As Thanksgiving Day draws ever closer, cooks all over the United States are dusting off old recipe cards for family favorites, like Grandma Judy’s pumpkin bread and Aunt Rhoda’s deviled eggs. Cooking heirloom dishes brings the past, and lost loved ones, right back to the table. My dad may not be with us, feeding me scraps of skin as he carves the turkey, but his anadama bread is a molasses-tinged memento that is as tasty as it is sentimental.
Rounding out your family’s Thanksgiving menu is why we’re here. And maybe, if something hits just right, you can add to that pantheon of recipes you revisit year after year. Every heirloom recipe was new at some point.
Alexa Weibel’s vegetarian Thanksgiving feast is exactly where you should start your search. Comprising five incandescent dishes, it’s a fabulous, flexible menu you can serve as a meatless alternative to the usual turkey-centric gathering, or as sides for the roasted bird.
Of course, there are the requisite brussels sprouts, here sweetened with honey, brightened by chiles and citrus, and made crunchy with smoked almonds. Butternut squash is glazed with butter and ginger beer, then dusted with a zippy, ginger-spiked gremolata.
Alexa gives caramelized, roasted cabbage wedges the leeks vinaigrette treatment, slathering them with mustard vinaigrette. And her brilliant, novel way with pomegranate-dressed oyster mushrooms is to steam them before broiling, so they stay plump and juicy beneath their crisp edges and a tangy, fruity sauce.
Finally, as a showstopper of a main course, there is an ombré vegetable casserole (above) that layers pale potatoes, orange sweet potatoes and scarlet beets, all crowned with crunchy golden phyllo. I could also see serving this stunning dish in place of glazed sweet potatoes in an otherwise traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Of course potatoes of some kind are mandatory on the Thanksgiving table, especially for Claire Saffitz. In her latest piece for The Times, she even goes so far as to say that potatoes “render stuffing superfluous,” though I doubt that everyone would agree. In any case, Claire has three new excellent options: a hash brown-like garlicky mashed potato cake, twice baked potatoes inspired by pommes duchesse, and pommes boulangère, like a potato gratin made with broth instead of cream.
You do need a subscription to get the recipes. If you haven’t subscribed yet, there are a few weeks before the true holiday cooking rush begins (and for a limited time, your subscription is on sale). You can also find us on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, where you can watch J. Kenji López-Alt prepare his new mayo-roasted turkey. And if you want to talk turkey with me, you can send a note to [email protected].
Now, it’s not just that old recipes take us back to the past, like Proust’s madeleine; it’s that they bring a part of the past to the present. They’re like a medieval relic, a way to preserve the aura of something or someone we’ve lost.