Staff-Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes
Beet Chips With Turmeric-Yogurt Dip
Here's a lighter, more colorful take on the usual chips and dip. Beet chips crisp up in a flash in the microwave. Keep close watch on them to make sure they won't scorch.
If you can’t decide between pecan and pumpkin pie, this dessert will give you a taste of both in one slice. A quick brown sugar–pecan streusel tops the pie after it bakes; the topping will set into a crunchy layer as the pie cools. Be sure to use a standard 9-inch pie plate rather than a deep-dish one to ensure an evenly baked crust.
Sherry-Cava Citrus Fizz
In the following collection, we share 479 years of our staff's collective holiday knowledge and know-how for everything from the perfect centerpiece turkey to the best apple pie.
First up is a cocktail from the former Editor of Cooking Light, Scott Mowbray. "I wanted the Spanish flavors of Catalonian cava and Jerez sherry to mingle in a holiday punch. The syrup, called an oleo saccharum, pulls essential oils from the orange peel and perfumes the cocktail," Scott explains.
Make this punch up to 4 hours ahead, but wait to add the cava until just before serving.
Fall Vegetable and Lentil Salad
This salad of lentils with roasted butternut squash, carrots, and onions gets plated over a bed of creamy, lemon-scented Greek yogurt—so with each bite, you get the flavors of sweet caramelized veggies, earthy-nutty legumes, and tangy yogurt. We love the firm texture of French green lentils, but you can also use standard brown lentils. You’re not likely to find a whole butternut squash that’s only 1 pound; just buy the smallest one you can find, and use 1 pound of it.
Tricolor Beet and Carrot Salad
This salad takes advantage of both multicolored beets and carrots to create one stunning salad platter. Get ahead by roasting the beets up to a week in advance. You can also shave the carrots a day ahead and refrigerate the ribbons in ice water. Keep the colors from bleeding together by arranging the salad on the platter instead of tossing. If you can’t find Chioggia (red-and-white striped) beets, use additional red and golden beets.
Herb, Lemon, and Garlic Turkey
Instead of a wet brine, this bird uses an overnight dry salt and sugar cure, which concentrates flavor. If you want to leave the skin on, it will add 25 calories and 1g of sat fat per serving. Hard herbs (fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme) hold up beautifully while roasting, imparting a woodsy, savory note to the meat. Soft herbs (parsley and chives) garnish the turkey and perk up the finished gravy. The wine in the roasting pan will keep the bird moist as it roasts and flavor the pan drippings used for the gravy.
Tricolored Beet Tart
Start your holiday meal with a simple yet gorgeous beet tart, topped off with tangy goat cheese, crunchy hazelnuts, and flaky sea salt. Par-bake the crust to get a lovely raised edge (what forms the shell of your tart) and ensure that the bottom will be cooked through. If you or your guests are not beet fans, substitute sweet potatoes: Wrap 4 (4-ounce) sweet potatoes in parchment paper, and microwave at HIGH 3 minutes. Then cool, peel, and slice. You can also sub feta for goat cheese and pecans or walnuts for hazelnuts.
Maple-Caraway Brussels Sprouts
Layer upon layer of bold flavor earned these Brussels sprouts our test kitchen’s highest rating. The sprouts get deeply caramelized in toasted caraway and browned butter, then are quickly finished with a sweet and pungent mixture of maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and sherry vinegar. Caraway has an anise-like flavor similar to fennel seed. Add to roasted carrots or parsnips, or sprinkle over whole-grain rolls or crackers. Start the caraway and thyme in a cold pan so they can infuse the butter as it browns.
From the Kitchen of Alice Eldridge Summerville: Cooking Light's Office Manager
Alice describes these little bites as cheese straws with an olive stuffed inside. They were a special treat reserved for holidays and for whenever her parents hosted the supper club in their Birmingham, Alabama, home.
We put a whole-grain spin on this appetizer. Freeze unbaked olivettes for a month; bake from frozen for an extra few minutes.
Brown Sugar-Spiced Nut Mix
From the Kitchen of Cheryl Slocum: Cooking Light Senior Food Editor
A bowl of nuts in their shells was a coffee table staple for Thanksgiving snacks when Cheryl was young. "Operating the nutcracker was a real draw for us little kids," she says, "but our tastes have evolved to this sweet-hot crispy mix."
Achieve a bronzelike patina on these candied nuts by keeping a close watch near the end of their roasting time. Too long and they'll overdarken and take on a bitter flavor.
Warm Spiced (and Spiked) Cabernet
From the Kitchen of Rachel Lassere: Cooking Light Art Director
"If my cousin is in charge, then our warm wine punch goes especially boozy. Either way, it's got to have the oranges with the little cloves."
Garnish this punch with a cinnamon stick or orange slices.
Creamed Greens with Farro
This dish takes its cues from classic creamed spinach and raises the bar with braised mixed greens, whole-grain farro, and a crisp panko crust. Hearty yet not heavy, and gorgeous straight out of the oven, this is the kind of side that looks and feels holiday special. Swiss chard and dark, bumpy lacinato kale both wilt down fairly quickly; their texture and vibrancy will stand out once combined with the creamy three-cheese sauce. The farro can be cooked, drained, and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week before Thanksgiving.
Salted Caramel Apple Pie
A quick homemade caramel sauce that’s folded into fresh apple slices and baked in a whole-grain crust takes this classic holiday pie to the next level. A hint of salt in the sauce intensifies the apple flavor and balances the sweetness. Apples contain a natural thickener called pectin; grating some of the fruit will ensure a gooey, cohesive mixture once baked. Crisp, sweet Fuji apples bake beautifully and will contrast the salty caramel. You can also use Cripps Pink or Honeycrisp apples.
Wilga Hill Boomerang II
From the Kitchen of Sheri Wilson: Cooking Light Art Director
"Every year, a week after Thanksgiving, we throw a party for all our friends. My husband discovered the Wilga Hill Boomerang in a cocktail book, and it has become the signature drink for the event."
We streamlined and lightened the original recipe but kept true to the gin, apple, and vermouth at its heart. Premix big batches (except the ice) in a pitcher up to a day ahead. Shake servings for 1 or 2 at a time with ice.
Gram's Clam Dip
From the Kitchen of Katie Barreira: Cooking Light Test Kitchen Director
Katie, a Boston native, and her cousin rivaled for their grandmother's clam dip recipe and the secret to what made her version green. "My cousin Jen won the battle," says Katie, "so it remains a mystery to me, although I think it's just food coloring."
Katie's lower-fat version uses reduced-fat Greek yogurt and cream cheese for a creamy result that does this heirloom dish justice. Precut crudités will hold up well if you'd like to prep them the day before. Wrap trimmed and cut veggies in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a zip-top plastic bag for the crispiest texture.
Maple-Sumac Roasted Walnuts
Here’s a perfectly simple and delicious snack. A little sumac adds a bright piney-citrusy note. Look for it at specialty spice stores. A tablespoon of lemon rind can sub for sumac, if you prefer.
Sage and Garlic-Rubbed Cornish Hens
Foolproof techniques will help you perfect the holy trinity of the Thanksgiving table – the bird.
From the kitchen of Keith Schroeder: Cooking Light Columnist and Cookbook Author
"When I'm short on time or I'm serving just a few people, I'll roast smaller birds like Cornish hens."
Because Keith splits and roasts the hens spread out flat (called spatchcocking), the Thanksgiving main course is ready in less than an hour.
From the kitchen of David Bonom: Longtime Cooking Light Contributor
"For one of my birthdays, all of my friends chipped in and gave me the smoker of my dreams, knowing that they would benefit from it. Ever since then, my suburban New Jersey neighbors have gotten to enjoy the smells of my Thanksgiving turkey as it smokes in the backyard."
Applewood chips lend a slightly sweet and fruity flavor to the meat. You can also try smoking the turkey with cherry or alder wood chips for more delicate smoked flavor.
Brown Sugar-Cured Turkey with Apple-Bourbon Gravy
From the kitchen of Hunter Lewis: Cooking Light Editor
"On the front end, I infuse flavor by rubbing a cut-up turkey and curing it overnight. A deconstructed bird doesn't need as long to roast as a whole bird. That gets me valuable oven time for casseroles and ensures the white and dark meat, which all cook at different rates, is roasted to perfection."
Smoky Spatchcocked Turkey
Grill a spatchcocked turkey for a smoky, robust bird that's ready in half the time. We remove the backbone and roast the turkey flat so that every part has access to the heat at the same time. The turkey won't have grill marks (it cooks flesh side up over indirect heat) but will absorb that chargrilled flavor. A smoky spice rub of paprika and ancho chile powder seems fitting for the grill, but you could use any spice combo or minced fresh herbs combined with a couple of tablespoons oil.
Sausage and Chestnut Dressing
From the kitchen of Blakeslee Giles: Cooking Light Food Styling Assistant
"I have fond memories of Thanksgiving in Richland, Georgia, with my grandmother. Her dressing was to die for."
We kept all the love Blakeslee's grandmother poured into her dressing and added chestnuts for texture and earthy flavor. You can find whole roasted chestnuts in the baking aisle.
Potato and Parsnip Gratin
The addition of parsnips is an elegant twist to this traditionally all-potato dish. Parboiling and drying the sliced parsnips and potatoes first will keep them from absorbing the sauce in the oven so the gratin stays creamy. Half-and-half is our dairy of choice for this dish—a combination of equal parts cream and whole milk that gives the sauce its body while keeping the saturated fat at just 3g per serving. Toss the vegetables gently with the sauce so the slices don’t fall apart.
Classic Corn Bread Dressing
From the kitchen of Ann Taylor Pittman: Cooking Light Executive Food Editor
"Corn bread dressing is something my Mississippi-born soul craves because it's just so good, and it's what I grew up with."
This is the quintessential Thanksgiving side dish in the South. It is made from crumbled corn bread, with no added French or sourdough bread to cut it, so the texture is unique. Loads of aromatics give this dressing its flavor; don't be tempted to use less.
Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy
From the kitchen of Diane Morgan: Cooking Light Contributor
"I always make stock well before Thanksgiving in the slow cooker, and then freeze it. This way the gravy is never lacking deep turkey flavor."
The key to flavorful gravy is a good turkey stock. In November, it's easy to find turkey wings, which make an especially rich stock. Try this classic gravy or one of the next three variations. All can be made ahead, cooled, and frozen up to two months. Thaw; then reheat over medium-low, stirring with a whisk.
This recipe is your guarantee that no part of the bird will go to waste.
Wine and Herb Gravy
A little wine for you and a little for this gorgeous gravy.
Southern Corn Bread Dressing Squares
From the kitchen of Hunter Lewis: Cooking Light Editor
"Everyone stakes out their favorite piece: the crispy edges or the creamy centers of my wife's great-grandmother's coveted dressing."
The original recipe is made with two sticks of butter, but we lightened it by saving most of the butter for the crispy top. Look for stuffing mixes free of additives, unhealthy fats, and sugar, such as Arrowhead Mills, Trader Joe's, or Whole Foods 365.
Rosemary-Orange Roast Turkey
From the kitchen of Khalil Hymore: Cooking Light Contributor
Khalil likes to give his bird a pretty finishing sheen by brushing on savory-sweet marmalade glaze.
If you don't like the slightly bitter flavor of marmalade, you can substitute currant jelly for tart, bright flavor.
Corn Fritters with Jalapeño Jelly
From the Kitchen of Laraine Perri: Longtime Cooking Light Contributor
"The Perris would sooner sacrifice the turkey than spend Thanksgiving in New York City fritter-less."
Avoid overmixing the batter to keep fritters from becoming too heavy and dense. You can make them earlier in the day and quickly reheat; arrange fritters on a wire rack set over a baking sheet in a 425° oven until thoroughly heated and crisp.
Baked Mac and Cheese
Examine each side dish for tasks you can do a day or two ahead, like blanching vegetables and toasting nuts. Then completing the recipe becomes that much easier.
From the kitchen of Rebecca Longshore: Cooking Light Assistant Digital Editor
"I love how my Grandmother Howard's mac and cheese has a crunchy, cheesy crust over a creamy center."
The key to Rebecca's grandmother's dish was evaporated milk. We added a surprise ingredient, canola mayonnaise, to make things extra creamy.
Cheesy Potato Casserole
From the kitchen of Kimberly Holland: Cooking Light Associate Digital Editor
In Scottsboro, Alabama, Kimberly's grandfather is the cheesy potato casserole chef.
Rather than using sodium-loaded canned soup, we made our own creamy sauce to update this dish.
Sweet Potato Casserole
From the kitchen of Hazel Eddins: Cooking Light Production Editor
Hazel and her daughter prefer a marshmallow-free sweet potato casserole that Hazel has made since she was a teenager.
Our modern twist on the classic sweet potato casserole is a fragrant vanilla bean streusel.
From the kitchen of Domenica Marchetti: Cooking Light Contributor
For Domenica, it isn't Thanksgiving without her mother's cauliflower with cured olives and capers. She updated the dish for a vibrant side salad.
A fresh, crisp salad balances the lineup of heavier, rich side dishes. You can follow a recipe or just compose one with pretty cuts of your favorite vegetables and herbs tossed with a light vinaigrette. Make this salad a day ahead if you want the flavors to absorb into the cauliflower a little more. Just hold off on adding the cheese until right before serving.
Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Gastrique
From the kitchen of Hugh Acheson: Longtime Cooking Light Friend
"This dish is an example of the synergy of my Northern and Southern roots. My Canadian veins are partially full of maple syrup, and I adore the Southern staple crop of the sweet potato."
The gastrique, a tangy-sweet glaze, is Thanksgiving worthy but also simple enough to pull off on a weekday.
Supersavory Wild Rice Pilaf
From the kitchen of Ann Taylor Pittman: Cooking Light Executive Food Editor
"This pilaf was always on the Taylor Thanksgiving table. I would joke that it was my Korean mom's way of sneaking some form of rice into the meal. What she served came from a box, though, and was crazy high in sodium."