude Diet:
Dude Diet Shepherd’s Pie
Loaded Chicken Enchiladas
Magic Faux-tisserie Chicken + Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Goat Cheese
Dude Diet Lasagna
Epic Meatloaf + Cauliflower Puree with Parmesan and Chives or Smashed Potatoes with Garlic and Thyme

More Fantastic Ideas From The Dude Diet Dinnertime:
Butternut Squash Cheesy Rice with Sausage
Samosa Shepherd’s Pie
Lemon Orzo Skillet with Chicken and Artichokes
Ratatouille Baked Gnocchi
Striped Bass with Cherry Tomato Sauce, Bacon and Garlicky Bread Crumbs
Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary Red Wine Sauce + Kickass Carrots and/or Boss Brussels Sprouts Salad (or BOTH)
Pork Tenderloin “Steaks” with Warm Shallot Vinaigrette + Herb Potato Coins
Pan-Seared Lamb Chops with Pistachio-Mint Gremolata + Sour Cream and Onion Cauliflower (would also be great with the Cauliflower Puree with Parmesan and Chives or Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Garlic and Thyme from The Dude Diet)
Seared Scallops and Couscous with Cucumber, Orange and Pistachios
Slow-Cooker Brisket with Carrots and Onions
Pork Chops with Shaved Brussels Sprout and Apple Slaw (Roasted or mashes potatoes would also be an excellent addition here.)

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  1. Jean on November 16, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    The pumpkin mac link points to the quinoa bake. Can you fix? Thanks!

    • Serena Wolf on November 16, 2020 at 6:24 pm


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