Every Thanksgiving presents the same challenge — how to juggle the turkey and the stuffing and the pie and all those sides in just one oven.
Turns out this one’s easier to solve than finding a tablemate for your obnoxious Uncle Hal. The answer? Elegant, no-cook dishes sprinkled throughout the meal.
Traditionalists may think “no-cook” means you’re cheating. But a first course of white gazpacho or a side dish of thinly ribboned butternut squash not only adds a splash of novelty and color, it also frees you up to spend more time pouring Champagne for your guests.
So we polled a few Thanksgiving experts for their best no-cook ideas.
— White gazpacho
A twist on the traditional Spanish tomato soup, white gazpacho is made by pureeing blanched almonds with grapes, garlic, olive oil and day-old bread. “That’s one place to do something a little more unusual,” says Jack Bishop, editorial director of America’s Test Kitchen. Serve it in espresso cups and garnish it with toasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of pumpkin oil or sherry vinegar. Chopped apple and smoked paprika would also add a seasonal twist. The soup can be made two days in advance.
Let’s agree that toasting bread isn’t cooking. Lightly toasted ovals of baguette topped with a variety of adventurous spreads make a lovely entry point to the holiday meal. Cookbook author Mark Bittman suggests topping your toasts with homemade beef tartar (be generous with the Worcestershire and capers) or cannellini beans pureed with olive oil, lemon and fresh rosemary. Goat cheese and candied nuts also make an easy topping.
— Relish tray
Why not revive your grandmother’s boring old dish of carrots, celery and canned black olives? “A lot of people think of it as a first course nibbly thing, but if you have a really exciting relish tray you’ll find people dipping into it throughout the meal,” says Sarah Copeland, food director for Real Simple magazine. She suggests creating a relish tray from store-bought artisanal pickles — green beans, beets, mushrooms, caper berries — and bright, beautiful one-bites such as raw radishes. “It will look very elegant, but it took you 5 minutes,” she says.
— Brussels sprouts
Just when you thought there was nothing new to do with these tiny cabbage heads. Bishop suggests dressing raw shredded sprouts with lemon juice, Dijon mustard and minced garlic. Garnish them with toasted pine nuts and pecorino cheese. “It’s an interesting twist on Brussels sprouts,” he says. “People don’t often think of them as a salad green.”
Though we always think of it grilled or steamed, broccoli is another veg that doesn’t need cooking. Instead, says Real Simple’s Copeland, thinly slice it and toss it with slivered mushrooms and red onion. A dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and a mess of fresh herbs — dill or basil or tarragon or all of the above — ties together the flavors. “People don’t always remember that a lot of cruciferous vegetables taste great raw,” she says. “It’s a richly fragrant dish, but it comes together with no cooking at all.” For the best flavor, she says, let it marinate overnight.
Seriously? Yes. Chef Chris Pandel, of Chicago restaurants The Bristol and Balena, plays off the squash’s true status as a fruit by serving it raw. Strip the squash into ribbons using a vegetable peeler, he says, then salt them and let them sit overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the water, then pile the ribbons onto a bed of endive. Sprinkle with toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds (hulled), pomegranate seeds and lots of fresh mint and basil. A dressing of yogurt, ground cumin and coriander, cayenne, honey and lemon juice wakes up the whole thing. “It’s not just refreshing and light, but it’s also super seasonal,” Pandel says.
Just because they’re the obvious way to go doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Real Simple’s Copeland suggests a salad of greens, beans and grapes — such as arugula, cannellini beans and halved red grapes. Store-bought spiced nuts round out the flavors. “It’s a real crowd pleaser,” she says.
And shaved fennel tossed with red onions, golden raisins and capers can be served tossed with whole parsley as a green, says Bishop. “It’s got lots of textures and flavors and it’s very crisp,” he says.
You don’t need to resort to a can to have no-cook cranberry sauce. On the back of just about every bag of fresh cranberries, you’ll find the formula for cranberry relish: berries, sugar, a whole orange and a food processor. Bishop suggests upscaling the old standby with chopped apple and ground ginger.
Copeland offers a take on the Waldorf salad, adding toasted walnuts, chopped Granny Smith apples, orange zest and maple syrup to your finely chopped berries. “It’s also delicious if you want to serve it with a dollop of whipped cream,” she says. “Call it ‘pre-dessert.’”
No-cook pumpkin “cheesecake” — that is, cream cheese and pumpkin puree poured into a store-bought graham cracker crust — is a traditional oven-free Thanksgiving dessert. But even this back-of-the package fare can work, Copeland says, if you deploy the secret weapon of all desserts. “Freshly whipped cream is the ultimate treat,” she says. A glug of amaretto in the pie, a handful of candied almonds on the top and it’s all good.
“Any time you can add one tiny luxurious element,” Copeland says, “you’re adding a little delight to something that’s very simple.”
FIRE UP THE OVEN
Will your family revolt if you don’t fire up the oven? Here are some conventional ideas:
Sweet potatoes generally get one of three treatments at the Thanksgiving table.
They are mashed like regular potatoes; they are roasted like squash, or they are saturated with sugar until they no longer resemble a vegetable.
We decided there had to be an alternative. We still mashed them, but we also doctored them up with a second mash — a puree of cauliflower and Parmesan cheese. The sweet and savory of those ingredients play so wonderfully together, you’ll never go back to the three usual suspects.
ORANGE SWEET POTATOES SWIRLED WITH PARMESAN CAULIFLOWER PUREE
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)
4 large sweet potatoes
16 ounces cauliflower florets, fresh or frozen
4 tablespoons butter, divided
Zest of 1 orange
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup shredded Parmesan
Heat the oven to 400 F. Poke the sweet potatoes all over with a fork.
Place the sweet potatoes directly on the oven’s center rack and bake for Bake, directly on the rack for 1 hour, or until completely tender.
While the sweet potatoes cook, steam the cauliflower. Set a steamer basket in a medium saucepan with 1/2 inch of water. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and add the cauliflower to the steamer basket. Cover and cook until the cauliflower is very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the cauliflower from the steamer and set aside.
When the sweet potatoes are baked, let them cool until easily handled. Peel the sweet potatoes, then place the flesh in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the butter and the orange zest, then mash well. Season with salt and pepper, cover the bowl and set aside.
Place the steamed cauliflower and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the food processor. Process until pureed. Add the Parmesan, then pulse to combine. Add the cauliflower puree to the sweet potatoes, using a spoon to swirl the two together without completely mixing them.
Nutrition information per serving: 180 calories; 90 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 8 g protein; 360 mg sodium.
Stop fussing over whether to prepare your Thanksgiving stuffing inside or alongside the turkey. Your life will be so much easier if you just embrace the wonder that is casserole dish stuffing.
And to help get you over that hump, we created a stuffing with big, bold flavors and plenty of texture. We kept the classic add-ins like celery, onions, thyme and sage, but sweetened them up with diced apples and golden raisins. Add a generous stick of butter and hearty wild rice, and you have a stuffing that will leave you delightfully stuffed.
By the way, the easiest way to cook wild rice is to treat it like pasta. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, add about 1/3 cup of uncooked wild rice and cook for 45 to 55 minutes, then drain.
MULTIGRAIN AND WILD RICE STUFFING WITH APPLES AND HERBS
Start to finish: 1 hour (15 minutes active)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon
1 cup cooked wild rice
3 medium apples, peeled and diced
1 cup golden raisins
1 loaf multigrain bread, cubed and toasted
2 1/2 cups low-sodium turkey or chicken broth or stock
Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a large casserole or 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large skillet over medium-high, melt the butter. Add the onions and celery and cook until tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt, pepper, scallions, parsley, sage and tarragon.
In a large bowl, combine the onion mixture with the cooked rice, apples, raisins and bread cubes. Stir in the broth. Spoon into the prepared pan and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving: 330 calories; 120 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 13 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 48 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 22 g sugar; 8 g protein; 440 mg sodium.