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Why make the usual Thanksgiving meal? We offer some alternative recipes for alternative families

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor


GRACIAS-GIVING | The sweet corn humitas with avocado and lobster is one of the twists chef Stephan Pyles developed when coming up with his South American-inspired menu at San Salvaje . Unusual ideas for Thanksgiving meals give the flavor of the season without the traditional recipes. (Photo by Kevin Marple)

Turkey is the unequivocal king of the Thanksgiving dinner table, but if you’re tired of bowing down to a Butterball every fourth Thursday in November, there are alternatives. From indulgent Southern-style cuisine to a succulent Italian feast to a vegan spread, here are some non-traditional ways you can celebrate what you’re thankful for … while still stuffing your face.

“Sexy” Southern: Blythe Beck
Chef Blythe Beck developed her reputation as The Naughty Chef, coming up with indulgent, calorie-counters-be-damned recipes for those who are not merely gourmets, but gourmands. She’s currently the executive chef at Kitchen LTO, the permanent pop-up restaurant at Trinity Groves. For Thanksgiving, she came up with the following spread: “Pounded pork loin breaded and fried; bacon-braised green beans; bourbon sweet potato mash; and black pepper country gravy.”
If the abundance of words like “breaded,” “fried” and “bacon” worry you, you don’t know Beck.

“I love this dish because it gives you the flavors of Thanksgiving — with the green beans and sweet potatoes — but it adds a naughty touch to the holidays with pork and frying!” she explains of her so-called “sexy Southern cuisine.” “Anything smothered in pork gravy has to be good.”

Vegan: Eddie Garza
You might think that Thanksgiving is a tense or disappointing time to be a vegan, but for Eddie Garza, the exact opposite is the case.

“I love Thanksgiving — it’s my favorite holiday,” says Garza, food policy coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States. All the talk of turkey doesn’t make him feel left out? Not at all, he says. Vegans love to cook, and Thanksgiving is a cook’s nivrvana. “It is for me like everyone else,” he says. “There are many vegan options.”

He plans to buy a hazelnut cranberry roast en croute by Field Roast. “It’s kind of a vegan beef Wellington,” Garza says. The holiday roast by Gardein is another popular option.

If you wanna make it yourself, try a vegan meat loaf made with lentils, or vegan tamales. Black beans, quinoa, kidney beans and purple hulled peas can complete the feast. And don’t forget standards like cornbread, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce — these are vegan anyway, as long as you don’t add butter.

South American: Stephan Pyles
One of the deans of Texas cuisine, Stephan Pyles is known for exploring south of the border for bold flavors to complement his unique palate. With his new South American-inspired restaurant, San Salvaje, he worked out a season-of-thanks menu with Peruvian, Cuban and more Latin influences. (He hosted a special dinner of these items at the resto earlier this week.) On the bill: Caramelized butternut squash soup with Cuban-spiced apple dumplings; braised pork belly with perismmon-chile chutney; quinoa-stuffed acorn squash; Peruvian sweet-potato mash; sweet corn humitas with lobster and avocado; and pumpkin-spiced tres leches cake.

Italian: Johnny Carino
“Growing up in New York with an Italian family was a very different time for the holidays,” says Johnny Carino, the out chef (formerly with Dallas-based Brinker) who now serves as exec chef at King & Prince Seafood near Atlanta. “While most ate turkey and ham, our table became more focused on creations my grandparents brought back from Sicily. As a kid — and up until the time I moved to Texas — I had never seen, or eaten, cornbread stuffing. Ours was an awesome array of Italian sausage, garlic, basil, and day-old Italian bread cooked in olive oil and fresh chicken stock.”Artichoke_recipe

Carino suggests, as his family did, replacing a turkey with a garlic-infused fresh leg of lamb rolled in olive oil, seasoned with fresh rosemary, sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. “This was the focus of our table, cooked to a vibrant medium rare.” The slow-cooked lamb was basted and covered with foil until the last 45 minutes “to give it that wonderful golden brown. Wow, I can still smell it cooking.”

Green bean casserole was also new to him. Instead, they ate steamed stuffed artichokes filled with breadcrumb, garlic, olive oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley. “The artichokes were cut on the leaves to remove the sharp points, submersed into boiling water for five minutes, then cooled. We then removed the inside leaves and the points above the heart. This and the leaves were then all stuffed with the above ingredients. The artichokes were then placed into a sauce pot, we added just enough water to cover the bottom and a touch of olive oil, covered it with foiled and stove top steamed them.” (See his artichoke recipes left.)

A great dessert table is also an Italian tradition: pies, yes, “but the emphasis was on cannolis, Italian cookies and rum baba,” Carino says.

Seafood: John Tesar
Although he’s been a hit this year with the steakhouse Knife, John Tesar’s Spoon proves his passion for seafood — even on Thanksgiving.
“I suggest to roast a swordfish — the whole side — and stuff it like a turkey!” he says. Make a seafood stuffing consisting of cornbread, shrimp, scallops, sage, thyme and pork: “It is out of this world.” Served with a classic beurre blanc sauce.

More ideas
Barbecue. Southern-style barbecue includes many meaty staples like brisket, pulled pork and slow-smoked ribs. To feed a crowd, however, finger-lickin’ fried chicken is a wise option to keep the meal affordable, and to ensure that everyone can partake. (Even among carnivores, some have sworn off red meat or pork for various reasons, but chicken is generally foolproof.)

Tex-Mex. Begin with a cool ceviche made with fresh seafood like shrimp or whitefish. For your mains, prepare a selection of Mexican favorites likes enchiladas, tamales and tacos. To make these dishes more Thanksgiving-y, replace the traditional protein in these dishes — usually chicken, beef or pork — with chile-and-spice-grilled turkey. Finish on a sweet note with Mexican chocolate cakes with cinnamon ice cream.

— Additional reporting by Mikey Rox

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 21, 2014