Friendsgiving has become a ubiquitous informal supplement to the holiday season, allowing those who celebrate a chance to spend time with, and be thankful for, their friends in addition to their families. The advantages to friendsgiving are twofold: Your friends aren’t as likely to pester you about visiting home more often or removing your nose piercing, and more control over the menu means you won’t have to suffer through your aunt’s quaggy creamed onion recipe. Freed from the shackles of family tradition, friendsgiving allows participants to branch out and share creative recipes with their friends. Here’s a comprehensive list of possible dish ideas for a well-rounded friendsgiving that’s accommodating, too, for the different dietary needs of your friend group.
The star of the show at Thanksgiving, as per tradition, is the turkey. And if you want to be a traditionalist, there’s nothing wrong with that! This Tastes Better From Scratch recipe walks you through an easy, no-frills process. If you respect the timeless turkey but want to amble outside of the world of classic roast bird, try some deep-fried turkey legs, a turkey shepherd’s pie or Puerto Rican pavochon. For those unafraid to betray custom, impress your friends with these wine and mustard-braised chicken thighs. In a pinch or on a budget, there’s nothing wrong with a Costco rotisserie chicken.
Vegetarian alternatives to the turkey centerpiece are, in my opinion, skippable. Have you ever had a tofurkey? With such a plethora of vegan and vegetarian dishes that are simply delicious standing on their own, why settle for a squishy blob of soy? If you have an acceptable vegan imitation turkey, I’d love to hear about it. But for now, you can wow even your meat-eating friends with a hearty centerpiece like this tahini-roasted cauliflower, vegan pot pie or behemoth squashducken.
Side Dishes (Healthy)
While “thanksgiving feast” and “healthy” are rarely used in the same sentence, lighter dishes are actually an integral part of a Thanksgiving meal. In her book “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” chef Samin Nosrat laments her first American Thanksgiving being wholly disappointing. Her main complaint was the lack of acidity — the reason cranberry sauce tastes so good, she explains, is because it is the only “traditional” Thanksgiving dish that comes with a pH low enough to provide contrast to the largely creamy and heavy dishes that dominate the table. Plus, loading up on a kale salad (try this one with quinoa and butternut squash) gives an excuse to indulge in an extra slice of pie. It’s all about balance, right? Pack some zing on your plate with these ginger green beans, celebrate fall flavors with this beet-and-apple salad or provide an alternative to the buttery status quo by making this lighter brussel sprout salad. If you plan on sharing the table with the more classic, heavier dishes like mashed potatoes or mac and cheese, try adding a little bit more acid (think vinegar or lemon juice) to these recipes to achieve the total plate balance that Nosrat talks about. These dishes will need to pack a little extra punch to balance out the cream and butter of the less healthy dishes.
Side Dishes (Less Healthy)
As a longtime vegetarian in a family of meat-eaters, mashed potatoes have always been the centerpiece of my Thanksgiving. Elevate yours by adding a dollop of sour cream or cream cheese in addition to the standard butter and milk (sub milk for half-and-half or heavy cream if you’re really trying to impress your friends and not care for their digestive health). For the vegans or lactose intolerant, there is no shortage of dairy-free mashed potato recipes. It’s tough to beat a classic baked mac and cheese, of which there are also vegan alternatives. Creamy cauliflower casserole is always a good option (for this recipe, I might recommend adding parsley and subbing prosciutto for bacon), as is a classic stuffing — and, if you’re short on time, Trader Joe’s even has a pre-made stuffing mix (and a gluten free one!). If you somehow don’t have enough casseroles yet, this brussel sprout gratin is a decadent take on an oft-hated vegetable.
Whether they’re served as an appetizer or along with the main course, finger foods are always fun and easy. My personal favorites are these polenta mushroom bites, artichoke phyllo cups, sweet potato stacks and adorable baked bries. For something of lower effort, feel free to cobble together a charcuterie board or throw some garlic bread in the oven.
Whether or not you’re a Thanksgiving purist, you have to acknowledge the superiority of pumpkin pie. You can pick up some gluten-free pie crust at Sprouts or Albertsons, or veganize the filling and top it with some coconut cream. Stay on the autumnal theme with some apple cobbler or some seasonal pomegranate desserts (take your pick!). Or, for the ease of no slicing, revert back to finger foods — dessert mode — with some pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodle truffles or these vegan, gluten-free chocolate-peanut butter bites.
No matter your dietary restrictions or personal tastes, there’s something for everyone at friendsgiving.