Books for Better Living is shutting down. Learn more.

Thanksgiving Redux: Nontraditional Ideas for Your Thanksgiving Holiday

We made Korean Bo Ssam instead of turkey last year. Here’s how you can change up your holiday table too!

Sure, certain time-honored family traditions have been part of your Thanksgiving holiday for as long as you can remember—but who says you can’t add new ones, or even just tweak some existing ones? Something is freeing about mixing it up, if only for a year.

Take my family’s Thanksgiving dinner last year. We still met up with the usual family members, but this time around we (as in those who actually do the cooking!) decided that we were tired of standing over a turkey for hours, peeling pounds of potatoes, and making sure everything was timed perfectly for the big meal. Over the summer, we’d discovered how delicious—and easy—it was to make David Chang’s Korean Bo Ssam, and since everyone (kids included) loved it, someone came up with the idea of re-creating it for Thanksgiving Day. It may sound strange, but actually, with the pork, rice, lettuce leaves, and all of the condiments, it had a Thanksgiving Day, communal “pass the potatoes please” feel to it. Plus, we were able to prep all the condiments the day before (like the ginger/garlic/scallion sauce and the fermented chili/bean paste), as well as the pork (it gets a salt/sugar rub). To keep certain little ones happy, we still made mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top and stuck with traditional holiday pies (apple and pumpkin).

Sign up to receive inspiring, expert advice on living your best life from Books for Better Living and Penguin Random House.

 Roasted Chicken

Mix It Up At Meal-Time

This year we’ve decided to go back to the routine dinner—sort of. We’re doing three chickens, one with stuffing, one fried, and one with Indian spices. Sides will run the gamut between bread stuffing with onions, celery and butter and golden turmeric roasted vegetables. How could you add some novelty to your Thanksgiving Day tradition? When it comes to food, you could go as extreme as we did and try something like Korean Bo Ssam or maybe a brisket, or you could just add some unique, unexpected spices to your turkey – like harissa or za’atar for a Middle Eastern kick. If you go that route, try serving flatbread or roti on the side instead of potatoes, or top roasted carrots with cumin and some tangy, whole-fat yogurt. But if you’re still going with the typical Thanksgiving-day fare, why not change up some of the ingredients in your side dishes, while staying true to Thanksgiving Day flavors? Instead of mashing potatoes, try turnips or rutabaga, for instance. Another idea: Stick to the basics, but start the meal with a special cheese and charcuterie plate (visit a local cheese shop or butcher and choose some stand-out varieties). A cheese plate can also be a nice addition to the dessert buffet, particularly for those who don’t enjoy sweets (yes, they exist).


Thanksgiving table setting

Table Decor 

As for the table itself, my daughter and I go on a foraging trip around our neighborhood the day before and see what the outdoors offers up—maybe pinecones, evergreens, berries. Under each plate, we lay some greenery and on top, place a pinecone. If you like a more polished, less rustic look, spray paint the cones with gold or silver. Either way, it’s simple, but lovely—and makes a fancy centerpiece less necessary. Along with that, run some mini white vases along the center, each filled with a sprig of red berries, and add some long, white taper candles in between. It’s elegant, unique, and inexpensive. You can also have fun with gold Sharpies. Use them to write guests’ names in pretty script on some festive paper from a local craft or stationary story to use as table place cards. Another easy, affordable option: red tulips from the grocery store with foraged evergreen foliage mixed in. For more ideas, check out our post on holiday centerpieces.


Party Play

And when it comes time to giving thanks, we have a little fun. Instead of just going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for, everyone writes it down on a piece of paper that goes into a ceramic orange pumpkin. Before we begin eating, we take turns pulling a slip of paper out and reading it aloud. Everyone at the table has to guess who wrote it – which makes the whole business a bit more surprising and sometimes funny. After the meal is over, you can sink into the sofa for football watching, or you could play board games or charades. If your gathering is a tight-knit one, play charades by emphasizing events or people that only your clan would get.

In the end, it all comes down to having a delicious meal with loved ones – so keep that in mind as you let your imagination wander about how your Thanksgiving might take a slightly different taste and look this season!


Photo Credit: iStock


Share this Post