Thanksgiving with a Twist (16 unconventional recipes)

Thanksgiving is all about tradition, of course. And the tradition in our house is that we always try out something new on our menu every year. Here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes with a twist…


Every year I dutifully cook up a pot of my German great-grandmother’s braised red cabbage, even though, with each passing year, fewer and fewer people actually help themselves to so much as a shred of it. I do it because its very presence gives the meal  its gravitas, its meaning. And because the deep wine-y purple cabbage, stewed with apples and vinegar, fills the kitchen with the ghosts of holidays past. As the family has grown and spread out the ties to that red cabbage dish are fading. My sister and I make it basically for each other. For us it’s redolent with memories, but for the rest, it’s just. well, kind of yucky.


Part of the fun of food blogging is the challenge of creating recipes that play with tradition and innovation. Tradition has time and experience on its side, so tinkering with it can be risky business, but it’s so rewarding to come up with a new recipe that becomes an instant family (or blog!) classic.


Since Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, I like to honor it by embracing the incredible variety out there — so much more than my great grandmother ever dreamed of. If you normally make cauliflower gratin, why not use purple, green, or orange cauliflower this year. If you usually serve roasted carrots, go for the rainbow variety. There aren’t too many among us who want to sit down to a casserole of candied yams and marshmallow anymore. But coriander and jalapeno roasted sweet potatoes with a lemongrass sauce, that might be just the thing to reinvigorate the menu.


I especially love it when an experimental recipe morphs into its own tradition. That’s the way it was with my Pumpkin Cornbread. It’s now requested…no, demanded…at every Thanksgiving going forward. It’s even made its way into the stuffing.


Traditions will always be important during the holidays, but I think the way to keep it alive, to keep everyone from falling asleep in their mashed potatoes, is to spice things up a bit, whether you inject a little whimsy into the menu, or just experiment with new foods and flavor combinations. My Whipped Kabocha Squash with Vanilla Bean and Nutmeg quickly became a new classic in our family.


Check out my lineup of Thanksgiving recipes that tweak tradition just a little bit, below ~ You’ll notice I don’t include any variations on the turkey. An oven roasted turkey is an awesome thing and I wouldn’t dream of messing with it…

Braised Red Cabbage

Braised red cabbage


Whipped Kabocha Squash

Whipped Kabocha Squash with Vanilla Bean


Cranberry Relish with Horseradish and Sour Cream

cranberry relish in small jars with spreading knife


Cranberry Gingersnap Pie

Cranberry Gingersnap Pie


Green Bean Casserole, from scratch!

Green Bean Casserole from scratch


Smokey Pumpkin Chipotle Bisque

pumpkin chipotle soup


Pumpkin Cornbread

Pumpkin Cornbread sliced into wedges on a wooden board


Butter Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole


Harvest Wild Rice Salad

Harvest Wild Rice Salad with pomegranates


Wild Mushroom and Hazelnut Baked Brie

Mushroom and Hazelnut Baked Brie


The Great Stuffed Pumpkin!

The great stuffed pumpkin


Mulled Pomegranate Cider

Mulled Cranberry Cider


Wild Rice Salad with Cranberries and Nuts

Healthy, vegan and gluten free wild rice salad


Maple Frangipane Pecan Pie

Maple frangipane pecan pie


Kale and Butternut Salad

Kale and butternut squash salad in a wooden bowl with wooden salad servers


Kale and Fall Fruit Salad

kale and fall fruit salad in a white bowl

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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    Yasmeen | Wandering Spice
    November 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    I’m all for unconventional. We had quite a traditional-style Friendsgiving last weekend, and will repeat the goodness with a family Thanksgiving this weekend. Next year, though, we will turn the entire party into a potluck – each family bringing a dish from a different culture.

    Love some of your ideas here, especially that persimmon chutney.

    • Reply
      November 27, 2013 at 7:32 am

      I love that idea of the international potluck, what fun. Have a nice weekend, Yasmeen!

  • Reply
    Damaris @Foodie
    November 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Great collection! The Frozen Turkey is so cool.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    I don’t think I could love these images, words, and unconventional recipe ideas more!

    • Reply
      November 20, 2013 at 6:56 am

      Thanks Rikki! I hope you try at least one of them this year…

  • Reply
    Laura (Tutti Dolci)
    November 19, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Beautiful farmers market photos and I’m all for Thanksgiving with a twist!

  • Reply
    Kitchen Belleicious
    November 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    such a great post! I love all your ideas. You are so wise my friend

  • Reply
    Kiran @
    November 19, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Delicious round up and so pretty photography!! Love 🙂

  • Reply
    November 19, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    I didn’t realize you had German roots! I love red cabbage, and can eat it any time of year. It is fun to spice things up, but don’t mess with my sweet potatoes. Gotta have ’em! The only thing I’m making, this year, is “Make Ahead Turkey Gravy” that I’ll freeze and transport to our destination. I have no idea what will be served, but I’m thrilled (for once) to be a guest, and not an exhausted cook and baker. Happy Thanksgiving!

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