Growing up, Thanksgiving was an all-day affair for my family. We'd wake early to cook and fast until mid-afternoon when dinner was served. Since then, I've hosted countless Thanksgiving dinners - some for strangers, some for only our small family, and some for large gatherings of people.
Over time, I've put a few tricks together that make hosting simple no matter how big (or small), and here are a few of our family's favorite real food Thanksgiving recipes to share.
Jump to Appetizers | Soup and Salad | Sides | Main Course | Ferments | Drinks | Dessert
Little Nibbles to Start
Rarely will all the components of your meal be ready at a precise time; rather, there needs to be some element of flexibility in your timing that allows for a late turkey or a forgotten cranberry sauce. Having a few small appetizers and little nibbles available for your guests when they start to trickle in makes smart sense.
These items should be easy to make ahead, and perfect for serving at room temperature. Briny olives, toasted sourdough bread, cured meats, and bowls full of spiced nuts are easy to have on hand. A fall-inspired charcuterie board is perfect for greeting guests.
In addition to these basics, I like to keep a bowl of these toasted almonds with rosemary on hand as well as some chicken liver pâté or potted cheddar. Little brie bites are delicious, too. Fermented vegetables are nice, owing to their sourness and the way they can perk up the appetite, too.
Soups + Salads
If you're serving a sit-down menu with one course at a time, soup makes a nice start to the meal. If you're serving a big buffet-style dinner, a salad makes more sense because it holds a little longer and it saves you dishes.
Soups made from winter squash are perfect for this, and this Butternut Squash Soup with Harissa Oil is a nice flavor-forward start to the meal. For salads, we often opt for sturdy root vegetables such as this Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Kombucha Vinaigrette or this Quinoa Salad with Oranges and Cranberries.
The Main Event + Sauces
I love the magic of sharing a slow-roasted turkey with dinner guests and loved ones, and it's always a favorite on the dinner table. You start by slathering the bird with herb butter before roasting it low and slow until the meat literally falls off the bone. If you're looking for a quicker recipe, this maple-brined turkey is a win.
For smaller gatherings, an herb-roasted turkey breast or turkey roulade works well. This version is stuffed with butternut squash, while this roulade features cherries and chestnuts.
Cranberries are a natural match for roast turkey, with one of the earliest recommendations for the pairing dating to the 18th century.
If you don't care for turkey, a standing prime rib roast makes a stand-out alternative. We're also fond of Slow-Roasted Duck with Sour Cherry Sauce. If vegetarians will be joining you at the table, a savory pumpkin galette or stuffed butternut squash makes a nice centerpiece.
Something on the side
When you plan for Thanksgiving, plan to balance decadent and rich foods with light foods. Seasonal vegetables such as leafy greens and root vegetables help to balance heavier foods, such as roasted turkey, stuffing, and desserts.
Pairing rich foods with light foods and sweet foods with salty balances and diversifies your meal. It's also wise to strike a balance between foods that can be prepared ahead and those that must be made right before serving. Similarly, you'll want to strike a balance between foods that need oven space and those that can be made on the stove or in the slow cooker.
Some of our favorite sides include creamed collards, cranberry-glazed carrots, buttered spinach, and potatoes au gratin. Winter squash is a nice addition to the table, and I'm a fan of this Delicata Squash with Walnut Crumble as well as this version which partners them with Brussels sprouts and cranberries. While green bean casserole is always a favorite for Thanksgiving, we like to make Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots.
Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria that support digestion, and they often act as a digestive. Further, their natural acidity balances the richness of the meal. Keeping them on the Thanksgiving table makes sense.
We're fond of this apple and beetroot relish, which has an earthy sweetness balanced by a punch of acidity. This fermented apple and cranberry relish is nice as well.
Something to Drink
It's good to have wine on hand to greet your guests, and we're partial to the natural options at Dry Farm Wines. In addition, I like to serve something festive: Honey-Mulled Wine or an Apple Sangria are nice. Alcohol-free options include Mulled Cranberry Cider.
A Sweet Finish
Finishing with a little something sweet makes sense. I usually make a few desserts, depending on how many we're serving. Apples, cranberries, pumpkin, and nuts are perfect for fall dessert - pumpkin custard is a favorite in our house. But, a pumpkin roll or cranberry curd tart are delicious, too.