Thanksgiving is all about gathering with friends and family to share a delicious feast. There’s always pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and of course, at the center of the table, the masterpiece – a perfectly roasted turkey.
But what happens when you have vegetarian or vegan guests? What if you’re just plain tired of turkey?
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to a big, roasted bird. Even if Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete for your family without the turkey, the following alternatives are worth looking into for other holiday or weekend dinners this fall and winter.
If you’re cooking for vegetarians, an easy option is a tofurkey, a stuffed roast of flavorful tofu. Whole Foods Market and health stores generally sell them prestuffed, so all you have to do is pop them in the oven for a few hours. If you only have a few vegetarian guests, you can buy a small one and roast it alongside a turkey for the meat-eating guests.
You can also make more substantial vegetable dishes instead of a turkey replacement. Sautéed mushrooms or roasted vegetables can be wrapped in pie crust or puff pastry and baked for a rich, filling entrée, or make a butternut squash lasagna with a creamy béchamel sauce. If you want turkey flavor without the meat, try using a vegetarian soup base to make stock for your stuffing, which you can bake in a casserole dish if you’re not stuffing a bird. Better than Boullion makes a “No Chicken” base seasoned to taste like chicken stock, and it comes pretty close.
If you’re just looking for a dish that’s a little more exotic than the standard roast turkey, try roasting ducks, geese or pheasants. Andronico’s, Draeger’s and Whole Foods markets often carry these other fowl, some of which can be stuffed and roasted like turkeys. Others require more specialized treatment. Check with your butcher or on the Internet for precise cooking methods and times.
Perhaps the most spectacular turkey alternative is the turducken, a chicken stuffed inside a duck (or vice-versa) stuffed inside a turkey. Each bird is deboned before being stuffed, making it easy to present each guest with a multicolored, multifowl slice.
The custom of stuffing birds inside increasingly larger ones dates back to the ancient Romans, though modern refrigerators and ovens make the process much easier. You can make your own turducken with a boning knife, some skill and some patience, or you can contact your butcher to see if he or she will custom-make one for you.
If you like the three-bird idea but don’t want the fuss of stuffing, Tabasco.com suggests making a roulade – placing a boneless, skinless duck breast on a chicken breast on a turkey breast, rolling up and tying with butcher’s twine to make a turducken roast.
Or go small and chic instead of big and bold. Cornish game hens are the ideal individual serving sizes. Stuffed with seasonal fruit or with a traditional bread stuffing, they roast in approximately one hour, and no one has to fight Uncle Joe for the drumsticks.
Fruit-Stuffed Cornish Game Hens
• 4 Cornish game hens
• 2 medium apples, diced
• 3/4 cup fresh cranberries
• 1 small onion, diced
Preheat oven to 350 F. Rinse hens thoroughly, inside and out. Place in foil-lined roasting pan.
Stuff each hen with apples, cranberries and onions. Place extra stuffing inside roasting pan next to hens.
Roast for 1 hour or until hens are golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes and serve.
Serves 4. Recipe is easily halved, doubled or tripled.